There was once a girl named Karen. She was a poor girl and the shoemaker took pity upon her and made her some red shoes from some extra cloth. These shoes she wore to her mother’s funeral. At the funeral, an older woman took pity upon her and decided to take her in. She got rid of the red shoes though because she thought them distasteful.
Karen was sheltered and fed. She went to see a princess and she had the most wonderful red shoes. When it came time for Karen to receive her first communion, she got new clothes. There happened to be a pair of red shoes there. She got the red shoes even though she was supposed to get the black shoes.
Karen wore her red shoes to church and people talked. They thought it was disgraceful. She was warned by the old woman to wear her black shoes, but Karen wore her red shoes. There was an old soldier sitting outside the church. He remarked on what pretty dancing shoes Karen had. He mentioned the same thing on the way out. Karen felt that she needed to dance, just a little. She couldn’t stop dancing once she started. She ended up kicking the old woman. The shoes came off and were put away.
The old woman became sick and needed care, but there was a ball. Karen wanted to go, so she put on her red shoes and went. She danced and danced, but the shoes always danced a different direction than she wanted them to. She ended up dancing right out of the ballroom. She couldn’t get the shoes off. They seemed to have grown to her feet. She danced to a graveyard.
There she got no rest. She couldn’t quit dancing. An angel was there. He cursed Karen to continue dancing until she was a skeleton. She danced over fields and through brambles. She danced in the day and in the night.
She finally danced her was to an executioner’s house. She knocked on his door and asked him to cut her legs off. He did. The man then made Karen some new legs out of wood. The shoes weren’t gone though. They danced still with her old legs inside. She decided she would go to church the next Sunday, but when she got there, the red shoes were dancing in front of her and she felt too embarrassed to go in. On her way home, the red shoes once again danced in front of her.
She went to a parsonage and asked to be taken into service. She served there. The children enjoyed her. She shook her head when they talked of dress and fashion. She was asked to go to church by the parson, she was unsure, but went. She had confessed her sins and had done service. At church, there was music playing and the sunlight was streaming through the windows. Karen’s heart was so filled that it burst. He soul flew up to heaven where no one ever asked about the red shoes.
Well, this all seems a little harsh for just liking a pair of red shoes.
Looking at the idea of shoes and shoe colors back in the day, If Karen had shoes, they probably would have been brown or black. That’s not to say there weren’t red shoes because there were, but they were not common. Turning leather a different color than brown or black required dyes. Some dyes were more expensive than others. Karen’s shoes could have been dyed with something simple like madder, or they could have dyed with imported dyes, like carmine, which would have been more expensive. Carmine was imported from South America and was made from cochineal beetles. It produced a bright red color.
As you might have guessed, shoes dyed with imported dyes were probably a bit more expensive. They would have also been considered flashy by the more stodgy religious people. There came a time when religious people thought you were supposed to dress a certain way, this is still a thing by the way; it all depends on what religious community you’re discussing. People would have frowned upon Karen’s decision to wear red shoes to church. Should they? No, look here, if you’re at church, it doesn’t matter what you wear. It matters that you showed up.
Surprisingly, churches still have an issue with this today, well, actually, people in churches have issues with this today. Most recently, there were Mormon women who showed up to church in pants and some people practically lost their minds over it. Pants! Can you believe it?! It would be hilarious if it weren’t true that people actually acted like that.
There was nothing wrong with Karen wearing red shoes to church. What was wrong was people looking down upon her for showing up to church in her best and saying it was scandalous.
We can talk about religious stodgy bigots until the cows come home, but we’re not going to. We’re going to talk about Karen and her vanity because that’s really what this story is about. Karen became overly prideful of herself. She thought this shiny pair of red shoes made her better and elevated her somehow.
Some say clothes make the man, sure, ok, but clothes are not a sole determination of your worth as a person, some people think it is though. They put their outward appearance above all else. They have to have designer jeans and expensive shoes. Let me tell you something, the thing about designer jeans is that they’re expensive, they’re sized smaller, and they wear out just the same as jeans from Old Navy. There is nothing special about the fabric the jeans are made from. The only difference is the name.
Back in the day, there weren’t really names to go with fashions. Maybe it was true that some people were like, “Well, I had this made at the good tailor’s,” if there was more than one tailor in town, but that would have been about it.
In Karen’s day, what stood out was being flashy and different. Karen wanted to stand out. She liked the red shoes. She thought they were just great. People really shouldn’t have looked down upon her for wearing red shoes, but at the same time, Karen shouldn’t have been trying to make herself appear better than everyone else by flaunting her red shoes. Nobody likes a stuck-up person.
This story still seems harsh to me.
Would you wear the red shoes?
Don’t you think it’s a bit creepy that these shoes were going around dancing with Karen’s old feet in them?