My first pair of mules were made of plastic. They were miniature in size, made for a little girl, and would have been purchased at Woolworth's by my grandmother on a trip to Nebraska. They had a tiny heel with no back, just like the shoes I slipped on the feet of my Barbies. I would buy the exact same type of shoe 25 years later for my own daughter at the grocery store. It has to be the same company making these as they had not changed a bit. Same rubbery red plastic, same heel, same open back, same thrill.
The next time I encountered mules, they were a little racier. I could have SWORN there was a prize of a "bedroom set" with a nightie and matching sheer robe and marabou-trimmed slippers, courtesy of Frederick's of Hollywood, on one of the game shows that my brother and I sat in front of in the 70s. Let's Make a Deal, The Price is Right… it had to be one of those. But I Googled and Googled and nothing came up. I felt sure that Sid could confirm this for me, having logged even more television hours than me and with a trove of useless vintage pop culture material lodged in his brain as a result. (He is an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner.) This is an advantage of being married to someone just three weeks older. Your collective knowledge of EXACTLY the same reference points in time is powerful. Even though we grew up miles apart culturally (and literally,) the television set and radio stations fed us the exact same diet. But sadly, he looked at me quizzically when I asked him about the "bedroom set" prize that would have been paraded by a pretty model, doing a little spin in her feathered mules. A 13-year-old boy would remember that for sure. I am almost positive I didn't make this up, but maybe it was not a very popular prize compared with the new car or the bedroom set by Broyhill Furniture. The early days of product placement.
But whether I dreamed this or not, a mule isn't just a shoe. It is a sexy shoe. The backless plastic heels from the dime store were for practical purposes (one size fits most five-year-olds) as were the Barbie shoes (easily pulled on and off.) But the allure of mules and shoes without backs really does have its roots in the bedroom. It is basically a slipper. Visit any art museum with 18th and 19th century European paintings and you will see the half-dressed shoe everywhere. Most famously on Manet's Olympia, who reclines on her chaise, wearing nothing but a pair of low-heeled mules – one on, one off. And then there is the young woman in Fragonard's The Swing, whose pink mule has slipped off midair, flying above her younger lover on the ground beneath her. (Meanwhile her poor old husband looms in the background, pulling the ropes of the swing.) And one of the most-repeated styles from Manolo Blahnik (favorite shoe designer of Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw) is his Maysale kitten-heeled mule with the buckle and the pointed toe. It is a flirtatious shoe!
But the thing I love about mules has very little to do with that. I don't exactly feel sexy in them… just really feminine and relaxed. Wait a minute, that is sexy. They are the perfect indoor-entertaining shoe, which means that for me, they are the shoe that will forever define the year of COVID. Not this particular pair, actually, since they just got here. But I already owned a few pairs of mules… real slippers, too fancy for housework on the weekends, but perfect to put on for a post-bath, pre-dinner prep glass of wine. They are the demarcation that Esther Perel gave us the word for. They will remind me of the year of hosting 56 weekly family dinner parties in a row – granted, there are so many people in our house that every night is a bit of a dinner party, but my daughter and son-in-law would come over (nowhere else to go on a Saturday night!) and it was really so amazing. Kind of like a Gentile Shabbat dinner. But to be honest, even pre-COVID, the mule has been my "hostess shoe" for awhile. It feels funny to be dashing in and out of the kitchen with heels on – and it's nice to have something on your feet if you need to run out to the grill – but you often want something more festive than a pair of driving mocs or soccer slides. A mule is perfect. The ones I wore for most of the pandemic were all flat, of course – one of my favorites was a pair of embroidered Indian slippers from Amanda Ross. They were just soft padded suede on the bottom, so not exactly street shoes, but clearly more special than a typical pair of cozy bedroom slippers. They are only half there, literally, and THAT is the beauty of it – the thing that makes it seem like a house shoe. A shoe for privacy and intimacy.
But this has been a year of privacy and intimacy and now we are all starting to talk about going outside again. And is there anything more easygoing and nonchalant than wearing your indoor slippers out and about? If the Gucci horsebit mule from 2015 was too much for you - it was a BIG slipper statement with all the fur - the Joy Mule, with its more demure ballet vibe, is going to be perfect. Of course there are some very chic and more masculine mules out there, like the Venetian-style velvet ones, which I also own and love. But the simple prettiness of these is really appealing to me right now. They are as flat and low-key as a flip flop. And they are just really fun to wear. They will make a nice little rhythm game when you are sitting at the party listening to music and flapping the heel up to the beat. Fun and feminine. And though they were not named by our product team with her in mind, I think Marie Kondo would approve. For me, they absolutely spark Joy.