Ask Augusta

Guest post today from the fruity old dear I used to nurse at an old people’s home in Seasalter; Augusta Pinnington. I still keep in contact and she insisted on my publishing something of hers, sending me a bundle of old postcards, shopping lists and fantasy-football team-sheets. I’ve chosen a letter she wrote to her niece on the subject of shoes. Much wisdom here. If women’s footwear isn’t quite your thing, just substitute all references to shoes with, oh I dunno, fonts. Or swords.

Dearest Elizabeth,

Your mother has asked that I pass on some advice regarding shoes, upon which a good deal of your happiness will depend. Although I am acutely aware of having no right to impose myself between a young lady and her natural inclinations, and although you have certainly committed no misdoings in this regard, a young girl entering society exposes herself to the influence not just of dissipation and vice but of ungodly aesthetics. You may think I exaggerate the matter, but I would expire in mortal grief were I to discover that, for want of some kindly advice, you had discovered, too late, that the first step to corrupted morals is the hollow clack of a cheap kitten heel.

We live in a world of hideous footwear Elizabeth. Do not let this depress you, rather go about the noble task of shoeing yourself virtuously, following the fashion advice of the best dressed woman on earth, Mother Nature, who created the most beautiful shoe on earth — your foot. If you strive to meddle with her design, by obscuring its natural form with pettifogging appurtenances, your conceit shall, at best, elicit but empty admiration.

In addition Mother Nature has issued dicta on colour coordination that you are ill-advised to spurn. Those who mix yellow and black, orange and blue or spots with stripes inevitably project the message of a clashing colour in nature: that he who looks upon it will soon be dead or vomiting.

My drawing of Augusta, 2003

The ideal woman’s shoe is, like the ideal woman, indeed like nature herself, an impossible thing; but to achieve mediocrity one need only aim for the imaginable. I do not refer to perfection, the idea of which makes me sick and wicked, rather to the unreachable utopia of true balance, which must always be in our sights.

What you seek is not just a shoe that permits you to stand with the same poise as a naked swimmer, but one that is also artistically balanced, suspended between the elegant, the comfortable, the demure and the louche. If you stray too far into one or other of these domains your spirit will totter as surely your inadequately heeled ankle.

Regarding the heel, it should not be of excessive height, of no greater distance to the floor than the sole of the foot is to the ankle. Avoid conveying spindlesome maladroitness and vulgar subservience; raise your heel as you would raise a child, with reassuring support. Also pay close attention to the curve of the stitching, which should echo the curve of the heel, instep and toeline; anything else will confer the subliminal impression that you are not of human origin.

Avoid ballet flats, unless you are a ballerina, and beware of slingbacks, which give overdue emphasis to the length and thinness of the foot and make it look like a fin or flipper. Avoid sandals and mules comprised of nothing but thin straps, which make the poor foot look like either a trussed up chicken or as if crawlen over with worms (note that these are popular in Spain, one the most barbarously dressed countries in the world, which should serve you as a standing model of polite revulsion). Above all I adjure you to recoil with abhorrence before all pointy shoes, the greatest crime ever visited upon the feminine foundation. Wearing a pointy shoe is not a venial sin, but a mortal one.

That is all. If you follow these simple principles you will do credit to your fine eduction, but if you chuse to shod yourself as most of the world does, with compulsive vulgarity, you can still count on the love of

Your dear aunt,


p.s. Frank has turned a very nice butterchurn for Fanny.