SHOES: PLEASURE AND PAIN at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Not all tall girls have big feet but this one does.  For me the “pleasure” of shoes is simply finding ones long enough and the “pain” is all too often having to settle for dowdy ones.  Retailers plainly think that my feet are too far down for me to notice what adorns them.  Shoes Pleasure and Pain at the V&A, explores the Pleasure of beauty and the pain of suffering for that beauty.  Fittingly enough, the first case contains a glass slipper ready to transform anybody dainty enough to wear it.  For those whom money is no object, all manner of rare leathers, silks and jewels have can be used to signal your wealth to onlookers.

Shoes Pleasure and Pain

Evening shoe, beaded silk and leather, 1958-60. Roger Vivier for Christian Dior
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

High heels to lift sixteenth century skirts above muddy streets, shoes with toes so curled up that it would be impossible to walk.  Marilyn Monroe’s and Kylie Minogue’s shoes are both on display, and for such a tiny woman, Kylie’s shoes look quite large.  Chinese Lotus shoes, so small that they would fit a baby, to fit feet rendered useless by binding.  Christian Louboutin red heels wink at you here and over there is a pair of thigh-high Stella McCartney boots made from synthetic suede.  Men get a look in too: fancy stitched cowboy boots and my particular favourite, this gold-patterned pair dating back to 1925.

Shoes Pleasure and Pain

Mens’ shoes, gilded and marbled leather, Coxton Shoe Company Northamptonshire, 1925
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One section of the exhibition is devoted to shoes collectors.  One solitary shoe belonging to Imelda Marcos has an entire case devoted to it.  In response to criticism of the number of shoes she owned she claimed not to own 3,000 pairs but merely 1,060.  One man collects three-stripe Adidas trainers and travels all over the world to track down rare specimens; another had an extensive collection of women’s shoes but kept them all in boxes and never wore them. All shoes, whether bespoke or mass produced, will spend some time on a last and the final display case contains a collection of the lasts of the rich and famous.

shoes pleasure and pain


For coffee at the V&A my choice of venue is always dictated by the weather.  This time the sun shone and I sat with my face turned upward like a sunflower in the central courtyard.  On my feet a pair coral suede shoes with clunky silver heels, made by Clarks, one of the few high street retails to sell routinely offer size 9 shoes and sponsor of this exhibition.

SHOES: PLEASURE AND PAIN  13 June 2015 – 31 January 2016

Open:  Saturday – Thursday  10am – 5.45pm, Friday 10am – 10pm

Admission: £12 (Members of the V&A go free)



  1. July 1, 2015 / 11:17 pm

    I’m just imagining the fun times had by the bloke in those amazing shoes, Great Gatsby brought to life. What an amazing exhibition. V jealous.

  2. July 19, 2015 / 4:04 pm

    Hi – I’ve come over from Suzie’s blogging party! I love the idea of a Cultural Wednesday – or any day of the week, to be honest 🙂

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