The Joys Of Modern Life 72. mules in winter

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The Independent Culture
FASHION IS going minimal again. And by this I don't mean the stark deconstructionist creations of Rei Kawakubo. No, it seems we must dare to bare. Whether it's at a film premiere, darling, or to totter down London's South Molton Street, this season's style icons have been spotted everywhere in mules - backless shoes.

They've been around for centuries. The V&A says they derive their name from an ancient Syrian word for "slipper", though the School of Oriental and African Studies suggests "mule" may come from the Arabic word miuul, meaning "tilted"; others believe its origin to be the Latin word mulleus, a magistrate's shoe.

Mules' heyday was in the late Fifties. Along with cantilevered bras, tight-fitting sweaters and pale lips, mules were part of the amoral, sex-kitten look. They were pioneered by the likes of Brigitte Bardot, who could often be seen in her little gingham outfits and cutesy mules, flip-flopping down the cobbled streets of St Tropez.

Now, you're just as likely to see someone tripping along in a pair in Acton. Have we all gone mad? This is Britain, not the Bahamas. Global warming may have increased winter temperatures a smidgen, but these shoes are clearly meant for the summer - and by that I mean summer in the South of France.

However, this is the point. This season's mules are about old-fashioned glamour - which doesn't give a monkey's about the weather.

Mules, with their delicious impracticality, are a sartorial two fingers at last year's urban terrorist look. Remember those neoprene combat trousers, fleece tops and trainers? They may have been warm and comfortable, but hardly sexy. Now, a pair of fluffy Agent Provocateur mules and a dress with as much warmth as a net curtain may get your teeth chattering, but who cares when you can look like a Fifties starlet?

As for wearing sensible tights with them, forget it. Fashion is not about comfort - and any self-respecting femme fatale should be prepared to fling caution and her seven deniers to the wind when she steps out in her mules. Bare legs add to the frisson of sexuality - and anyway, wearing slippery tights with backless shoes is a sure way to end up in Casualty.

Paying pounds 200 for a pair of barely-there shoes that can be worn only on special occasions is the social shorthand for: "I am a glamorous, leisured woman who has money to burn and does not need to use public transport or walk more than two feet to her next party."

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