lady maryI walk in my apartment, kick my shoes under the dining room table, haphazardly hang up my coat with scarf still dangling around the collar, then toss my hat in the basket designated for such winter items; a far cry from the behavior of Lady Mary of “Downton Abbey.”

“I’m going upstairs to take off my hat,” she announced recently to her family with the gravitas that Mr. Carson announces that dinner is served.

Such care. Such ceremony. Such a time suck.

Even though we all know that her lady’s maid, Anna, will actually do the putting away of the accessory, Mary’s work isn’t done simply because her cloche has left her head. There’s a whole routine: before she put the hat on, her hair had to be done just so, for the hat to lay properly. Upon removal, her hat hair would need to be restyled.

I, as well as many I know, have had a good laugh at the Crawley’s eldest daughter’s life revolving around a sartorial item, until I had a flashback to NYC circa 1985, when Ann Taylor’s inventory included suede, ballet flats in six jewel-tone colors.

The store was up the block from my ad agency where it seemed that virtually every female employee had these shoes. Even though I earned slave wages at my entry-level copywriter job, I would not be denied.

My royal blue slip-ons were ninety-eight dollars. In comparison to today’s footwear prices that are nonchalantly quoted in the three and four figures, a pair of kicks priced less than a hundred bucks seems like they should’ve been sold at Payless; yet at the time they were rather expensive, at least in my book (pocketbook, that is).

I had to be vigilant about caring for them, since I couldn’t just waltz into AT and buy new ones. I vowed my treasured acquisition would never touch the pavement.

So, I did the obvious, wearing my Reeboks to and from the office. I feared though that being jostled around in my bag in transit might damage the delicate material, hence the shoes had an overnight place in my bottom desk drawer from Monday to Friday. During the workday, they theoretically would only slide across the blue patterned carpeting. However, as was part of the job, I might have to go to an off-site client meeting, an editing facility or recording session.

Of the many times that babying my feet fashion proved inconvenient, a couple stand out. I thought the head of the senior vice president management supervisor would blow off the afternoon he had to wait to get on the elevator at the client because I had to change out of my sneakers. Once, a senior copywriter had fire shooting out of her nose as she cooled her heels on Third Avenue. I had to run back upstairs to my office because I had forgotten to slip off my prized possessions before heading to a film edit.

But then I got a second job interview at an agency that would mean a bump in title and pay actual human wages. Unlike the first one that occurred in his office, the creative director wanted to have lunch, and he was bringing my potential art director with him. He suggested a restaurant that was mere steps away from where I worked. As it was so close and I wanted to make an entrance, which could not involve taking off/putting on shoes, I decided I would brave the half a block. Did I mention it was winter and their was residue snow and the mush that goes with it on the ground? I went out of my way, literally, to avoid the aforementioned. It took twenty minutes to end up across the street, but my blue suede flats were intact.

I was offered the position at the end of our meal, and was so excited I forgot all about my footwear, thinking of nothing else than my big career move.

By the time I returned to the office, the shoes were sopping. By the time I got home and took them out of my bag, the parts that had dried were stiff and a white ring had started to form around where the suede met the leather soles. No amount of brushing could save them, and even the shoemaker was no help. My nightmare had come true, sort of. Even though the shoes I’d been so meticulous about were now garbage, I was finally in a position to replace them. That is until the sales person at Ann Taylor informed me they were last season’s and never to be restocked.

I vowed that I’d never again own anything that high maintenance.

Thirty years later, I’m erring on the side of a lady’s maid.


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