Lately though, I have felt a pull in a different direction. It started a few seasons ago at The Row, when Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen sent out their signature minimalist and tailored pieces, layered to the max as is their wont. Half the models wore chunky platform boots that could be seen as immediately desirable, the other half wore weird little mesh slippers that looked like not-socks. They felt almost like an afterthought, as in, “What’s the least aesthetically disturbing thing we can put on their feet so they don’t walk out barefoot?” When I first caught sight of them I think I laughed—not at them, but maybe just with them.
Proenza Schouler has also been bitten by the non-shoe bug. The brand’s fall collection included black leather slippers, molded like a second skin, that show off the dips and valleys of every single toe. Paired with super opaque black tights, the slippers removed the punctuation that a shoe gives an outfit. Only when the models turned around could you see a contrasting white leather pull-tab that reminded you the feet were indeed being protected from the elements. The young designer Talia Byre also dipped her toe (I’m sorry) in the trend, pairing little black slippers with knits and tailored separates alike. Though her inspiration this season was the dancers Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown, they did not scream “dance!” but did seem thoroughly modern. (Although the non-shoe is certainly a cousin of the ballet flat, it can be distinguished by its higher vamp and disregard for trying to create a graceful line surrounding the foot.)
Even Tory Burch, who is not known for doing anything minimalist, showed black square-toed ankle-height leather slippers (they’re not quite a boot), except hers were punctuated by a swath of bold color, and the best ones had a bright red dot right at the toe.
The thing about all these odd little shoes is that in their effort to be as non-intrusive as possible, they become the star of the show. Those mesh flats from The Row burrowed themselves into my brain, and after six months of thinking about them, I finally decided to go to the store and try them on. On the shelf at the brand’s immaculate Upper East Side outpost, a pair in black mesh seemed a little ridiculous. Carrie would certainly never go into debt over them. They were not beautiful, they were not obvious objects of desire, they were the opposite of everything my brain had been trained to want. I absolutely needed to have them.
Now, every time I wear them, I get compliments and comments. They are incongruous. They don’t actually go with anything, and maybe that’s why they are unexpectedly great with everything. They’re maybe the closest we have gotten to that midcentury vision of the future where everyone is wearing catsuits and form-fitting clothes engineered for better living. Now, I dream of a closet full of little voids to put my feet into, to match the daily feeling of wanting to scream into one. What a relief that this fall designers are feeling the same way.