When we saw this photo of Mae West’s shoes, our mind got boggled. Were these wild sculptures meant to be stylish OR were they a strange solution to the impossibility of walking in the lower, steeply-angled silver shoe — a less fearsome, more wearable shoe added right on top?

It turns out something of both: they were meant to be stylish and consummately-practical, for reasons we didn’t expect.

As NPR recently explained in their coverage of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibition “Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen”:

West was petite, between 4 feet 11 inches and 5 feet 2 inches tall. On screen, however, she looked larger than life, and this exhibition shows why: She wore shoes that made her 8 1/2 inches taller. A feat of foot engineering, each shoe has two layers: white platform shoes with ankle straps bolted on top of a pair of wooden silver pumps.

“Under a long dress you wouldn’t notice that these shoes were being worn,” says co-curator Emily Stoehrer. “These silver toes would just peep out thru the hem of the dress.” West is said to have worn them all the time — on screen and off.

A strange genius at work here…

With thanks to Maria Robledo

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