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You Need This... I Promise

The Block Heel Sandal

mood board of 5 polaroids of Carolyn (3) and Ann (2) wearing block heel sandals in various environments

Carolyn in the Prada sandals - and me in my own

 

In 1992 I was working at Glamour Magazine and I knew a girl named Carolyn Bessette, soon to be Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. At the time, she was just "Carolyn from Calvin" – in the same way Tory Burch was just "Tory from Ralph". They both worked in the PR offices of those designers and were our main contacts at each showroom. At the time, fashion PR was a very typical job for young, pretty girls who had gone to the right private high school, or were lucky enough to know someone who would make the call for them. Back then no one really "studied" PR in college, and it was the kind of job you could just figure out as you went – much like being an editorial assistant – which made it a great way to begin a career in fashion. As part of my job as an editor, I would visit different designers' showrooms to look at the collections and take notes and Polaroids to bring back to the office for us to use as reference later on. My assistant would call in the list of samples to borrow for whatever fashion shoot we were dreaming up. A "neutral story" would mean pale cashmere sweaters from Calvin, a classic silk shirt from Ralph, a cool pair of suede jeans from some cheaper company… the Glamour reader was not the same as the Vogue reader. I had moved two floors down in the Conde Nast building, from 13 to 11, and there were other differences. At Glamour, we were tasked with showing the more 'understandable' side of fashion. Translation – not so fashion-y, not so expensive, easier to wear. Tricky… but actually really creative and fun. It required lots of messengers going back and forth between the office and the garment district. Air traffic control for designer clothes. "Molly - call Carolyn at Calvin and get me those sweaters for the 3pm runthrough."

Another part of my job was creating those stories… again and again and again. Neutrals! Bold Brights! Office to Cocktails! Holiday Sparkle! - you get the picture. An occasional angle was the "real women" feature, which was very popular with the Glamour reader. Here, "real women" usually meant "real friends of the staffers who happen to be very pretty." So I talked Carolyn into posing for this "white shirt" story, along with my gorgeous friend Sarah who had gone to school with Sid at Ole Miss. I dug up the magazine, and in it, Carolyn looks exactly how I remembered her. My youngest daughter would use the word "chill." Just completely comfortable with herself, and happy to help out. Even though she was just a few years younger than me, I might as well have been from another planet – I was already married and had my first baby squashed into our one-bedroom apartment , and so many of our conversations had to do with the novelty of all of that. Lots of oohing and ahhing when I would share any pictures… very girly and sweet. One of the nicest parts of working in fashion was all the girl talk. You couldn't avoid it with so many women, and even some of the men.

 

magazine tear of Carolyn for a white shirt feature in black jeans and cowboy boots
Glamour 1992 - Carolyn pre-Kennedy

 

Of course, Carolyn's story turned tragic a few years later, when she died in a plane crash with her husband and sister. It seems that she became even more of a fashion icon following her death… and being married to a Kennedy contributed to that, too, I'm sure. And over the years, when I see the pictures of her that have been endlessly reprinted and reposted and re-Pinned, I think back on that time of my life, and remember her cool, easy confidence. This comes through when you notice that she often wore the same things over and over again – a plastic headband, a black turtleneck, a pair of Prada block heel sandals. Again… "chill." My favorite image is of her walking her dog in cropped jeans and those very sandals. She is in Tribeca, and having lived just around the corner myself, I knew those old cobblestone streets well and they were NOT stiletto-friendly. Any heel higher than hers – which had to two inches, max – would have been ridiculous. And now, finally, I am getting to the thing that you really do need (I promise.) The block heel sandal. Essential.

A sandal with a sturdy heel is the very best. You get the length added to your leg (my own are short and I need it) AND you can walk. Cobblestones or not. Imagine that. I always told my girls that first and foremost, you need to feel comfortable in your shoes and be able to walk without looking pained. It actually makes those around you uncomfortable… a near-physical manifestation of empathy. I swear that my own feet ache when I see a woman struggling to walk in too-tall heels. The block heel sandal causes none of that. It is laid-back and sexy, just as Carolyn was in all those pictures. The girl that was cool enough to not care TOO much, but still made the effort to put on a pair of shoes that added something extra. Even just taking the dog out for a walk by herself.

A block heel sandal was on the very first order we wrote to K.Jacques St. Tropez – they are slower sellers than the flats, which is so odd to me, as I can never get enough of them! For my own brand, we always make a few in rich luggage browns and taupes that are slightly more sophisticated, but without losing any of the "chill." Like how I remember Carolyn… laid-back, but elegant. They have buckles on the back so they stay on your foot, and the straps are not so delicate as to dig into your skin or even look too tight. You can wear them to a more casual wedding (the leather tones down a fancier silk dress) and you will be ready to dance. My daughter actually wore a really similar pair when she got married. They look great with a sundress. And worn with a pair of jeans, they will give you that "extra something" on a trip to the grocery or the post office. I may not wear them with shorts (although I don't actually wear shorts,) as the look can be a little tarty… but they are fantastic with almost anything else in a summer wardrobe. They are great to wear into fall as well. I think the earthiness of the leather would look great with white jeans and a big sweater. (Maybe even one of those old Calvin ones that Carolyn stuffed into bags for me…) Around here, it often stays warm enough to wear sandals through September.

It seems that in what everyone keeps calling "these uncertain times" it is nice to find small ways to make your own effort. None of us are really going anywhere, so tall statement heels and fancy party dresses are feeling a bit irrelevant to me right now. At the same time, it can be a bit of a bummer to sit around in pajamas and sweats. I like to get dressed. A sturdy heeled sandal feels more special than a flat, but still practical enough for our "new normal" … and it can elevate a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Elevate in the literal sense, too! So I think I will wear a pair on my next walk with the dog. We all have our girl crushes (is that just a nicer way of expressing envy?), or girls we just want to channel at the very least. With a block heel sandal, I feel cool like Carolyn – and a little bit taller too.

From Ann

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