With Biopics of Princess Grace (played by Nicole Kidman) and Princess Diana (played by Naomi Watts) coming to theatres, and Kate Middleton, at 31, crossing the divide into motherhood, our fascination with mother princesses has been revved up again. One of the most familiar synecdoches (the figure of speech in which a part stands for a whole) is the crown for the king. For a princess, it would not be a tiara—that’s too beauty pageant—it would be a shoe, or, in a word that implies bedroom comfort for everyone except royalty, a slipper.
One of the most pleasurable moments the story of Cinderella offers is the perverse satisfaction in seeing the ugly stepsisters try to cram their pontoons into the glass slipper, knowing the chargirl’s delicate foot will slip right in. The tension between the concept of “mother” and that of “princess” thrums in a princess’s footwear choices. Cinderella’s slipper was glass because the moment of being a prince’s ideal could shatter at any whiff of reality. When Diana was married at 20, her Clive Shilton wedding slippers were size 9 (U.S.). Pregnancy spreads out your foot bones, as does a job that requires standing for hours, so her feet might have inched up in size, but her preferred style never changed: a modestly heeled slipper-like pump by Rayne.
A queen can be a mother, but a princess should always be a girl—difficult, since she must produce heirs. It was when Diana insisted on being a woman that all the problems began. Kate Middleton’s favoured four-inch L.K. Bennett Sledge, in size 8 (U.S.) (at least for now), is a far sexier everyday shoe than would have been appropriate in Diana’s time. Does this mean her role is cobbled by even higher expectations of idealized femininity, or has it become freer? We hope the latter.