When I was seventeen, I spent a summer in France with a French family as part of a Rotary exchange program for high school students. My parents sent me off for the summer with two well-packed suitcases, gifts for my host family, and $800 in spending money. Imagine their surprise when I returned home later that summer with the same two valises (French for suitcases, because by then I fancied myself fluent), about twenty bucks, and a brand spanking new pair of Prada pumps.
That’s right, Prada pumps.
Whereas other teenagers might have plunked down their spending money on the likes of trinkets, keepsakes, and other sorts of useless tourist mementos, I had more haute purchases in mind. After all, I reasoned, I was in the extremely rare situation of spending the summer in Mougins, a gorgeous Provençal village located just outside of celebrity-studded Cannes and, consequently, some of the best shopping in Europe.
Plus, I benefited from the similarly rare luck of having a tidy little sum to spend on pretty much whatever I wanted, with little parental discretion over the purchases possible—what with their being thousands of miles away and all. And surely, I concluded, my French host parents wouldn’t object to a girl taking a little la mode home with her to the States!
In short, I bought the shoes.
And what fabulous shoes they were! So fabulous, in fact, that I wore them until they literally fell apart, which happened sometime during my sophomore year in college. Clearly, even at the tender age of seventeen, I understood the power of a really great pair of shoes. You know what I mean—it’s that thing that a great pair of shoes or, for that matter, a great bag can do for your whole look. Get one right (great shoes or great bag) and you’re looking pretty good. Get both right and, well, odds are good you’re looking downright fabulous.
In fact, I have a theory about shoes and bags I like to call The Great Shoe-Bag Theory. It’s quite simple, actually: the best-looking (read: most well-put-together) women around are pretty much always carrying fabulous bags and shoes. The rest of the outfit? Well, it’s actually much less important.
To better illustrate my point, allow me to introduce you to my fabulous friend Jaime, originator of the theory.
Jaime is one of those girls who other girls have always wanted to be like. In elementary school, Jaime was the first girl to wear her backpack over just one shoulder, and before you knew it all the other girls were lugging their backpacks around on one shoulder too. Of course, by that time Jaime had started carrying a hot pink messenger bag, leaving everyone once again scrambling to keep up with her tote bag, trendsetting ways.
Now, Jaime’s still one of those women who, every time you see her, you can’t help but admire how polished she looks and wonder how she always manages to look so great. (Although it’s no longer a hot pink messenger bag on her shoulder but the latest Marc Jacobs.) And so, being a generally inquisitive, not always shy person, I decided one night after a few cocktails to simply ask her how she does it. I will never forget her response. “Simple,” she replied gamely. “It’s all about the bag and shoes.”
And just like that, with no further explanation, I understood perfectly.
It might as well have been a lightning bolt. Cycling mentally through some of Jaime’s best outfits, I realized that what really stuck out in my mind were her many—you guessed it—amazing clutches, totes, messengers (yep, she still fancies ‘em), and fabulous slides, pumps, and stilettos. The rest of her wardrobe was…well, it was just a blur, I realized in a rush of stylistic clairvoyance.
“These pants,” Jaime continued, tapping her leg and bringing me back to the present and our dwindling martinis. “I got them at Zara for, like, fifty bucks,” she concluded matter-of-factly. Of course! It’s all about the bag and the shoes, after all. Between her gorgeous snakeskin Jimmy Choos and super of-the-moment Fendi baguette, I hadn’t even noticed her rather average-looking slacks.
Nor had anyone else, for that matter. With a twinkle in her eye, Jaime clinked her glass against mine, finished her drink and motioned towards the dance floor. Style, I realized with a smile, is also knowing when to let your friends in on your best little secrets.
How to put the Great Shoe-Bag Theory to use
Don’t have any snakeskin Jimmy Choos? Well, relax, neither do I. Just because I bought a pair of Pradas at seventeen doesn’t mean I’ve always had the cash to drop on such high-ticket items. With college came what I like to refer to euphemistically as “the lean years,” followed—sadly—by those years of my early financial independence just after college, a period I prefer not to think about at all but when pressed will refer to as “the dark ages” of my fashion evolution.
During this time I had little spare cash to spend and even less inclination to shop when faced with the prospect of combing through stores filled with lots of lovely things I had almost no means to purchase. But, being a young thing with a penchant for going out and a gaggle of impossibly stylish friends, I knew I somehow needed to find a way to put on a good fashion face, so to speak.
Fortunately, Jaime’s little secret inspired me to put The Great Shoe-Bag Theory to work for me. I funneled what little spending money I had (along with the occasional injection of cash from my parents on a birthday or special occasion) into—you got it!—a couple of nice purses and two or three stunning pairs of shoes. I got creative and mixed and matched them with a rotating selection of basics I already had in my closet and—voila! The Great Shoe-Bag Theory began to work for me too, and the compliments began pouring in.
If Jaime was in earshot when they did, I’d send a wink her way.