Real living: Love and brothel creepers
Teddy boy shoes, especially when worn without socks, are much more to Deborah Levy than mere footwear; they represent beauty and truth, and the knowledge that love is fleeting
Sunday 08 November 1998
Five months pregnant and wearing my brothel creepers, I went to see a Peter Greenaway film called The Baby of Macon. The best moment was when a counter-tenor started to sing something that sounded like the fluids of the body ... love passeth quickly. These seemed such beautiful words to sum up everything that matters in life that I cried and cried until my white shirt was sopping wet with my own salty fluids.
Love does pass quickly and there is no time to waste putting on socks. To wear socks with your shoes is to have missed your date with love. If it's any consolation, people who wear socks are probably better adjusted than their sockless brothers and sisters. They are not in weather denial, they face up to things and always carry an umbrella when it rains.
They also fear sex and sensuality (particularly those who wear sandals and socks), and are terrified of revealing they are in fact libido-crazed sado-masochistic authoritarians pretending to be bird watchers and vegetarians.
The sockless are Godless. So are brothel creepers, also known as "teddy boy shoes". Walking down the street in my very first pair made me feel like I was wearing a tattoo that marked me out for a meaningful life. Not quite winkle pickers, their leopardskin tongue (V-shaped) was surrounded by two inches of thick black crepe sole. To slip my naked foot into them was to literally walk on air. My brothel creepers were beauty and truth, genius personified, never mind they were rock and bop - that was not the point. They were the metropolis, my ticket out of suburbia, my exit sign from everything women were supposed to become.
There was something in the brothel creeper design that seemed to put the world in perspective. The combination of brothel creeper and naked ankles made me feel sexy, serious, frivolous, confident. I wore them with tight black clinging dresses and I wore them with jeans. I wore them with pencil skirts and pin-striped trousers. I was never not wearing them ever. Their pointy black toes tapped to the beat of rebellion; the shoes my mother would never have worn, the shoes my father would never have worn, in fact the shoes not many girls wore but the ones who did were always gorgeous. My narcissism was confirmed when, hungry, I found myself waiting on the platform of a station somewhere in the sleepy shires. When I heard the train was going to be 11 minutes late, I sprinted over the bridge (in my beautiful brothel creepers) to find something to eat. Everyone in the local supermarket was olde and if they weren't pensioners they were younge. I grabbed a sandwich and ran to the checkout till, four minutes to go before my train arrived. And there was the checkout girl in her checkout overalls staring dreamily into the white strobes on the ceiling. Three minutes to go and her till roll runs out. As she stands up to get another one, I see she is wearing brothel creepers too. Except hers are electric blue suede and have even more attitude than my own. As I run for my train I know that she too will run out of her till roll life one day, because her shoes are a sign that she has hope. Hope! After the revolution every one will have a pair.
I have bought many versions of them since, but 20 years later that first pair still lie intact on the top shelf of my shoe rack; like jazz musicians they have improved with age because they have a kind of eternal, ugly grace.
The brothel creeper spirit will be with me until the day I die. They remind me of life before I became a mother when the maternal body is mapped in fluids - tears, blood, milk, just as that counter-tenor sang. I wore them to write my novels, to teach, to almost get married in Rome and then at the last minute to run away. My beautiful brothel creepers remind me that getting older means you become the people you once mocked.
I sometimes wear socks.
From 'A Second Skin: Women Write About Clothes' edited by Kirsty Dunseath, published by The Women's Press Ltd on 12 November , price pounds 7.
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