The Look by
(58 Stories)

Prompted By Shoes

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Audrey Hepburn

It all started in junior high school. Not long after my horse phase, during which I hung out at the conveniently located Hollywood Ranch stables, drew pictures of horses, read books about horses, collected horse figurines but never actually rode a horse, I entered my ballerina stage. I didn’t want to be a ballerina, but I wanted to look like one. For a while I wore my hair in a high bun and feigned a relaxed third position when standing in line at the cafeteria. At the Capezio store on Hollywood Boulevard, I bought a pair of their dance slippers with a matching leotard. Although I didn’t wear the slippers to school because the soles were too soft, I did wear them, with the leotard, on the weekends and while hanging out with friends.

Slightly offbeat (as in beatnik), evocative of ‘50s cinema — think Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot — they still look great with skirts of just about any length and style, and with shorts, capris, athleisure wear, and boyfriend or skinny jeans.

By high school I was over “the look” as, now worldly, I scoffed at it as being too prim — until it popped up again when I was in my 20s and I thought it was cool, in my 40s when I decided it was classic, and then again in my 60s when I deemed it retro. Along the way, leotards morphed into bodysuits, and ballet slippers evolved into streetwear with a more substantial sole. Today, I have four pairs in my closet, and now I know the look is timeless.

Brigitte Bardot

Slightly offbeat (as in beatnik), evocative of ‘50s cinema — think Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot — they still look great with skirts of just about any length and style, and with shorts, capris, athleisure wear, and boyfriend or skinny jeans. And here’s a fun bit of trivia: In Paris, in 1956, at the request of Brigitte Bardot, Rose Repetto, renowned ballet shoe designer, created the Cendrillon Ballerinas. Repetto’s “Cinderella slippers” are now in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

Louboutin stilettos? Even if I could walk in them, I wouldn’t. Nope, not my style. I’m more about casual but chic comfort, easy elegance, simple sophistication, even a kittenish sexiness, and I think it’s all there in the ballet flat. Originally and sometimes still with a string at the top to cinch and tighten, I prefer mine sans string. I’ve sported pairs in soft, supple basic black leather, of course, but also in snakeskin, animal print, metallic bronze, with cut-outs, embroidered, in red patent leather, blue suede, in a rainbow of colors but never ever white or … ballerina pink.

And finally, just a couple more words about ballet flats: toe cleavage. When the front of the shoe — called the vamp, serendipitously in this case — is low, you get a glimpse of toe cleavage. Clearly intentional yet hotly debated, some people hate it while others, like me, love it. But just a smidge … it’s nice to leave something to the imagination.

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Toe cleavage. Love it! Also love ballet flats. I agree, comfortable and look great with most everything (except maybe some skirts for me). But Audrey in your photo just looks the epitome of chic. I couldn’t be without them for standing during a choir concert. So bravo for you!

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    LOL, Barb — toe cleavage indeed! I loved reading about your love of the classic ballet flat. Wish I could wear them. Your images for this story are great.

  3. Suzy says:

    You had me at Audrey Hepburn! As you probably know, I love her so much I named my first daughter after her. What a classic look! I love ballet flats too, as long as they have a little more support (and more sole) than real ballet slippers. And I love the term toe cleavage!

    Also a great backstory of loving everything about horses but never actually riding them, followed by wanting to look like a ballerina but never actually dancing. Standing in line in the cafeteria in third position is the best! Thanks for a great story!

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Barb. I totally get it about the Audrey Hepburn look those shoes created. And, as an over -opinionated member of the male gender, I can categorically state that we guys found those flats — and, um, even Audrey’s other “flats — totally sexy.

    But “toe cleavage”? I knew exactly what you meant, even though I’d never heard the term before. But, again speaking on behalf of my entire gender, I can state that it’s not even a blip on the erotic chart compared to the other female cleavage.

    But, most importantly, a really fun story; thanks for sharing!

  5. Marian says:

    Love the classic looks you showed, Barb, and the idea of ballet flats is so appealing. Alas, I can’t wear even the newer ones because my orthotics don’t fit, but I think they are terrific.

  6. Great story Bebe!
    If you have toe cleavage, flaunt it!

  7. Risa Nye says:

    Barbara, I may be late to the ballet flat party, but I love them too! I never used to wear flats and prefer a bit of a heel, but these look so cool with black pants and a big shirt. Totally Audrey. Toe cleavage: Yes! If you didn’t know, now you know… What a fun read!

  8. I like the way you constructed this: There was no effort to pretend that this was a narrative with an intro, middle and conclusion. Rather, it’s more like a piece of music with separate verses that don’t follow one from the other but work together because the same voice is singing them. And in this case, the voice is cocky, opinionated, and self-impressed–but in a very winning and funny way. Examples of the winning humor: You loved everything about horses, except riding one! “I didn’t want to be a ballerina, but I wanted to look like one.” ” just a couple more words about ballet flats: toe cleavage.” And my favorite funny aside was about that certain look that goes great with EITHER a boyfriend OR skinny jeans!

    • Cocky, opinionated and self-impressed only works when combined with a fair degree of self-deprecation, so I’m glad you picked up on that, Dale! I should clarify that I was referring not to a boyfriend but to what’s known as “boyfriend jeans,” a style that’s relaxed and loose-fitting as opposed to skinny or form-fitting. Probably not the best syntax…it was actually a hasty last-minute edit that I should have finessed.

  9. I loved imagining your horse phase, Barbara. I knew so many horse girls in New England, although only a few actually rode. Fifth grade I’m thinking. Something about emerging from adolescence. They were very good at drawing very graceful horses, and I could never determine if they wanted to ride horses, or be horses. Both seemed equally intriguing.

    I also got a hoot out of your clear determination that you didn’t want to be a dancer; you wanted to LOOK like a dancer. And that was a great look! Especially back in those days (very recent for you, I’m sure.) when everybody wanted to look like they were selling The Herald Tribune in Paris and living in a fifth-floor garret. Not so romantic when you got to do it in NYC, where the bathtub was in the kitchen. But romantic nonetheless.

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