Tuesday, October 31, 2023

fashion review: Dressed To Impress at the Bata Shoe Museum

Review & photos by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A-

I grew up in the eighties and have been trying to forget them ever since. Yuppies, pastels, shoulder pads, Reagan, Thatcher, AIDS, the nuclear race, junk bonds and drum machines. Those were the eighties. Yech. Well, now the Bata Shoe Museum has revived that garish decade through a collection of shoes.

Yes, shoes. 

Music and film, yes, but can you tell the story of a decade through footwear? Through Air Jordans (top photo), Princess Di heels (below) and John Fluevog Winklepickers? Dressed To Impress: Footwear and Consumerism in the 1980s comes close. It's the new exhibition at the Bata Shoe Museum, opening Nov. 1 and running through March 16, 2024. 

Eighty pairs (get it?) have been grouped to evoke '80s themes of working women, nouveau riche chic (remember Dynasty?), the workout fad and most interesting for me, sneakers. Signs accompanying each pair do a good job of summarizing yet detailing the shoes and their cultural significance. 

An example here would be women's office shoes and work outfits that needed to be assertive, professional, yet not threatening to men, but remaining somehow feminine. 

The eight sections and middle displays, which feature designer shoes, are gathered in one large room that looks exactly like a shopping mall from 1985. Lots of plastic and pastels. I commend the designer.

A mini-theatre in the back had ZZ Top's video, Legs, running silently. That video was chosen, I presume, because one scene takes place in a shoe store. If there's on critique of Dressed to Impress it's that the sound could have been turned on this righteous tune and the screen could have been a little bigger. But this is a minor quibble.

Some will take to the Gucci loafers or Susan Bennis/Warren Edwards power pumps, but I was drawn to the Air Jordans, which came out in 1985 to revolutionize streetwear, launched the collections of countless sneakerheads to this day and catapulted Nike to the top of the sneaker jungle. The Jordans coincided with the rise of hip hop giants like Run-D.M.C and their collective impact is seen on feet today.

Shoes? Yeah, they can tell a story.

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