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How my birthday cleared out my closet…and other thinkerly tips for putting your best foot forward at

In Uta Hagen’s dramatists’ bible, Respect for Acting, Sir Alec Guinness said he always starts his characters “from the shoes up.”

I heard that quote some time ago, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

You see, a little over a month ago, I celebrated (if you can call petulant resignation celebrating) one of those milestone birthdays. Not the “this is the new that” kind of milestone; I’m talking about a “now I get junk mail about catheters” kind of milestone. So, in addition to resignation, a certain amount of reflection is in order.

At this stage in most people’s lives, they likely think about where they’ve been and what they’ve done. I’m still wrestling with a conundrum that’s typically the provenance of teenagers, the ole “Who am I?”

At this new milestone in life, there are a lot of things that need to change and evolve. It’s not that I have to stop being me, but I do need to think about who “a me” at this age might want to be.

What does all this have to do with shoes?

I thought about Sir Guinness’s quote and how in life we are all constantly developing a character—our own. We are always evolving (or should be), and we mustn’t get complacent about who we are, our perspectives, our behavior or the messages (conscious or unconscious) we send out into the world.

So, as I think about “the me” that age and experience have foisted upon me, I need to reflect on refining and representing this ripening character. That’s a big job—where to begin? Well, I thought I’d take Alec’s words to heart and start at the bottom…my feet.

A quick survey of my closet serves up a panoply of garments ranging from cheery 1940s frocks, to cherry-festooned ’80s Betsey Johnson-alia to 21st-century Goth styles even Nosferatu would find grim. If Detective Eames and Goren were going through my things, I’m sure they’d deduce the person who lives here is some kind of schizophrenic prostitute who watches a lot of TCM.

Well, I’m none of those things. (Though I will always watch a Thin Man marathon.) Who I am is someone who’s preternaturally lazy, who appreciates fashion, enjoys a vintage whimsical rayon print, but mostly I’m just someone who wants to be comfortable, relaxed and able to run like hell if the occasion arises.

Like many a New York City woman with a job and a pulse, I have a lot of shoes. A lot. But I really only wear a half-dozen of them. I wear variations of boots— motorcycle boots, ankle boots, cowboy boots—and a couple of killer heels for the occasional killer (or at least manslaughter-y) occasion. All these other shoes, they’re for this person I never really was, never really even attempted to become, and never ever will be…ever. That’s the epiphany, that last bit.

Of course, I’ve always been painfully aware of the gap between my real life and the Life Shopper Me seemed to think I had, or should have. But I never got rid of all these things, or stopped buying these ridiculous shoes, because there was always the notion that one day I would shape up, get down to business and do lunch and have meetings and sit up straight the whole time.

These are Dixie’s beloved Bekket sneakers with the hidden wedge heel.

That’s the gift of age. I realize I am never going to be that person. Never. And best of all, I realize I don’t want to be that person; I’m exhausted, and a little nauseated, just thinking about her.

So I’m starting with my shoes. I’ll work my way up to my head soon enough. But I’m thinking that by the time I get there, a lot of the work will be done.

I’m going to be me—comfortable in my own skin and my own clothes. And able to chase down a mugger if I have to.

More shoe porn at Pinterest.com/dixielaite.

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