Shoes: Anatomy, Identity, Magic

Special Exhibitions GallerySeptember 1, 2022 - December 31, 2022
a collage of shoes featured in the exhibition
Valerie Steele and Colleen Hill
Dr. Valerie Steele and Colleen Hill discuss planning the exhibition in this video. (39:33)

Shoes: Anatomy, Identity, Magic explored our physical, social, and psychological relationship with shoes. The exhibition began with a pair of baby shoes, indicating how shoes accompany us on the journey of life.

The theme of anatomy emphasized how we stand and move differently when we wear, say, sneakers rather than stilettos. Peep-toe shoes and thigh-high boots also draw attention to different parts of our anatomy.

The theme of identity emphasized how we tend to associate different shoe styles and brands with different types of people. High-heeled shoes have long been associated with erotic femininity, and stilettos, in particular, are identified with the femme fatale. By contrast, rubber-
soled sneakers were invented for sports, so they are identified with athletes.

The theme of magic emphasized how we may unconsciously believe that the right pair of shoes will change our lives, as Cinderella’s glass slippers captured the attention of a prince. Because professional athletes often wear sneakers, we may decide to buy a pair of Nike Air Jordans, hoping, like Lil' Bow Wow in the film Like Mike, that they will "magically" enhance our physical prowess.

The exhibition featured more than 300 of the 5,000 pairs of shoes, boots, sandals, and sneakers in the museum's permanent collection, aka "the closet." Shoes: The Collection of The Museum at FIT will be published by Taschen in March 2023.

Valerie Steele and Colleen Hill

Tarquinius ankle strap sling back evening shoes in green re-embroidered lace with red satin at ribbon tabs at triple T-straps, ankle strap and elongated hourglass heels; red leather ankle ties
Manolo Blahnik, evening shoes, 2017, England, a gift from Manolo Blahnik, 2019.88.1
Man's leather lace up shoes in brown leather with molded realistic toe front, inspired by Magritte with with stacked heel
Pierre Cardin, man’s shoes, 1986, France, gift of Richard Martin, 87.16.1.
Heavy black leather work boots with thick brown striped laces, yellow topstitching and tan rubber lug sole, round bulldog toe, back logo ribbon loop
Dr. Martens, boots, 2000, England, gift of the School of Graduate Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology, 2000.51.1
Deep red velvet evening sandals with ankle wrap ties and shaped wedge high heels in resin with marbleized look, iridescent metallic leather at sole, heel back and casing tab, gold metal logos
Tom Ford, evening sandals, spring 2012, USA, gift of Tom Ford International, 2013.10.1

Shoes accompany us on the journey of life

Through themes of anatomy, identity, and magic, this exhibition explored our physical, social, and psychological relationship with shoes.
zebra print pump with red soles

Shoes A–Z

Step inside one of the world’s most enviable closets to celebrate the empowering, sensual, playful, and practical shoe. Hundreds of groundbreaking designs, ephemera, and sketches are featured in this volume, a follow-up to Fashion Designers A–Z, from the most coveted labels such as Christian LouboutinManolo Blahník, and Roger Vivier.
Purchase a Copy
Related Events
Past Event

Opening reception

Photos from the opening reception of the exhibition, "Shoes: Anatomy, Identity, Magic"
Past Event

Shoes A–Z: The Collection of the Museum at FIT

MFIT director and chief curator Valerie Steele and curator of costume and accessories Colleen Hill, discussed their new Taschen book, Shoes A-Z: The Collection of The Museum at FIT. Hundreds of groundbreaking designs, rare ephemera, and original sketches are presented in the book from the museum’s pristinely preserved collection.

Shoe Spotlights

Curious about a shoe in the exhibition banner? Visit our Featured Shoes Page for more information including designer credits and more!

Image: Jimmy Choo for Anya Hindmarch, evening mules, circa 1998, England, gift of Virginia Barbato, 2017.72.2
View Press Images on Flickr