“Shoes: Anatomy, Identity and Magic” at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)

By Erin Moonyeen Haley

Shoes, history and psychology are having something of a ménage à trois moment.


At New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), the exhibit, “Shoes: Anatomy, Identity and Magic” has created a showcase that relishes the historical, cerebral and emotional relationship between people and shoes. According to Valerie Steele, Director of the Museum at FIT and curator of the exhibit, the three-pronged approach is intended to prompt metacognitive soul-searching. Steele elaborates that this “‘‘embodied turn’ in fashion studies has brought renewed attention to the intimate relationship between body, dress, and sense of self...we are inviting visitors to ask themselves, which shoe are you? Hence our three, somewhat mysterious-sounding themes of anatomy, identity, and magic.”

More than 300 pairs of shoes are on display, all culled from the 5,000 pairs of heels, boots and sneakers that make up the permanent collection, which goes by the sobriquet, ‘the closet’.

Stationed in the museum’s basement, the beginning of the show opens with infant shoes, an apt metaphorical salvo that begins a biographical tale with shoes as the storytelling vehicle.

The thesis of the exhibit is about shoes’ omnipresent importance despite their overlooked regularity in life. For instance, the Doc Martens embody the edginess of the night prowler headed to a rave, (or a tattoo parlor), while the Gucci sneakers signify the chic athlete.

Ultimately, the showcase is all about the signifier and the signified. Shoes are revered as objects of desire, as the idée fixe of not only the outfit, but the person themselves. It is this emancipating magic that transcends reality for fantasy, which in turn favorably flaunts anatomy, unfurling identity and the magic of altered identity with every assured step.


The collection breakdown is as follows:

~ Anatomy understands posture and movement; how high heels alter a walk differently than sneakers

~ Identity zeroes in on what archetypes automatically attach themselves to what shoe. For instance, the skyscraper high heel might conjure images of the femme fatale whereas the sandal signals a carefree summer sprite.

~ Magic embraces the notion that shoes are talismans, capable of transforming the wearer into Cinderellas or athletes in peak condition.


No matter the categorization, every shoe in the collection is capable of transforming the wearer and viewer to somewhere else entirely.

Gladiator-style sandals by Versace conjure early-90s vibes.

Ruby red slippers, drag queen style.

Lipstick-red boots that channel a distinctivly Kinky Boots attitude.

Gold lame boots that are always made for walking.

And on and on it goes...