Tartan, monogram, moccasin, clog. What do your slippers say about you? Trick us all you like with your office Manolos, your Loake loafers, your Louboutin mules, it’s the shame-making slippers that will tell us the truth. Fleece-lined slob or kittenish slip-on? Millennial Mahabis or ancestral tapestry? Japanese zori or plaited huarache?
In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, when Henry Higgins returns from the opera and exclaims ‘I wonder where the devil my slippers are!’ the stage directions note: ‘Eliza returns with a pair of large down-at-heel slippers.’ In My Fair Lady they become, under Cecil Beaton’s instruction, a pair of black velvets. Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle hurls them at Henry: ‘Take your slippers and may you never have a day’s luck with them!’
These boots were made for walking… and these slippers were made for working from home. Over the past few weeks I have scrolled horrified through work-from-home slipper selfies (slelfies? slippies?) on Instagram. The grown woman in bunny pull-ons with plush ears and twitching whiskers. The otherwise immaculate fashion editor in fluffy Ethel & Ernest scuffs. The slippers pilfered from the Ritz, the Carlyle, the Crillon. The faux-fur booties. The endless chenille. Most egregious was the man in string-mop slippers.
These really do exist: wash while you walk. An email asking friends to confess their sheepskin sins brought photographs of the good, the babouche and the Ugg-ly.
With your feet tucked under the kitchen table, who cares if you’re Savile Row or Steptoe, Cinderella or Mrs Gamp? Crockett & Jones hold the royal warrant. Their slippers come in black or midnight-blue velvet embroidered with lions rampant, skulls-and-crossbones or a roaring tyrannosaurus rex — for that conference-call edge.
I have two pairs, one cozy, one formal: sheepskin for bedroom, Moroccan leather for desk. I’m tempted by a third pair. Dress slippers, evening slippers, lockdown date-night slippers. I was all set to pay silly money for a pair of pink satin pantofles when a message flashed up: warehouse closed.
Blushing my way round the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition at Tate Britain before the arts quarantine, my eye was drawn to his ankles. Sometimes, to be honest, I didn’t know where else to look. Beardsley’s proportions are impossible: enormous bosoms, vast phalluses, teeniest, tiniest tootsies. While Salome’s slippers are hidden by sweeping fishtail gowns, the slippers in his Lysistrata sketches are almost a fetish: bows, ribbons, pompoms, enticingly curling toes.
Beardsley’s Athenian stunners wear slippers, stockings and not much else. When Eugène Delacroix traveled to Tangier in 1832 he fell for the local slippers. One wonderful oil sketch delights in the trodden-down backs of babouches. In the massive, monstrous ‘Death of Sardanapalus’, the closest thing to us is the bare foot of a naked woman as her slipper slips away. There’s a sword at her breast, but it’s the exposed sole that makes her truly vulnerable.
Espadrille, house slipper, talaria, pump. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.
This article is in The Spectator’s July 2020 US edition.