Tag Archives: footwear

Fluevog Shoes: The Good, the Bad, the Dangerous?

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An early Fluevog shoe with the square heel similar to the witch boots.

John Fluevog is a local name in Vancouver. He began designing shoes in the early 70s and has gone on to international fame for avant garde designs. I used to own an early pair (80s) of Fluevog boots that I bought second hand. I called them my witch boots. They had a heel that sloped out to a square, a squared off pointy toe, a turnover cuff, and a big silver buckle on the front. Made of black suede with a thin, hard plastic sole, they weren’t the most comfortable or well made boots, and were actually a size too big but they were fun. I eventually passed them on. I also had (and still have) some Peter Fox shoes, and originally Fox and Fluevog was the name of the shoe store the two men opened up.

I’ve often gone by the Fluevog store and looked at the crazy designs. Sometimes they don’t appeal, sometimes they do but they’re not cheap shoes. You’re looking at an average price of over $200 for a shoe. I would say  a “basic shoe” but there is no such thing in Fluevogs. From sandals to boots, there are dressy and casual but always unique. I needed a new pair of boots last fall so I checked out Fluevog. Boots are never cheap and because I have large calves not easy to find ones that go above the ankle, and I hate boots that stop at the ankle.

I have bought lace up boots for years and Fluevog had a range. Unfortunately many are just too narrow for my calves. I covet tall boots but they’re rare to find. I’ve been thinking of getting into steampunk too and tried on the Monday boot. The looked great. At $299 they couldn’t be less so I bought them.

I have problem feet. They are extremely wide and I need orthotics, which never work that well. Although I have dress shoe orthotics I gave up on getting them to ever work in boots. So I wanted something that would be comfortable for a reasonable length of time. The soles on these boots are leather, with not a lot of extra padding but fairly thick as it is. The top is brushed suede with decorative silver stitching. The lower boot is of a matte style leather, slightly rough, a bit shiny.

I started wearing the boots right away and within two months the laces were being chewed to pieces by the grommet holes on the boot. While metal grommets will wear on laces eventually, these were rough enough to destroy the lace rather quickly. On top of that, putting on the boot one day, there was something bunching around the toe. The leather insole that covers the nails and stitching had come loose. Fluevog fixed this as there is an 8-month warranty, but I was still surprised it happened. On top of that, the moment you polish the boot that rough matte look tamps down to shiny black. As well, the heel has a hard plastic bottom. I have found when walking on an incline of wet pavement that this slips. I haven’t fallen yet but I have to walk carefully, putting my foot down firmly so I don’t slide. That is dangerous.

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Made of suede and leather, the inside says “Another Day with Hope.”

The good thing about these boots is that they are extremely comfortable, even more than I expected for feet that get sore. I haven’t had any boot or shoe in years that is so well balanced that the weight is distributed along the entire foot. The weight doesn’t rest on the ball of the foot alone (the cause of my orthotics) but is carried also by the heel. This is why stilettos can be very hard to wear. Tiny pencil heels and a small sole area increase the pounds-per-square-inch pressure that your feet carry. So kudos to Fluevog for being the only shoe designer out there who seems to get it.

When I bought the boots I had tried on some not so flattering shoes and some, like the Wonder Ayers, were very cute. They came in black and olive green. I could not afford two pairs of Fluevogs and the boots were more a necessity. But I thought of the shoes for two months and when I took the boots in to be fixed they had this pinky purple color. One thing my friends know about me is that I love color. I’d just finished a freelance job and couldn’t resist. Three hundred dollars later, I had the Ayers shoe, which was not too tall in the heel and turned up at the toe. I love ankle straps and this pair has two. How could I lose? They’re also well balanced at distributing the weight and centering it along the foot.

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The Wonder Ayers, fun and stylish

I didn’t wear these for the first month as it was too cold and rainy. I wore them a bit at a time to break them in and stretch them. In the first month I slipped twice on linoleum floors and went down so fast I couldn’t break the fall. Luckily my heel slipped sideways and I went down along my leg and knee, bruising the knee one time. The same material is on this heel, and the side of the plastic is actually edged to a corner halfway up the side. This is the plastic piece on the heel that protects the shoe itself from wear.

I started to get scuffs on the toes because of the style and while that’s expected I found out Fluevog does not carry the polish to match these shoes, so I’m stuck. Even the polish they gave the shoes when I took them in for repairs doesn’t quite match the original color, not to mention it would be hard to polish around the white stitching. Neither of these are the biggest problems with this shoe. At less than three months old, with less than two months of wear I noticed the leather sole pulling away from the shoe, and then I saw the leather was ripping along the inner side at the top where the shoe bends. When I took them in Fluevog should have given me a new pair, considering price and age, but they sent them off for repair. The leather soles have been replaced with Topy soles and they’ve put a fairly invisible patch on the inside of the shoe to stop the tearing.  But I’m not happy.

For comfort and style and innovation, Fluevog gets a 9-10. For customer service, a 7–each time they’ve said, oh this hasn’t happened before, so am I buying the only bad pairs out there? For materials and support items (polish) they get a 5. The colors are good, the stitching well done, the leather feels good, but rough grommet holes, hard plastic heels that are dangerous, soles the pull away and leather that splits brings Fluevog’s score down. While the materials are better than those early pair, Fluevog still has room for improvement, especially when the shoes are so pricey.  That’s 72% for shoes that should be 85% and above.

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Evolution of the Platform Shoe

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We used to call these FM pumps (f**k me) because they weren’t meant to be walked in. Creative Commons: by extraitaly flickr phil sidek gallery.

I’ve been noticing the ultra high heels that are in fashion now; stiletto heels, with a platform front. Because I spent far too many years in four-inch heels or higher I now have to watch what I wear, though with smart shopping and choosing the time to wear my shoe I can get away with a heel if not quite that high. So, obviously the current fashion has decided women need to be uber tall or that they need to be uber sexy on super spiky heels but because many women would feel a little unbalanced, the platform has been added which takes down the overall height from your heel to your toe.

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The medieval shoe never had much of a heel, except for doubled layers of leather. From: feastgarb.tumblr.com

While the hyper sexualization of our society is partly to blame for everyone having to wear FM pumps now, these are not in fact the tallest shoes in history. The history of the platform shoe begins centuries ago. Japan of course had the geta or wooden sandals but if we look at Europe, there is a wealth of information there.

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This is a reproduction of the medieval shoe, with pattens. From: The Art Room Plant

To understand how a wood-based or platformed shoe came about one must  understand that early shoes throughout Europe were only made of leather. As the technology and understanding of patternmaking progressed shoes had firmer and thicker soles, usually made up of several pieces of thick leather and might also have been boiled leather, a process of penetrating the leather with liquid beeswax, which not only hardens the leather but also makes it waterproof. Remember that lanes and paths would only be of mother earth and slowly developed into wood planks and cobblestones. Even walking in Europe last year with rubber-soled shoes, I found some of those cobblestones rather hard to walk upon.

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The chopine, still made for a shoe or slipper to fit into it. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

No matter how well you waterproof something, if you’re walking through sucking mud and rain a lot your shoes are going to get ruined, and unlike people today, buying a new pair from a cobbler might be a year’s worth of spare change. People preserved their clothing and wore them out, often reusing parts in a new piece. One of the answers to uncomfortable cobblestones and mud was to use the patten. This was a wooden base that you slipped the leather shoe into. Shoes would eventually develop a heel made of wood.

Fashion always played  a part and as you can see by the red shoes, color and shape were important. The points of shoes got to ridiculous lengths and had to be gartered to the calf. And of course they rose to a silly height.

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Chopines of the Venetian bent. From the Bata shoe museum.

Enter the Renaissance, those crazy kids who loved color and men in tights and other fun stuff like Machiavelli. The Italians invented the chopines. They didn’t just look at the utilitarian aspects of keeping out of the mud; they looked at the prestige of being able to tower over your neighbor. Consider platforms that are 30 inches tall! Yes, one could show off their wealth by walking around on these mini stilts, with the help of two assistants.

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1940 platform shoes were modest. From: the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute

Sanity and shoe heights leveled out after that but the first 20th century platform was the peekaboo toe shoe of the 1940s (my favorite). This was a shoe with a heel and a modest platform of an inch at most. Of course the Renaissance was revisited in the 1970s with the blocky platform sandal and pretty much from there we have seen every evolution of the platform (platform sports shoes) since then. Except…no one has gone back to the towering heights of the chopine, probably because in this litigious society shoe companies would be sued out of existence.

Except maybe Alexander McQueen’s frightening horse hoof shoes. They’re insanely tall (though not quite 30 inches) and are the equivalent of monster trucks for people. I can’t say I’ve seen these catch on with anyone yet, and probably with good reason. Maybe next we’ll have pogo platforms. What fun those will be.

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The snake had indigestion. Possibly the ugliest platform in creation, Alexander McQueen’s creation.

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A Brief History of the Shoe

Footwear has had a complex and rich development throughout history. I imagine it came about first to protect from searing sands in the desert and frozen snows in the tundra. As people moved from the state of primitive humans who lead nomadic existences tromping through bush and forest, to homo erectus and started building societies and homes, they started to differentiate and specialize themselves.

Feet probably got a little softer, and hard packed ground or stones started to be felt more, now that the homo habilis callouses were gone. Cold, rain, heat, rocks, mud: all these became reasons to start sheathing the feet. And what’s supple enough to fit around the odd shape of a foot, or a human body for that matter? Skin. Leather.

So shoes began and continue to this day. In some cases cloth was used for shoes but almost ghilliesexclusively for indoor or court occasions as the material couldn’t stand up to the rigors of hard travel. The simplest and earliest shoes were scraps of leather.  Then they were leather, which was cut, punched and tied around the feet. The Irish/Scottish gillies were a piece of leather cut in such a way that it drew up around your foot. A more styled version is used to this day in Highland dancing. In fact certain runners/tennis shoes also follow this style and shape.

These ghillies were not waterproof, having slits all the way around but they fit the foot. The Romano-Greco countries used sandals a lot because of the hot climate. The Romans also made a hobnailed shoe and boot that lasted longer for those centurions travelling to invade other lands. As both skill levels and techniques grew more complex, so did the style of the shoe. The Mongols and Huns were the first to use a shoe with a heel, developed to sit in the stirrup and stop the foot from sliding.

These shoes were all made for practical reasons. Intricate patterning and stitching came along, making better fitted shoes and boots. Cobblers learned to put thicker leather or wood on for soles, creating a longer lasting shoe that also repelled invasive elements. These methods, along with curing leather in different ways or oiling it, started the sophistication of the shoe.

And of course shoes were made for fashion. Fashion was dictated by different elements. A clubfooted king gave rise to a round toed shoe. A new dye color or pattern became popular because it was different. The pointy toed shoe of the 14th century reached such extremes of pointyness (up to two feet) that the point had to be gartered to the calf.

Pattens, a wooden clog that the shoe was slipped into, were widely used in the 15th century on muddy streets. However, nobles and those of richer means took them to ridiculous heights to show their status. The platform shoe of the 70s and later decades truly had nothing on these pattens of long ago. The most bizarre shoes were those tiny, distorted shapes of silk and wood used to bind women’s feet into diminutive monstrosities in China. A shoe for decoration only as these elite women could barely walk at all.

Mongols and other Asian races made shoes and boots of felted wool. These were very warm and very waterproof. Likewise the Inuit were using sealskin, still a leather but with the fur left on for added warmth. In most cases boots and shoes might have the fur on the inside for warmth (sheepskin) but could have it on the outside for water-repellent features or for decoration.

Shoes were slipped on, tied, buckled, buttoned and laced. There were as many ways to put them on as human minds could come up with. Though fashions of a long ago era ran narrower lines due to cost and production being done by hand, still there grew to be a great variety that continued to our cornucopia of the modern day.

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Fashion & Health: Footwear Fallout

I’ve heard it said that women wear high heels because men invented them. Or that it’s a man’s design for women. This could partly be true, that the high heel was designed by a man, but whether women wear it for a man or for themselves is open to debate. Face it, if a woman was the shoe’s inventor would she make only sensible shoes (probably designed by men too) or would she make flattering and sexy shoes? I think she would make the latter but there would be some women to make the former as well.

When we get down to it, people will often wear sexy, interesting and beautiful things. The Baroque period of the 18th century saw men in heels as much as women. Heels came about first for fitting the shoe/boot into a stirrup and holding it there. And there were pattens, wooden clogs to slip one’s shoe into, for protection from the wet and inclement elements. These went to ridiculous heights in Italy and there are drawings of women being supported by two assistants as they walk around in teetering towers of wood.

The 20th century certainly saw its share of high heels. There were heels right from the begining of the century and slowly they rose through the decades. The 30s and 40s saw high shoes with small platforms. Then along came the true platform shoes, reminiscent of the pattens of the Renaissance. And we also had the stiletto heel, very thin with a very pointy toe. These heels could put holes in floors with the pounds per square inch of pressure. And they were pretty unstable for supporting a person’s weight. But they were considered sexy.

Women and men have been wearing the affectations of fashion for a very long time. And I was no exception. I started wearing high heels when I was in art college. I wore them to dress up and to work in. I worked at Sears and often had to wear dresses, so therefore I wore the heels to go with them. That would often encompass four-eight hours of standing on hard floors in heels. I remember going home at night and taking off my shoes, and rubbing my feet on the carpet because they itched and burned so much from the pressure.

I continued to wear high heels, developing a callous thick enough to resist all but the sharpest implements. And then one year, in the stupidity of my youth, I walked downtown in high heels because the buses were on strike. I walked home barefoot but developed blood blisters under the callouses, which made them slough off.

I grew a little wiser over the years, no longer standing for hours or walking miles in high heels. But the damage had been done. I’m not a podiatrist but pretty much what the high heels did was cause the bones to drop or shift in the ball of my foot and crush the nerves, which resulted in pain, cramps and numbness. I believe it is plantar fascitis and the cramping can be supremely painful. Lucky for me, I didn’t develop bunions, another side effect to wearing tight or pointy shoes, but it can also come from other causes.

Along the way, wearing flat shoes, I managed to experience pain as if someone was hammering on my heels. My ankles swelled up like balloons and took a week to come down. That was the beginning of heel spurs, which I don’t believe had any genesis in high heels or not.

So these days, yes, I wear orthotics but I’ve been having problems with the new ones (now a year or two old) not quite working for my right foot. My podiatrist moves the pad around and we keep trying. I still wear shoes with high heels. Not as high as they once were and I plan. If I’m going out for dinner or some other function where I will be sitting mostly, I’ll wear them but not if I have to stand as my feet can’t take them. So, if you’re planning on wearing shoes with mega heels, consider now when and where, and protect your feet for the future.

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