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Sole Obsession: 100 Years of Shoes at Auburn’s White River Valley Museum

(Photo courtesy of White River Valley Museum)

How many pairs of shoes do you own?

“The average woman in America owns 19 pairs of shoes,” says Christine Palmer, curator of Auburn’s White River Valley Museum’s newest exhibit, Sole Obsession. “You can be young, old, fat, thin. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a boyfriend. It doesn’t matter that you have thin hair. It doesn’t matter that you have bad skin. Your shoes will make you feel fabulous.”

The White River Valley Museum is featuring 100 years of shoes, from 1910 to 2010. Starting with the lace up boots from the 1910’s.

“I wanted to point out this particular pair because it was worn to the Oregon Governor’s Ball in 1919.”

Shoes aren’t just functional and fashionable, they can actually teach us a little bit about history and culture.

“In the 1920’s, women’s skirts went up, heels got higher, we started to smoke, we started to wear makeup, we could swear in public. Everything changed for women in the 20’s. We could finally vote. That’s when we started to do much more athletic dancing in public, like the Charleston. You had to have a strap and a buckle to stay on your foot.”

In much more modern day shoe history:

“Certainly Sex and the City made a fashion statement for urban women all over north America. Carrie Bradshaw certainly pranced around Manhattan in her four inch pumps. Men enjoyed it, women wanted to look that way, so it clearly struck a resonating chord.”

One thing I noticed about the collection is the older shoes are teeny tiny and the modern pairs are in behemoth sizes like ladies like myself wear today.

“We are more robust today then we were then. It was also the fashion then to squeeze your foot into a smaller shoe and you just endured the pain. It was the look. If you were a size seven and a half, you squeezed into a six and you shut up about it because it looked great.”

The exhibit runs through November 9th and there is a little dress up station in the corner, so little kids can clomp around the room in momma-sized high heels.

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About the Author

Rachel Belle

Rachel Belle is a feature contributor and personality on The Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio (weekdays 3-7pm), and host of the twice-monthly, culinary audio adventure podcast, Your Last Meal.


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