Friday, August 08, 2008

J.Crew Espadrilles: Another Lofty Splurge (on clearance!)

I wrote 2 years ago about my first phenomenal experience with J.Crew flip flops. Yes, flip flops can be described as phenomenal when 1) they give you the sensation of sinking into supremely soft marshmallow fluff, which is indescribably decadent to your feet after a long day, 2) they provide incredible support by pushing back ever-so-lightly on the soles of your feet as you walk on everything from jagged brick to sold concrete to rocky gravel, 3) they manage to stay on your feet even when you're power-walking or sprinting through a sudden rainstorm (especially the original elastic thong style), 4) they have a no-budge, skid-proof lightly textured sole, and 5) they never, ever break or rip, unlike every single previous pair of flip flops I have ever owned (this includes you, Old Navy).

So how can this experience of blissful comfort be topped? It can't. But if the occasion simply won't allow for flip flops and you must step up to something a bit dressier, I urge you to slip into a darling pair of J.Crew espadrilles. You won't be disappointed. At the risk of this blog turning into another unpaid endorsement site for my favorite label, I will proceed to tell you why you should cough up the dough for J.Crew's always superior take on a perennial staple.

At $98 for the solid leather and silk faille, and a whopping $118 for the patterned silk and cotton styles, I admit the decision was somewhat difficult. Particularly when competitors offered them for $50 and under (not to mentioned $20 and under at Target). But when they plunged to just $29.99 plus an extra 40% off in-store (30% off online), it was clearly a no-brainer. Which was good, because the extra 40% off made them final sale items. I purchased 3 pairs on the spot: Metallic Gold leather, Platinum Gunmetal leather, and Wild Berry plaid fabric. Believe me, though, it was love at first step, and I have no regrets whatsoever. Except maybe that I didn't grab more. This fab footwear is the bee's knees!

I can't even begin to describe how powerfully lofty they make a petite girl feel. Towering over my shorter friends, I stood almost face-to-face with the average-height ladies at the parties I went to. And when I met up with 2 of several friends who are abnormally tall, for the first time I didn't have to crane my neck and look up into the sky to make eye contact -- and they didn't have to peer down my dress as much (thankfully, since they were male friends) when they held a conversation. The espadrilles gave me a generous 3.5-inch boost, which I swear turned into 5 inches because my posture improved dramatically and I held my head higher. In all, it definitely made me feel like a gazelle.

Another fantastic benefit was losing about 10 pounds in a skirt, which I didn't even know I needed to lose (I'm pretty sure I didn't need to). It's just that my legs looked positively 100 miles long, which made me appear leaner than ever. All of a sudden, dresses that hung unworn all season looked like a million bucks now that I was tall and ultra-thin. This must be how supermodels feel when they step out of their closets every day. Summer suits took on a fresh new spin too, sort of like dressing for work in the south of France or in Rio. The tailored cuts of my sophisticated suits looked chic, and the espadrilles lent a sass and carefree quality to my workday that I can only imagine denizens of resort towns enjoy.

I was startled at just how much of my wardrobe the Wild Berry plaid pattern picks up. It really add a punch to my dark denim dresses and skirts, and it looks equally swell with most shades of coral and pink. Likewise, I was pleasantly accosted with numerous compliments when I donned the Platinum Gold leather ones. They offer just the right amount of bling without being over-the-top for daytime, and the color is the ideal shade of pale gold that definitely doesn't interfere with large doses of silver accessories. Nothing glams up crisp summer whites or the requisite nautical navy like a gleaming platinum gold. For evening, the Metallic Gunmetal espadrilles are the perfect pewter substitute for black heels, and for day they warm up to the slightest hint of bronze, which make them incredibly versatile to perk up browns and neutrals.

The real surprise here is how marvelously comfortable they are! Believe me, I've tried countless wedges and quite a few espadrilles over the past few years. Many of the super-high wedges make me feel like I'm perched at the edge of a precipice about to teeter over. All too often, the designers just don't create an appropriate "ramp" from your toes to your heel. Then there's the feeling of walking on stilts, as the front of the shoe never quite makes contact with the ground. My feet usually slide right off the incline and inevitably cause a nasty sprain as I slip and try to balance on one foot. If you do luck out and find a pair that hold both feet firmly in place, they will no doubt squeeze the sides of your feet all day until they suffocate the life out of your toes. This results in unfortunate blistering around your sides and sometimes behind your ankle where the strap dug in too tightly.

I've even tried wearing low-heeled espadrilles with wide footbeds, but they only end up resembling orthopedic "comfort" shoes that you sometimes see paired with tights (I too shudder at this image), or atrociously crunchy sandals worn by German tourists, also sometimes with socks (my sincere apologies to the fashionable German globetrotters). Another pet peeve is designers who only account for tall women with monstrously long legs. How else can you explain the yards of ribbon that are supposed to lace around your ankles without making you look like an unraveling child mummy? Folks, it just doesn't work on short people (or on people who have anything wider than baseball bats for calves). Hence, I all but gave up on wearing anything resembling an espadrille, lamenting my decision with the full knowledge that they would probably re-appear every single spring and summer.

Enter the high quality J.Crew craftsmanship and smart attention to detail (thank you, Jenna Lyons Mazeau and Micky Drexler!). First, the architecture itself is thoroughly planned out -- not by mannequin dressers, but by real people who actually have to walk in the city. Somehow, the 3.5-inch wedge slopes upward at a precisely graduated angle, never giving you the sensation that you're suddenly out of touch with the ground below. You know how some wedges are heavy with a stacked wooden base and feel awkwardly clunky, sort of like trying to balance on jagged rocks? Not so with J.Crew. The entire shoe is fairly lightweight, which means you're not dragging around an extra 2 pounds on each foot. Meanwhile, the footbed is nicely cushioned to provide all-day support so you can run about doing errands or dance the night away. Plus, the rubber sole provides further elasticity as well as excellent grip while the leather covered footbed adds a touch of stickiness which prevents you from falling right out of the shoe. In addition, the leather ankle strap has plenty of room for adjustment and is measured to hug your ankle at just the right place so you don't feel strangled.

The width and opening of the toebed is generously ample to let your toes breathe and enjoy the fresh air. Yet, you never lose the streamlined silhouette from ankle to toe, and you certainly don't channel German tourist or orthopedic patient. No blisters have surfaced yet, and so far I haven't suffered from toe asphyxiation even after a long day of wearing the espadrilles. I also love that, from the back, the wedge heel is slender and curved. This is always a concern for those with smaller proportions who don't want to appear as if they're going to the disco in chunky clogs.

One of my biggest anxieties with fabric-based shoes is the fear that the shoe will eventually come apart. That makes me pleasantly surprised at the solid construction. Surprisingly, I've tracked through a few puddles in both the fabric and leather styles, and neither shows the evidence. The jute wedge doesn't suffer from weathering or hold in moisture, and miraculously, the fabric used in the printed shoes is truly stain resistant. I also had my reservations about the thin ankle strap, which I abused by stomping on several times and tugging off too quickly in a rush. But it too has held up fine so far.

Yes, J.Crew has reeled me in again with their better-than-average classics (at above-average prices). But after almost a month of trekking around in my entirely-too-stylish espadrilles that I practically stole off the clearance rack, I'm (gasp) prepared to pony up full price next year. I even have the confidence to venture into the fabric styles. What will next spring bring us in patterns? Surely more polka dots and plaids, maybe a few novel stripes and florals motifs? We'll just have to wait and see. And I'll be waiting patiently with my J.Crew credit card, ready to lunge at the first sighting of espadrilles.