In which it’s conference season again

And for writers that means crawling out of our yoga pants and pajamas and peasant skirts to put on more professional attire and sometimes even real shoes. This year at RT–next week! In New Orleans!–I’m keeping things VERY simple but hopefully chic. Superskinny jeans in black or white with a contrasting jacket and simple silk shirt. Colorful tote, statement jewelry, and heels will smarten up the basics I’m wearing, and I suspect I’m going to be FAR more comfortable than I am in my usual “First Lady” dresses. For the past few years, my go-to professional outfit has been sheath dresses that wouldn’t look completely out of place in the West Wing. I have them in SCADS of colors–or, I should say, I had them in scads of colors. A few weeks ago I purged my closet and ditched almost all. I kept basic black, leopard, black polka dot, and an electric blue–plenty of dresses by anyone’s standards. But when it came time to plan my RT wardrobe, I cringed at the idea of wearing dresses YET AGAIN. Instead I’m going for a variation of what I might wear on a dinner date with my husband–something a little younger, a little more fun, a little less formal that what I’ve worn before. I’m tossing in one dress for a walking tour of the Garden District, but that’s it. And I’m leaving the stilettos at home! Instead I’m bringing wedges for most events. I just snagged a pair of espadrille wedges with a black canvas heel instead of the usual raffia, and they’re perfect with the skinny jeans. (RT is also a more relaxed atmosphere, I’m told, than some other conferences.)

But, I’ve also learned how to work the stiletto in a conference setting, and if you’re bringing them, here are some tips I put together a few years ago. Hope they help!

It’s a major pain to spend a week in heels if you’re not accustomed to wearing them a lot, and most of us who write aren’t! But there are ways to make it easier. First, buy decent shoes for your feet. Most of the time this means buying a better quality shoe, but not always. Two of the most expensive pairs I own are the most vile to wear, but I keep them because they’re gorgeous and try to trot them out for short periods of time or for when I’m doing a lot of sitting. You have to find a decent shoe that works well with the shape of your foot. Some brands are just never going to fit your feet as comfortably as others. Find the ones that don’t kill you and stick to those.

I have the best luck at Zappo’s–free shipping both ways!–and have done well at Piperlime and Endless as well. I am lucky enough to have some outlets here in town and have picked up great shoes at BCBG, Guess, and White House Black Market, all at serious mark-downs. If you have good department stores near you, hit the post-holiday sales for evening shoes at the lowest possible prices. I found a gorgeous pair of black satin peep-toe platforms with glittery black inserts–originally $150, marked down to $29. They’re comfortable and versatile and will work with cocktail or evening gowns. I also love my black faille White House Black Market wedges for evening. They are ribbed silk sandals with an ankle-strap, very cute, and the wedge makes them wonderfully stable for an evening shoe.

Also, buy multiples of something that works. I have a pair of platform slingbacks in black patent with cork heels–sounds awful, but they’re cute, I promise. The same shoe also comes with a different style of slingback in leopard fabric, so I bought those too. The heels are well-balanced and easy to manage for long periods.

Then, exercise some preemptive care. If you are prone to hot spots in certain areas, apply blister block or strap on band-aids BEFORE you put the shoes on for the first outing during conference. Took me ages to figure this one out, but it does work. Always carry extra block and extra bandages to reapply if needed. Dr. Scholl’s also makes a very clever little moleskin dispenser with a blade built in–it looks like a tape dispenser and it’s essential for travel because not bringing scissors means that you can’t cut a whole sheet of moleskin to size. This dispenser lets you choose how much to use and you just peel off the backing to apply. Don’t forget to buy band-aids with clear adhesive. Much less noticeable than the other sorts.

Switch up the shoes if possible. Last year I wore a fabulous pair of multicolor Martinez Valero pumps for two straight days and one evening event. I could barely walk in them at ALL by the end of the evening because they’d been applying too much pressure to the same spots for two days. Even switching off to a different pair of heels would have helped because each shoe puts its own demands on you in different ways. Lesson learned, and this year, the shoes will get switched around a bit more often.

Finally, walk slowly. The faster you walk, the more friction you create and the more hotspots and blisters you end up with. Allow a little more time to get to your destination, walk slowly, and you can go much further. It is also strangely calming in such a hectic atmosphere to be moving at a different pace!

Other miscellaneous notes:

*Kitten heels are Satan’s footwear. They are too low to be really chic, too teetery to be sophisticated. I look like a newborn giraffe when I wear them, bobbing and sliding all over the place. A shoe should be high or low, no in betweens.

*Blister bandages must be used with care. They do not come off without a fight, nor can you soak them off. Be warned. I love them, but they are hardcore. If you use them BEFORE you get a blister, it may well prevent it altogether since a blister bandage is very thick and cushy. If you use them after you get a blister, well, you will scream when you rip them off is all I’m saying.

*I always carry a few bits of moleskin and extra bandages in my bag for the day, and I bring the entire week’s supply in my toiletry case. Not having to hunt them down in a drugstore makes a HUGE difference when your feet are hurting.

*Take cabs. Urban women are seasoned Amazons, they are warriors. They know how to rock a heel and do it for a dozen blocks. I am an amateur; my limitation is about a block and a half. Any further and I’m flagging a cab and saving my feet. It is WELL worth the extra money.

*Consider a jeweled sandal or flat for evening. If your feet are just whimpering in agony from heels, you might be better off trying out a different option for evening. If it’s a casual get-together, a sparkly flat can be perfectly festive and could give you some relief. One evening, I have two different parties in two very different venues. I won’t have time to change, so I’m going with a floor-length chiffon dress that’s fairly casual in style. (The mix of formal fabric and laid-back silhouette should balance both events nicely. I hope!) With the dress, I’m wearing flat sandals with jeweled straps. If anyone even sees my feet, they’ll get a glimpse of bare foot and glittery strap. (Caveat: don’t be misled into thinking that a flat sandal can’t annihiliate your feet. I wore a pair last month to a dinner and even though I walked less than one city block, in just that short distance the backs had managed to gouge my Achilles’ tendons. Painful and took forever to heal! So whatever you’re wearing, break them in a bit first.)


One thought on “In which it’s conference season again”

  1. Lynne says:

    Oh, Deanna – you’re just hysterical!! But I love all your shoe tips. I love to wear heels but don’t have many occasions since my everyday shoe of choice is either my Clarks, slippers or flip-flops…yes, I’m retired so have to search for a reason…church, dinner out or some other special event. I will add to your advice that if you can switch off from heels to flats after 2 or 3 hours and if you can sit a lot and “look ornamental” it does help (holding a glass of wine while doing so, of course).

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