THE AVANT GARDIST

WHAT’S IN A MULE?

When planning a Black Friday adventure, time and location are everything. Not being a morning person, there’s not a sale in the world that I’d line up for, unless there was a sale on Alexander McQueen’s Samsonite luggage. So, leaving the first dibs to the early risers, I took my time getting mentally ready for a Black Friday trip to the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet. Yes, they exist.

As I breezed through the entrance, I inhaled deeply, reveling in the smell of discounted luxury items. I looked left, I looked right, got a little overwhelmed, got my head back in the game, and picked a direction. After some very serious perusing, I landed in the shoe section. It was glorious. There was space to walk around and room to admire each and every pair of heels. That’s when I saw them, the Giussepe Zanotti slingbacks. I knew it was to be an unrequited love affair, but still, I was able to admire them for a few fabulous seconds. An hour or so later, I made my exit with two pairs of shoes in tow, the Zanotti’s were not among my booty. As always, not buying them left me thinking about them. Moreover, it left me thinking about slingbacks, or mules, as they are also known.

This led me down a very weird Black Friday rabbit hole. When did we do away with calling our slingbacks mules? When calling a heel a mule, does it bring about connotations of the offspring of a donkey and a horse? Or, does it make you first think of a drug smuggler? Maybe you’re eccentric and you think of them both simultaneously. Lucky you! You can buy a pair of two-hundred dollar heels made from the skin of a donkey and horse combination with a hollowed out heel that’s been packed with some complimentary substance. Wearing an ass may make you an ass, but at least you can say you’re a triple threat.

Turns out, thanks to an etymological search, the animal mule predates the shoe mule. The offspring of a donkey and a horse was said to combine the strength of a horse with the surefootedness and endurance of an ass. The word is from a pre-Latin Mediterranean language. A shoe mule came to be in the 1560’s. In Latin, mule means loose slipper and was derived from “mulleus calceus,” a red high-soled shoe that Roman patricians wore.

By Sara Becker

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