True Value: One Pair of Black Pumps From Payless ShoeSource

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I was 22 when purchased my first pair of Professional Lady Shoes. I was preparing to fly to Boston for a few hours to meet with the woman who would become my supervisor in a seasonal position at an intensive summer program for high school students. I had to look like someone who could manage unruly teenagers, not like someone who recently was a teenager herself. I searched a store that provided reliable quality to match the little investment I could afford, and for roughly twenty-five dollars I walked out of Payless convinced I now had what it took to be a real grown-up: a basic three inch, black matte, pointed toe pump. I was consumed by confidence during my commuter flight with well-dressed business men and women, and then again at my stop at a coffee shop surrounded by urban professionals before my interview. I was mentally singing the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show right up until my nylon covered left foot slid out of my equally synthetic shoe, causing me to regain balance by placing my almost bare foot in a pile of slush. The shoes survived, the nylons and my ego did not. I got the job anyway.

The morning of my college graduation, I found myself digging through my closet to find suitable attire and footwear. I donned my black pumps for only the second time, as they were the only vaguely appropriate items I owned. I had failed to iron my robe and though I would describe my overall appearance that day as “rumpled at best,” I felt like I had achieved something substantial hearing my own heels click across that stage as I received my diploma.

My shoes moved with me to Boston, where I decided to rent an apartment though my seasonal job was over and I had no prospects. I proudly wore them to interviews and temp positions, rotating my only three professional outfits. I created a playlist called “Interview/Mojo mix” that I listened to on the T. Two months later, I landed a full-time job.

My grandmother died suddenly. While still processing profound loss combined with what it felt like to be present at the moment of someone’s death, I found myself numbly shopping for hours to find funeral appropriate clothing. I settled on some somber pieces, assured that my shoes were taken care of. I wore them while shaking hands with people I had never met, while mustering strength and poise to speak at her funeral, and while holding my dad’s hand at the cemetery as she was laid to rest.

I quit my job to live abroad and I tried my hand at teaching. My shoes spent the majority of my time there at the bottom of a suitcase, dirt sidewalks not being meant for anything other than flats. They were joyfully unpacked when I returned home and decided to make my new life in New York City. On my third day living in the city I wore my trusty shoes to my new job. As I joined the masses in mindless shuffling through subway mazes, my right shoe caught between two tiles. The heel cap flew off and bounced into the tracks. I limped home and contemplated what a cobbler would charge. I fruitlessly searched the internet for the same brand and size. I found what seemed like a suitable replacement and order two pairs. They weren’t the same.

The black pumps were the Mary Poppins of footwear. They gave me the confidence and skills to show the world that I was a person who deserved employment and respect, even though I didn’t believe it yet, and then the shoes moved on when they were no longer needed. Ultimately, it is not a pair of shoes, but my choices to take risks, feel fear, feel grief, and make mistakes that continue to help me grow daily into a person I’m proud of. However, if someone could have told me years ago where those black pumps would take me, I would have wanted to pay four times as much as I did for them.

Their actual value was probably about right, as they were a generic design made from a synthetic material with unremarkable quality. They lasted much longer than they probably should have, and longer than any pair I’ve had since. I still refuse to pay more than sixty dollars for any pair of shoes (do you know what has been on that sidewalk?!) but these remain the best attire investment I have ever made, and I can confidently say they were worth more to me than every other piece of my wardrobe combined.

ITEM: Black pumps, Fioni brand, Payless ShoeSource
ACTUAL COST: $24.99 (plus tax)
TRUE VALUE: See above

Sarah Feldstein believes in surrounding oneself with color, and is rather surprised she was so attached to something black.



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