[Blanche is one of the caterers at a fancy celebration ball in North Carolina]
She was fascinated by the lack of color in the women’s clothes. There were some lovely gowns but they were all pearl or white or a middling shade of blue. If there was a red gown in the room, or one whose tulle, satin, seed pearls, or modest décolletage was not interchangeable, she couldn’t find it. She noticed that two of the three black women guests were wearing dressy leather shoes. She began to check out the white women’s feet. There was a pair of leather shoes. There another. She gave these leather-shoes-wearing women - black and white – a closer looking over. Their gowns seemed expensive enough, although there were more skintight fits than among the other women present. A couple of the men with the leather-shoe women were wearing business suits instead of tuxedos…
Shoes are one of the ways you know who’s who in the class club, she thought. It was possible for some everyday people to get a good education, so having gone to Yale or Harvard wasn’t always enough to identify you as one of the serious haves. But Yale didn’t teach you to have your cloth shoes dyed to match your ball gown, or the difference between formal and semi-formal wear. She always cracked up when she heard some (usually over-rich) white politician going on about classless America – a country where only one class counted.
commentary: I love the Blanche books, and yet another reason (see earlier entry on this book, with links to others in the series) is that she is a woman after Clothes in Book’s heart, doing a bit of clothing/footwear detective work and drawing her sociological conclusions.
This book dates from 2000 – I don’t know if the shoe-indicator rule would still be operative in her part of the world, or whether the explosion in high-end designer shoes of a certain kind would wipe that out: Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin were much less well known in those days. It’s hard to think that their shoes would be a down-market signifier, even if they were made of leather.
In the UK it was satin shoes you had dyed to match your dress – it’s not clear if it was the same in NC. This still very much exists, but I think is mostly confined to brides and bridal parties. All the pictures come from the John Lewis website – JL, for the benefit of world-wide readers, is a department store which would be considered the arbiter of, and supplier to, British middle and upper-middle class tastes.