I’m not usually one for bows. Or pink. Especially bubblegum pink. So I never expected to fall for a girlish pink sling-back flat with a bow so oversized it almost grazes the ground. I do have my whimsical sartorial tendencies (see: my proclivity for wearing fur in the summer), but I tend to draw the line at the overly saccharine.
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Still, while living in London for a few months earlier this year, a city where grown women un-ironically wear Peter Pan collars and ribbons in their hair, that line became blurry very quickly. And willpower is a muscle that eventually tires, especially when you see a shoe like the Marie Antoinette everywhere—on Instagram and IRL.
As I explored London and its watering holes and stylish haunts, I kept seeing the distinctive flats with the giant bow on the side. I saw them at London Fashion Week, at Dishoom (Shoreditch), Sketch, and Chiltern. The shoes aren’t just becoming a favorite among the Sloane Rangers version 2.0, but also of London-based fashionistas such asShini Park and celebrity stylist Louise Roe. When I met a woman named Penelope at the Park Lane Hotel who was as in love with the pair on feet as she was her Received Pronunciation, I decided to go for it.
Josefinas Marie Antoinette ballet flat
CourtesyThe Marie Antoinette is by Josefinas, a company based in Portugal and founded by three friends: Filipa Júlio, Maria Cunha, and Sofia Oliveira. (Júlio’s grandmother is the company’s namesake.) “It’s a true showstopper,” Oliveira, who also serves as the head of marketing for the brand, said in an email, noting that the style has “become a signature.”
I committed to a pair. The shoe is so boldly feminine, there’s an aggressiveness in that formula that speaks to me. Once I broke it in, the Marie Antoinette challenged me to rethink how to balance the classic with the quirky. It’s not just a statement piece; it is the statement.
The author in her Marie Antoinettes
And it’s not just the bow that does the talking; pink is a deceivingly powerful color. Wearing the shoe felt like wearing a velvet glove wrapped around an iron fist. More than that, they announce very loudly that you are a woman. I’m of the belief that reveling publicly in femininity is a dangerous thing, if only because people so often resent women for being joyful without apology. So I was surprised to receive so many “Well done” comments from men as I passed outdoor cafes (or just got lost trying to navigate London’s medieval streets), and I didn’t expect the effect the shoes had on the conversation. It probably helped that I would pair my Marie Antoinettes with strong looks: my hair pulled back so that my angular facial features were more prominent, a dark camisole and ripped jeans, slim jackets, etc. It made me harder to read, which I liked.
A shoe-fie during London Fashion Week.
Courtesy of the author
The Marie Antoinettes are fantastic icebreakers, and if you’re an introvert I’d argue they’re an essential—though a pricy one at $562. If money isn’t an issue, please buy me the Blue Persian Salt flats, which, at $4,045, may be the most expensive ballet flats on the planet.
If you do decide to shell out for a pair (even if it’s not to buy me those Blue Persian Salt flats), you can feel good about Josefinas’ commitment to feminism and women. “Proud to Be a Woman” is a permanent campaign; Gloria Steinem is a fan of the brand and designed the “Women for Women” collection, whose proceeds benefit the school fees of women in Africa. “This is a company founded by women, inspired by our grandmothers,” Oliveira says. “Feminism isn’t just a brand for us, it’s what we believe, it’s how we live.”
Fashion, though, is always political, even if it isn’t making an overt statement on policy. It’s not lost on me, in the aftermath of Brexit, that a Portuguese shoe is making its mark on London. The same goes for wearing an ultra-feminine shoe in one of the most stridently anti-woman presidential administrations that the United States has ever seen. What makes the shoe so powerful is how it makes me as a woman feel: strong, capable, beautiful. Fashion’s ability to inspire women, who are often our society’s great agents for change, is its most political—and fashionable—statement yet.