Sunday, 10 January 2010

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

When you think about it, shoe shops are ridiculous, and they have somehow got away with it all this time, sniggering at the ease with which they managed to convince us punters that putting only half of each pair of shoes on the shelf is a perfectly sensible way to sell something. “They’ll never fall for that one, fellas,” giggled Barratts to Clarks all those years ago. Well, sadly we did fall for it, and we have let it go unquestioned for TOO LONG.

Shoes are the only thing sold on the basis of half of the item being on display to the customer. No, I don’t care if it’s technically two items that make up a pair of shoes. Two shoes make ONE thing that can be purchased. Therefore one shoe is HALF the item for sale. Somehow we’ve accepted that in this particular shopping situation we don’t mind seeing only half of what we intend to buy. It’s to save space, they tell us, and to allow us to look at the shoe we like and then ask for it in the correct size. OK, OK, in principle I get it, but it’s still ridiculous and it really doesn’t make the process of buying shoes easier or more tolerable, neither for customer nor sales assistant. In fact, it makes the whole thing downright farcical.

You wander about, eyeing up all the single shoes – always the right foot – thinking that some of them are quite nice and might possibly be the ones you want, but your heart sinks at the idea of having to initiate the whole process of approaching an assistant and sending her out into the back room to find the left foot. You know that as soon as she’s gone through those doors into the vast unknown world of left feet that you’re committed to trying on the pair when she comes back, even if you’ve changed your mind in the meantime about that pump or that boot because you can’t very well turn down her shoes after she’s foraged into the stockroom for you.

But you do approach her, steeling yourself for the little play that you know is about to start in which you and she feign a sort of camaraderie as you negotiate the size you need and you ask for the next size up as well to avoid having to send her out back again later. And she goes, and you sit on one of the chairs and wonder whether to take your shoes off in preparation for her return – and you do take them off, but she takes ages so you’re sitting there in your socks in a public place feeling absurd and vulnerable.

And then she’s back and taking shoes out of the boxes for you, taking bits of tissue out of them and loosening the laces if there are any etc., and inside you’re screeching “just give me the damn shoe!”, and then she stands with you while you try them on and you feel as though you HAVE to make little sounds of contemplation and prod your toes, dragging the whole thing out as a courtesy to her, when in actual fact you decided you despise the shoes long before she came back, or you noticed that they pinch like hell the second you put them on, or, really, you wish she’d just bugger off for five minutes while you have a chance to walk around in them without somebody watching your every move.

“Are they OK for you? How’s the fit?” she asks, and you finally have to break it to her: “They don’t fit, I’m really sorry”. There, you’ve apologised – you’ve actually apologised to a shop assistant for not being able to fit your own feet into her stupid shoes which you really hate now simply for having had to try them on in this absurdly public way. Read more by Maddie.