Who knew that one pair of shoes could evoke so many memories and begin so many conversations. That pair of shoes being my Kork-Ease Bette sandals in “luggage” with a suede-covered wedge heel. They are not especially fancy or expensive, but I love them all the same and have worn them on and off for the past two summers.
This week I got to thinking what it is that makes a piece of clothing iconic and whether perhaps the classic Kork-Ease wedge meets the criteria? I must have met and chatted the past few days with at least a dozen people, mostly strangers – between Brooklyn and Manhattan, in stores, on the street and on the subway – about these very shoes.
This is generally how it plays out: firstly someone will point and comment to their friend or they’ll just come out and say “I love your shoes”; and then the stories begin. These wedge-heeled walks down memory lane have taken a bunch of my new acquaintances back to sixth grade or so when women recalled either wearing the exact pair of shoes, or begging their mothers for them.
One woman I chatted with on the R train revealed that she wore them somewhere around 1975; adding proudly that they were the first shoes she bought when she “left the projects”. Two older women on the F train and en route to the airport after a girls’ vacation in the Big Apple, said they’d considered buying my shoes during their stay but worried that the 4 1/4-inch heels and potholed sidewalks might land someone in hospital.
Kork-Ease, the company that started business in Brooklyn in 1953 as a “comfort” shoe brand, burst into the fashion scene as a must-have in the 70s. Outlandish fashion designer Betsy Johnson reportedly owned at least 10 pairs; entertainer and actress Bette Midler wore them; and to be sure, any hipster shy of 30 owned at least one pair. As the Kork-Ease Facebook page states, it was the shoe that stood in line at Studio 54.
Well, Kork-Ease is back making its famed wedges as well as an ever-growing range of comfortable sandals and shoes. They’re a little more pricey than in the 70s when they retailed between $25 and $40 but still much cheaper than designer rivals. The Bette heels that garnered so much attention were about $149 online, and pretty much all the big online shoe stores from Zappos and Shoebuy, to Online Shoes and Amazon offer at least some of the styles.
Surely if a pair of shoes can unite strangers, evoke fun memories of one’s youth, and still be current and stylish today, they deserve icon status?