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Coming to the point.

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It's goodbye to those cutesy round-toe pumps. Pointed-toe shoes are back with a vengeance - but don't be scared, says Hadley Freeman. Personally, I've never really got the point. Even back in the 1980s, when pointed-toe shoes were enjoying perhaps their greatest heyday, they never made sense to me. I totally get the idea of using clothes to, as one's mum might say, "enhance one's natural assets" -_which generally means the precise opposite of that, as it's just a pretty way of saying "faking it".

But while, say, a push-up bra or control-top knickers sculpt certain body parts into their fantasy shape, who wants to pretend that they have a foot that resembles the top half of a triangle?

Is it really worth crushing one's toes into a very painful pyramid shape to achieve this apparently desirable fantasy?

Yes, we've all heard that canard about a pointed toe "lengthening and slimming the leg", and while I'm all for somehow making my legs look longer, I still don't understand how pretending my toes have been attenuated to primate lengths would make anyone think my limbs look Amazonian.

And for a while, it looked like everyone had come round to my way of thinking. Round-toes have pretty much ruled the shoe world for the past decade, with a tenacity that belies their innocently girlish appearance.

But a decade is a century in fashion years (like dog years, but longer and potentially more fatal if underestimated) so it was inevitable that the point should return at some point. And lo, it has come to pass.

At Balenciaga - pretty much the bellwether for trends that the high street masses will be adopting - the gladiator sandals it knocked out last season (which, as anyone who has been outside in the past three months can testify, proves the previous point) have been replaced for autumn/winter by shoes so pointy they will probably double as weapons for the requisite eastern European villainess in the next Bond film.

Even Marc Jacobs, who is surely Coco Chanel's successor in his tireless promotion of the sweet and girly look, has pushed aside his beloved mouse pumps (literally, ballet pumps with little beaded eyes and whiskers fixed on the tip) for decidedly more grown-up and less rodentesque pointier toes, at both his own eponymous label and in the current collection for Louis Vuitton.

Similarly, the Lanvin woman seems to have matured from the pretty, round-toed mademoiselle she was just a few seasons ago to a full-on vamp, with black, sharp-toed teetering heels. "Round toes are on their way out and pointy toes are marching back into our wardrobes!" one fashion magazine gleefully announced this month.

The reason trends wane is not just because of overexposure. Usually, it's the related but slightly different cause of bad association. When they first appeared, sloppy suede pirate-style boots were redolent of an elfin kind of cool, mainly because the only person most of us had seen wearing them was Kate Moss. But with impressive rapidity they became more associated with grubby teens and posing footballers' wives because, well, that's who everyone now saw wearing them.

Pointed-toe shoes have a somewhat different association: that of scary, high-maintenance 80s woman, one whose blow-dried hair is bettered only by her shoulder pads in terms of girth and stiffness. Even worse were the pastel kitten heels with elongated pointed toes (still scary but, like, feminine, yeah?) that were so popular in the early 90s.

But the reactions against this over-coiffeured look have not, it has to be said, been particularly edifying for women. Let's see - there was grunge in the mid 90s, which was just marvellous for confirming that if you don't wash your hair for a week, wear at least seven shirts piled on top of each other paired with a floor-length kilt, and ideally accessorise the whole ensemble with some battered DM boots, you will look like Ophelia, mid-demise, if Ophelia had lived in Seattle in 1994.

Then there was the infantile look that arrived at the beginning of this decade, of which round-toe shoes were very much a part, as they went just marvellously with one's empire-line tops and dresses, cropped cardigans and polka-dot prom dresses. Perfect if one's fashion icon is a two-year old.

So, there is something pleasing in the idea that women are being encouraged to dress like grown-ups again. When a woman wants to look mature, she points her toes (in the non-balletic sense, that is). Just look at Katie Holmes, still trying valiantly to shuck off her Dawson's Creek Joey persona and look like a fortysomething Hollywood wife, as befits her marital position. And look how proud of them she is, too, buying a pair in bright blue to go with her fire-engine-red dress for the recent Met Ball in New York, making her look like a walking box of crayons.

Anna Wintour, unsurprisingly, never relinquished her pointed Manolo Blahnik heels throughout the round-toe era. But funnily enough, this never seemed to sway the masses in their opinion that this was a shoe style only for the very scary and those overly dedicated to the cause of looking thin.

Michelle Obama, as is the case in regards to pretty much everything in my book, does it better. With her no-nonsense attitude and general aura of I'm-getting-some-and-getting-it-good sexiness, it was inevitable that her shoes would be as sharp (and a little bit scary) as the woman herself. And no question, pointed-toe shoes work with her slim-fitting shift dresses and suits in a way that round toes wouldn't. But some problems remain.

Michelle aside, when I think of modern day pointed-toe shoe fans today, I think of flagrantly high-maintenance (and presumably painfully-bunioned) ladies like Elizabeth Hurley and Nancy dell'Olio.

But shoe designer Rupert Sanderson, whose collection for next season includes some undeniably tempting pointed toes, says that the new pointed toe is of a different incarnation to its 80s, eurotrash predecessors.

The modern converts do seem to bear this out. Kate Hudson, for example, a woman whose love of playing the girly card was once bettered only by Emma Bunton, was recently photographed wearing just such a pair of foreshortened pointy shoes and looked quite marvellous, the grown-up shape making her look less gratingly bubbly than usual.

In Bahrain, pointy shoe lover Yasmin Elisabeth, 22, a corporate communications officer, from Riffa, said: "When were pointy shoes really out of style - that is the question?

"One of my favourite accessories has got to be shoes. My current favourite pair is bright red from Mango. Daring, feminine, sexy and pointy - also, the shoes were a bargain at only BD28."

Reem Juma, 22, from Hamad Town, said: "The pointed shoe has come of age again and it looks better to me now. They are more comfortable - but then again that all depends on the point and the size of your foot."

The 22-year-old's favourite pink pointy shoes came from the Nine West store at Seef Mall and cost BD32.

She added: "I think pointy shoes look chic and classy and you can wear them with both casual and formal wear. They can go with almost anything."

Whether women will actually retire their beloved ballet pumps (which, to be frank, are getting pretty grubby) remains to be seen. Once one has had the glimpse of paradise that is being allowed to walk around town in what are little more than slippers, the road back is long and untempting.

But if it sparks a return to women actually dressing as grown ups -_not scary Amazonians, not slobs, not children - but confident, attractive women, it's hard not to feel that maybe a point is being well made.

- Additional reporting by Mai Al Khatib

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Jul 20, 2008
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