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Red Shoes: Linking Fashion and Myth

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What is it about red shoes? Conjuring multiple images and responses like black or blue shoes never could, red shoes connect literature, fashion, and dress through meanings that are uniquely personal yet resonant across wider cultural and social groups. These symbolic meanings of red shoes are powerful, partly because they are encountered in childhood stories, partly because they are reiterated by fashion, which capitalizes on and reinterprets these meanings, and partly because we can choose to wear them, contributing both to their vitality and our self-image, in ambiguous but evocative ways. Red shoes are never neutral. Glass slippers are quite different, being never obtainable in the material world, and also somehow lacking as a metaphor for wish fulfillment, which is suggestive when we consider the content and intentions of their stories. The red shoes by Hans Christian Andersen and the much older story of Cinderella with her glass slippers demand commitment from their wearers to a course of action, one leading to wild and willful dancing which ends in terrible suffering and death, the other to union and recognition. Both red and glass shoes have a place in our shared childhood libraries and in the wardrobes of our imaginations. Their stories are about desire, envy, transformation, and sin, so have a clear relationship with the impulse and character of fashion. By exploring these themes I hope to discover more about the symbolic meanings of these shoes, and their links through myth to fashion, style, and the self.

Keywords: fashion; myth; red shoes; self; transformation

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2009

More about this publication?
  • Textile brings together research in textile studies in an innovative and distinctive academic forum for all those who share a multifaceted view of textiles within an expanded field. Peer-reviewed and in full-color throughout, it represents a dynamic and wide-ranging set of critical practices. It provides a platform for points of departure between art and craft; gender and identity; cloth, body and architecture; labor and technology; techno-design and practice— all situated within the broader contexts of material and visual culture.

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