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

When I was seventeen and bought my first pair of brothel creepers from Shellys, I knew they would never be worn with socks. It has always been very clear to me that men and women who wear shoes without socks are destined to become my friends and lovers. These sockless people have a kind of abandon and suppleness in their body. They walk with zip. At the same time they manage to look both nonchalant and excitable. To not wear socks is to be alert, but not hearty. To not wear socks is to not pretend that love is for ever.

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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

    SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before