Identity Re-soled: An Interview With Meghan Cleary
Meghan Cleary greets me as though we’re old friends — “Oh my god hi how are you!?” — immediately making me feel at ease, though we’ve just met for the first time. I came across Meghan’s work a few months ago, while developing my own project on shoes and identity: 100 Days of Sole.
Meghan is a shoe expert, and is known as the Shoe Therapist. A vocation that is unconventional, yet far from superficial, as Meghan believes that shoes contain a unique connection to how the wearer is confronting identity.
“The classic thing that happens to me when people realize that I’m a shoe expert is they’ll cajole me with sentiments such as ‘Oh, my wife is an expert on shoes.’ Ha. Ha.” Meghan said. “Or I’ll speak with a woman who loves Merrill’s or Crocs and she’ll look down on the subject as if she’s not into shoes.”
Meghan tells me how even Sarah Jessica Parker — who played shoe-obsessed Carrie Bradshaw in the HBO series “Sex and the City” — once gave a similar disclaimer. Before the release of the first “Sex and the City” movie, Parker shared with Megan that just because she was obsessed with shoes on her show, it didn’t mean that she identified as a shoe person — an instance where even the star herself felt the need to shed the shoe-heavy reputation in order to be taken seriously and not considered as just another fashionista.
But a connection to our shoes doesn’t have to be superficial in nature. Meghan, like myself, believes that everyone has their own style and preference for a reason. In other words, our soles say a lot about out soul.
“Most people, if you ask just a few questions, can get very intense about their shoes. It taps into something within people that has to do with identity — or rather — how they identify themselves in the world and how they function or move through life,” Meghan said.
“So even when I meet that person who believes that shoes are superficial — simply because they’re not into high heels — all it really means is that they identify as a practical person, and are into practical shoes,” she said. “People also get really caught up in thinking they couldn’t possibly be into liking stilettos because that would tap into their ideas of identity, which would be really confronting for them.”
Many of us can likely recall a time in our childhood when we selected shoes simply because we LIKED them — with little to no thought given to what others might perceive. I can remember this in my own childhood, and I can hear it in Meghan’s voice as she describes a pair of embroidered baby blue wedge espadrilles from K-Mart that she fell in love with as a little girl.
“I remember having a very distinct sense of how I would feel different or how I would change after putting them on,” she said, reflecting on her early intuition surrounding their transformative nature.
Digging a bit deeper into their transformative nature, Meghan’s philosophy is that shoes — more than anything else we put on our bodies — reveal our state of mind in a particular moment. She shares with me how shoes are the only fashion item that directly relate to the physics of being human. That is, they have a major physiological impact on the way that we walk, stand, and carry ourselves — profoundly affecting not only the way that we might navigate any given space, but also our movement through the world at large.
“There is so much revealed about identity and culture through shoes, even anthropologically, with their ability to signal where we are as a society. The depth of shoes far exceeds their superficial reputation,” Meghan said.
And as Meghan grew up, her obsession with shoes suck with her. Better yet, she embraced it: “I was always wearing shoes, buying shoes, using shoes as table centerpieces … And at the time I worked on Wall Street so I had a great budget for buying new pairs. Then one day I decided ‘why not write about it?’ and that was that.”
Meghan has since travelled the globe to meet with designers, starred in her own Shoe Therapy® shows on HSN and YouTube, podcast, and blog, authored two books, and has been featured in the TODAY show, Extra!, The CBS Early Show, the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, NPR, BBC1, Marie Claire, and Glamour.
Indeed there is a lesson to be learned here on the subject of following one’s unique passions and interests, but perhaps it goes even deeper. Because if we bring back the 90s HBO hit series “Sex And The City” for just one more minute — what is interesting about the series’ relationship to culture was simply that it gave so many women the permission to love shoes.
“What Carrie Bradshaw actually did for shoes, and culture, was really great. That show ripped open so many taboos on various subjects, but what it did for shoes specifically was that it actually made it 100% OK for women to be open about their love of shoes in a way that had previously been hidden,” Meghan said.
By giving women this permission to indulge in different aspects of the feminine and identity, she and others have paved the way for those like me to discover and celebrate our feminine sides in the years to follow. Because while the shape of a stiletto may hold centuries of female compromise within its symbolism, the act of taking a cultural mechanism that was once used to suppress and subverting it is simply one of the many ways that an individual can choose to elevate or self-express.
And while many of the items we wear may hold significance, Meghan believes that what makes high-heels unique is the complexity of engineering that goes into their design.
“Shoes deploy a lot of the principles of physics and architecture because they must achieve the correct balance, especially with a pair of heels,” she said.
So if the transformative nature of shoes is what grants them their power, then perhaps embracing the ways in which they seemingly defy physics can simply amplify that. After all, if shoes can be used as a means of both function and expression, why not go all out?
And while I am new to the world of shoes and identity, it’s nice to have found someone to look up to.