Shoes: Anatomy, Identity, Magic
The Museum at FIT
September 01 – December 31, 2022
The Museum at FIT presents Shoes: Anatomy, Identity, Magic, an innovative exhibition that explores our physical, social, and psychological relationship with footwear. Curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, MFIT director and chief curator, and Colleen Hill, curator of costume and accessories, the exhibition features more than 300 of the 5,000 pairs of shoes, boots, sandals, and sneakers in the museum’s permanent collection, aka “the closet.”
“The ‘embodied turn’ in fashion studies has brought renewed attention to the intimate relationship between body, dress, and sense of self,” explains Steele. “We are inviting visitors to ask themselves, Shoe are you? Hence our three, somewhat mysterious-sounding themes of anatomy, identity, and magic.”
The theme of anatomy emphasizes how few shoes are shaped like feet. We stand and move differently when we wear, say, sneakers rather than stilettos. Peep-toe shoes and thigh-high boots also draw attention to different parts of our anatomy.
The theme of identity emphasizes how different shoe styles and brands are thought to express important information about our age, gender, social status, sexuality, and taste. Gucci sneakers send one message about the wearer, Dr. Martens boots another. Shoes are arranged in pairs for visitors to compare and contrast.
The theme of magic emphasizes how we may unconsciously believe that the right pair of shoes will change our lives. Cinderella’s glass slippers captured the attention of a prince. Because professional athletes often wear sneakers, we may decide to buy a pair of Nike Air Jordans, hoping, like Lil’ Bow Wow in the film Like Mike, that they will magically enhance our physical prowess.
The exhibition begins with baby shoes to illustrate how shoes accompany us through the journey of life. This is followed in the introductory gallery by a chronology of shoes and a viewing booth that features clips from films and television shows that explore the symbolism of shoes in popular culture. The themes of anatomy, identity, and magic are then explored in the Main Gallery, culminating in the facsimile of a shoe shop displaying high-fashion shoes, many of which are red. “Red shoes can represent wealth, status, danger, and sex appeal, depending on the context,” explains Hill. Shoes are often “objects of desire,” Steele says, and the shoe shop symbolizes the “power and allure of shoes.”
The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book, Shoes: The Collection of The Museum at FIT, edited by Valerie Steele and Colleen Hill, with a preface by Daphne Guinness, published by Taschen. The luxury edition will be available in September 2022.