Wedding shoes for the organized and practical bride

It’s springtime in the Southern Hemisphere, and spring is always a popular season for weddings. I’ve been invited to 3 weddings over the next 3 months. I’ve accepted all the invitations and will attend these weddings, even though they are being held in 2 different countries, in different continents even!

All these wedding invitations made me think that I should write about weddings and bridal shoes. I feel that the word ‘wedding’ is an excuse to double the price of anything. For instance, flowers, stationery, dinner or cake – add in the words ‘for a wedding’, and suddenly the price is double what it usually costs, even though it’s not any fancier.

Another thing I’ve realized, especially if a bride is looking for a dress or shoes, is that the word ‘white’ doesn’t seem to exist. Instead of ‘white’, this colour is described as cream, ivory, pearl, snow, or even champagne-coloured. Yes, there really are 50 shades of white.

Also, bridal shoes seem to only come in one style – the strappy stiletto. Even if that may not be what you want to wear. So this post is about how to have comfortable shoes on your wedding day. Let’s say you’ve chosen to wear stilettos or heels for the big day. My advice would be to break them in before the wedding day. A few weeks before the wedding, spend one whole day wearing the chosen bridal shoes. This gives you an idea of what the shoes will feel like, and also gives you time to recover from any resulting blisters. There’s nothing worse than being in pain from wearing uncomfortable shoes on a day as important as your wedding. If there’s going to be dancing, be sure to practice dancing while wearing the bridal shoes.


Gel insoles can be used to make stilettos more comfortable (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

You can increase the comfort level of stilettos by putting gel insoles inside your stilettos. You can get them for your heels or balls of your feet. If you wear stilettos to a beach wedding or a garden or outdoor wedding, the stiletto heels are going to sink into the sand, grass or mud. Unless you plan on walking on tip toes the whole time (not recommended because it’s uncomfortable and you look like a moron!), one option is to get heel stoppers. These are kind of like plugs that you fit on to the bottom of the heels of stilettos and they stop the stilettos from sinking into sand or mud when outdoors.

Another option for the practical bride is just to wear flats. Who says you have to wear strappy stilettos to a wedding? Especially if you’re wearing a long wedding dress that will cover your shoes anyway, you might as well choose to wear comfortable shoes. Who’s going to be looking at your shoes when you’re wearing a wedding dress?


Flat Mary-Jane style shoes for the practical bride (Photo by Jenna Maxwell).

If all else fails, have a back-up pair of shoes somewhere, and you can slip them on after all the formal photos have been taken.


Peranakan Beaded Slippers

Last month I wrote about the Hong Kong Shoe Store in Penang, Malaysia, where Jimmy Choo was an apprentice. Jimmy Choo cut his teeth making Peranakan beaded slippers as Hong Kong Shoe Store is famous for this type of footwear.

Peranakan is a Malay word that comes from the root word ‘anak’, which means ‘child’. Peranakan means locally born of a marriage between a native person and a foreigner. Originally, this term referred to the descendants of 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to the Malay archipelago. But Peranakan can refer to anyone born in the archipelago (which includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore) who is the result of an intermarriage with a local. The term Peranakan can apply to descendants of intermarriages between Malays and Indian Hindus, Indian Muslims, Arabs or Eurasians, but it is most commonly used to refer to ethnic Chinese people who have assimilated and adopted the language and culture of Malays. The men are titled Baba while the women are called Nyonya. Their communities are found in the Straits Settlements – Malacca and Penang in Malaysia, and in Singapore.

The Peranakan have a unique hybrid culture which seems to be slowly disappearing. Their language is a mix of Malay and Chinese. Peranakan food is Chinese and Malay fusion, way before the term ‘fusion cuisine’ even existed.

The traditional clothing of Peranakan women is the ‘baju kebaya’. Female flight attendants on Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines and Garuda Indonesia all wear a modern form of the batik baju kebaya. The traditional baju kebaya consists of a sheer top with a batik sarong. The traditional kebaya top or blouse had no buttons. Instead a three-piece linked brooch called a ‘kerongsang’ or ‘kerosang’ are used to fasten the blouse down the front. The traditional kebaya blouse was always beautifully embroidered all around the edges.

Shih Yen wears a vintage Nyonya kebaya with hand embroidery on the edges. This kebaya has no buttons, but is pinned with a kerosang.

Shih Yen wears a vintage Nyonya kebaya with hand embroidery on the edges to her graduation ceremony. This kebaya has no buttons, but is pinned with a kerosang.

Close up of Shih Yen's kerosang or kebaya pin.

Close up of Shih Yen’s kerosang or kebaya pin.

A variety of the kebaya is the Nyonya Kebaya, worn by Peranakan women of Chinese ancestry, especially in the Straits Settlements. Unlike other types of kebaya, the Nyonya Kebaya is worn with Peranakan beaded slippers, also called ‘kasut manek’ or ‘manek aey’. Peranakan beaded slippers are handmade using tiny beads. A design or pattern was usually cross stitched onto the front of the slipper, and then beaded over with beads called ‘manek potong’ or cut beads. This was all done by hand using very tiny, glass beads.

Examples of Peranakan beaded slippers.

Examples of Peranakan beaded slippers.

Peranakan beaded slippers can be in a peep-toe or covered style. They can be worn for happy or sad occasions. On sad occasions, the slippers had a simple pattern in sombre coloured beads like black, white or dark blue. For special occasions such as birthdays and weddings, the slippers were colourful and more intricate. In the past, it was the custom for young nyonyas to learn beadwork and embroidery. On her wedding day, it was an opportunity for the nyonya to show off her intricate beadwork in her own handmade beaded slippers, and to display her hand embroidered baju kebaya. These slippers were most popular in the 1930s.

In the past, Peranakan beaded slippers were worn by both men and women, but these days they are mainly worn by women.

Peranakan wedding slippers, not for the bride, but for the bridegroom. This pair of beaded slippers was worn by Lim Kim San on his wedding in Singapore in 1939. In the background is a photo of a Peranakan wedding from that period.

Peranakan wedding slippers, not for the bride, but for the bridegroom. This pair of beaded slippers was worn by Lim Kim San on his wedding in Singapore in 1939. In the background is a photo of a Peranakan wedding from that period.

Traditional Korean shoes and Beosun (버선) socks

If your only exposure to Korean culture so far has been ‘Gangnam Style’ by PSY, look very, very closely at the group dance scene towards the end of the Gangnam Style music video. There’s a female dancer in the background on the right wearing a reddish-pink hanbok, the Korean traditional costume. Hanbok translates literally as ‘Korean clothing.’

Some time ago, I took a trip to South Korea. The only thing that I knew I really wanted to buy in Korea was a hanbok. The traditional hanbok for women consists of a short shirt with long sleeves called a ‘jeoguri’ and a long skirt called a ‘chima’. There’s also a special petticoat-dress called a ‘sokchima’ that goes under the hanbok and helps give it shape.

These days, the traditional hanbok is usually worn at weddings, special birthdays, and traditional Korean festivals like the lunar new year. I bought my hanbok in a little shop near the sea in the port city of Busan, South Korea. The choice of shop was random. The small shop looked friendlier than other big, faceless shops.

In general, people have their hanbok tailor-made. They don’t try and buy it off the rack, like I did. Buying a hanbok when you don’t speak Korean is an interesting experience. Imagine trying to buy a wedding dress in a language that you don’t speak and you’ll kind of get the idea. It involved me pointing at a calendar and miming an aeroplane to convey the idea that I wasn’t going to be in the country long enough to have a hanbok made to measure.

Despite the language difficulties, I managed to buy a pink and red traditional Korean hanbok made of silk with beautiful embroidery of flowers on the ‘jeoguri’. The price was … well, let’s just say a hand-embroidered silk hanbok costs the same as the average white wedding dress. Despite the picture of a credit card on the shop door, the sales lady insisted I pay in cash. We may not speak the same language, but the sales lady sure speaks the language of commerce – probably scared that I was going to flee the country with a hanbok in a trail of bad debt! A short (and bank balance-decimating) trip to an ATM later and I was the proud owner of a Korean hanbok.

Shih Yen wears her hand-embroidered silk hanbok from South Korea (Photo by Paul Wheeler).

My hanbok was packed into a box with a pair of 버선 beosun (pronounced bo-sun) socks. These are traditional Korean socks that are worn with hanbok. Beosun socks are pointy at the end and usually white. My pair of beosun socks also had some hand embroidery on it. My beosun socks are too small for me. When I tried them on in the shop, I mimed to the sales lady that they were too small. In return, she mimed back forcibly pulling them on! I understand that beosun socks should be worn a bit tight, but I’m sorry lady, I have big feet! There are no photos of me wearing my beosun socks as I have never been able to get my feet into them no matter how forcibly I pull.

Shih Yen’s pair of too-small traditional Korean beosun socks with hand-embroidery.

The correct footwear when wearing hanbok are beosun socks with traditional Korean shoes. Like the beosun socks, traditional Korean shoes also curl up at the end. These shoes are called ‘flower shoes’ because they look like flower petals. Traditionally, these shoes were made of leather or silk. The modern version of these shoes have a low heel and have embroidery on it – generally of flowers. Because of the upturned toe, it is better to buy these shoes a size larger than your usual shoe size so that they fit comfortably. Because of the curled-up toe, these shoes can also make large feet look smaller. Good for people like me 🙂

Traditional Korean shoes

Ugg Boots

So far I have mainly written about shoes that I love, but I recently realized that I also have a lot to write about shoes that I don’t like. Some time ago, someone gave me a pair of ugg boots as a gift. Ugg boots are unisex sheepskin boots that originated in Australia or New Zealand. There’s debate over which country they came from, but it’s definitely somewhere in Australasia anyway.

Ugg boots were very trendy with celebrities earlier this millennium with the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Moss and Jennifer Aniston wearing them. Oprah Winfrey also raved about them, including ugg boots in her ‘favourite things’ show.

My ugg boots are made in New Zealand. They are very warm, made of sheepskin and lined with fleece inside the boot and around the ankles. They are great for keeping my feet warm, especially as it is now the middle of winter (it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere). However, I will only wear my ugg boots inside the house as house slippers, and I won’t wear them out. The main reason for this is because I personally think that ugg boots are ugly. In fact, I thought ugg boots were short for ugly boots, but to be honest I don’t know the origin of the word ugg.

Ugg boots by UGG Australia, similar to my own New Zealand-made pair.

I think ugg boots are unflattering and make your legs look fat. The wool and fleece used to make ugg boots naturally makes the boots look fluffy and big. Ugg boots come in different heights – ankle length, calf length or knee length. No matter what length of ugg boot you wear, they will make your feet and legs wider than they really are.

There has been controversy and court cases over whether the word ugg is just a generic word or whether it can be copyrighted. In Australia and New Zealand, ugg boots are widely considered to be a generic word. However, Deckers Outdoor Corporation, a US footwear company, based in California bought the UGG Australia brand and successfully registered it as a trademark, sparking controversy. For example, should a person be allowed to trademark the word ‘high heels’ or ‘sneakers’ or ‘decaffeinated coffee’? Because this is effectively what Deckers has done with the word ‘ugg’.

My own ugg boots are just a generic no-label pair. However, since I was in Australia recently, I thought I would write about the UGG boot. With capital letters, UGG becomes a registered trademark, as opposed to lower case ‘ugg’ the generic boot.

Australian made UGG boots. Genuine UGG boots have the UGG label on the back. These boots are made with merino wool, and the fleece can be rolled up or down.

If you are looking to get UGG boots, it’s better to get ones that are a bit tight, as the wool will flatten over time and the boots will become looser then. But, if you want to wear socks with your UGG boots, then get a pair that’s looser so that socks can fit. UGG also sells special shampoos and conditioners to help take care of the UGG boots. To maintain UGG boots, it is better not to get them wet (another reason NOT to wear UGG boots outdoors).

The usual colours for ugg boots are tan, brown, black and grey. UGG Australia also makes a range of bridal footwear. The white UGG slipper makes completely no sense to me. Why would anyone wear open-toed thong sandals in white wool? Are they for a beach wedding in the middle of winter? There are also sparkly sequinned UGG boots and UGG boots with Swarovski crystal details in the UGG bridal footwear range. Who are these brides who choose to wear UGG boots to their weddings? Are they insane? Or are they getting married in the North Pole?

Would you wear UGG boots to a wedding? Bridal footwear from UGG Australia (Photo from UGG Australia’s website).

Ugg boots are not a style of footwear that I like. Hopefully there will not be too many posts on my blog about shoes that I don’t like.

Chinese clogs (木屐)

It’s almost Chinese New Year. The Chinese use the lunar calendar and this year Chinese new year is on January 23rd 2012. This year is also the year of the black water dragon, which confusingly starts on 4 February 2012. Chinese new year comes early this year; the year of the dragon starts on ‘li chun’, which is the first day of spring. In 2012, ‘li chun’ is on 4th February.

Since Chinese New Year is almost here, I thought I would write about Chinese footwear. One example of casual Chinese footwear would be Chinese clogs or 木屐 which translates as ‘wooden clogs’. We call them ‘cha kiak’ in my family, which means ‘wooden clogs’ in the Hokkien dialect of Chinese.

Apparently, clogs from Wen Chang county on Hainan Island in South China has a very long history, centuries-old, and was the forerunner of the Japanese ‘geta’ or wooden slipper. Since my father’s ancestors came from Wen Chang county in Hainan province, my father’s side of the family wears clogs all the time. My paternal grandmother runs a coffee shop (a very traditional Hainanese profession) and she wears clogs around the shop, house and even to go next door. My uncle and aunt also regularly wear this type of footwear around the house and my aunt prefers them to slippers because according to her, her feet are cleaner while wearing clogs, unlike slippers which collect dust. Chinese clogs remind me of my childhood because their clack-clacking sound reminds me of my grandmother, and of the times I spent in her coffee shop.

There is no left or right side to the clog. You can wear them on either foot. They are very comfortable too. The design of the clog, with its elevated sole, helps to keep your feet dry. The wooden sole is also amazingly non-slip and is good to wear on wet surfaces. These clogs don’t come in any standard size. At the clogmakers, they generally come in big, medium, small or kids size. Clogs with straight sides are meant for men and clogs with sides that curve in (like in the picture) are for women.

Chinese clogs (木屐) or ‘cha kiak’ from my grandmother’s home

Interestingly, red wooden clogs are also included in a Chinese bride’s dowry. Two pairs of clogs, beautifully painted in red, make up part of a traditional Chinese dowry.

Sadly, making traditional Chinese clogs is a dying art. It is increasingly difficult to find these type of clogs as they have to compete with more modern footwear. Nowadays, these clogs are becoming more of a tourist souvenir item than everyday footwear.