Flat and Fabulous

By Karen R. Smith


With the start of a new year, I need to make a confession so as to renew our acquaintance with clarity and honesty.

Here goes: the most exciting shoes I have seen for 2016 are (brace yourself!) FLATS.

I make this statement as a woman who owns nothing but heels; even my tennis shoes have a wedge. Normally, I don’t even look at flats, but 2016 is different. Flat shoes are suddenly fantastic ­­ and available in a broad range of styles and materials. Flat shoes are… dare I say it? Fabulous!

Celine and more

The babouche is the basic shoe of Morocco and has been since the early middle ages. Made of leather, brocade or fur, it is a simple, flat, slide­on slipper with an iconic pointed toe. Available throughout Morocco in all sorts of colors and materials, they are the stuff of travel photos and picture postcards when you visit that country, yet they are also what you see on most people’s feet. They have never lost their popularity and probably never will.

These shoes began to migrate into fashion collections a couple of years ago, but never made headlines until Celine adopted them this season and exaggerated the toes enough to make everyone sit up and take notice. Vogue’s round­up of other designers joining the trend showed just how popular these flats are becoming. The fashion magazine illustrated them being worn with all sorts of clothing from modern to traditional. Those photos proved they look as good with a dress as they do with slacks, and how they seem to work with everything in between. Color me surprised!

M. Gemi

Maria Gangemi and her friends loved beautiful shoes, and recognized that it was time to start a company that brought the best of Italian shoe craft to shoe lovers across the world. M. Gemi is the result of their obsession. In workshops throughout Italy, craftspeople create M. Gemi shoes by hand, as they have for centuries.

Part of this company’s original vision was that despite being the best­crafted shoes they could offer, they would keep prices reasonable. There are no M. Gemi shoestores, only their website, which eliminates lots of markups. In short, these shoes are the finest quality available anywhere, yet they are affordably priced.

Sign up for their announcements, and every Monday you’ll receive an email describing the new shoes of the week. (Take a look at the Giochi, which is a babouche with an Italian accent!)

Brother Vellie

Aurora James started this company because of her personal fondness for African shoes, and her desire to create sustainable artisanal jobs within African nations. Today, Brother Vellie shoes are produced in Kenya, Morocco and South Africa by an ever­expanding group of craftspeople.

The shoe that started it all for Brother Vellie was actually a traditional South African shoe called the ‘vellskoen’ which was colloquially known as a “Vellie” and is the source of the company’s name. They are a deadringer for what we in the U.S. call desert boots. Flat, with a short row of laces over the instep, they are sewn to a rugged flexible sole. From there, the company has expanded to offer a complete line of fabulous flats based on the traditional footwear of different African tribes.

(Brother Vellie has made babouches for quite some time now in everything from denim to fur.) Adopting the trend
Take it from me: if you have been wearing heels (even moderate ones) for any length of time, switching to the new flats will take getting used to, and may require some wardrobe modification as well. Pant hems that worked with your heels will need to be shortened if you switch to flats, of course, but with dresses and skirts, that won’t automatically be the case. Try things on in front of a full­length mirror. You may find that changing to flats gives your clothing a better line, or makes you look more youthful and like how your clothes look!

But, if you try on a favorite dress with flats and find yourself grimacing over how it looks, before you reach for your heels, try a few simple adjustments, using your hands or a few pins. Looking suddenly dumpy in your flats? Nip in the waist and you’ll find you attain ballerina proportions with your new shoes.

Obviously, choosing to put on a pair of flats means you’ll be shorter (than you were in your heels). Anything that changes your height may also change where a hemline looks most flattering. If you’re working with a tailor or dressmaker, ask them to show you how different lengths look and get their opinion on the best spot for you. If you’re doing the alterations on your own, take the time to do a few different pin­ups so you can make an informed choice.

Heart and Sole

Before buying a pair of flats, put them on and wander around the store a bit. There isn’t much between you and the pavement, and different materials transfer that fact to the soles of your feet in different ways. Some flats have a layer of padding, others don’t. Thick leather soles worked for medieval monks for decades, and there are some terrific rubber and composite bottoms that provide comfort, too.

As a high­heel girl, I am flatly amazed by the choices...and hope you’ll give them a try too!

About the Author:
Karen R. Smith is an award-winning journalist and publicist. Her book, "Stylishly Sexy" is available online and she takes private style clients throughout Arizona and across the country. Visit her at www.stylesmithtransformations.com