In Gulliver’s Travels, author Jonathon Swift’s character, Gulliver found himself a giant on the island of Lilliput in the South Indian Ocean which was inhabited by tiny people 1/12th the size of regular humans. As a tall woman, I’m often aware of my height when I travel. In certain countries I feel like Gulliver.
But there are other places in the world where I don’t stand out – places where the people grow tall and sturdy and our eyes meet on the same plane when passing on the street. I’m often asked if I’m Dutch when I travel so finding myself with a week to spare when transiting through Amsterdam this past month I decided to spend it among my tall peers. And to test the mettle of the height accepting Netherlands, I went shoe shopping. It’s one thing to grow your people taller, but do you offer them size appropriate footwear?
I once thought Paris would be my shoe nirvana. Its an epicenter of the fashion world. Tall, lithe women grace their streets and wear the most fashionable shoes going about their daily business. They bike in stiletto heels and sip wine at outdoor cafes in high leather boots. It was Frenchwomen who popularized the ballet flat as a global trend. But when I walked into shoe stores in Paris, saleswomen would look at my feet, purse their lips and, with a note of pity in their voice, inform me that they never carry shoes in my size. Never. Jamias. One place pointed me to a store in the Republique district of the city with a backroom that had a single dusty shelf of black oxfords. The same thing happened in Switzerland. There the salesman eventually found a pair of bright pink Sketchers in my size. In Spain I was forced to buy men’s Nikes for an unexpected hiking trip.
Amsterdam would surely be different. The Dutch, who come from a Germanic ethnic group, became the tallest Europeans in the 1980s, a dramatic turnaround from their former status in the first half of the 19th century as the shortest Europeans. Smithsonian Magazine as well as other researchers claim the reason is natural selection. In theory I should be able to walk into a Dutch shoe store and inquire about shoes without the look of pity I got elsewhere. My first stop was a mild success. The saleswoman had some styles in my size but she recommended that I check out a store called Caland/Schoen that specialized in fashionable larger sizes for women and men.
Caland/Schoen is shoe heaven for anyone who has experienced the look of pity from shoe salespeople; the look that says, “Your feet are gargantuan”. There was an entire room of shoes in my size. Snappy red ankle boots, breezy navy ballet flats, stylish multi-toned heels, flattering European styles and not a single dusty black oxford on the shelves. It’s a self service store if you choose to not ask for help. I gushed about the variety and sheer volume of shoes in my size and the friendly saleswoman left me alone for two hours happily trying on all sorts of styles. I bought a pair of stylish black veterschoen and had I had more room in my suitcase and on my credit card, I would have come home with much more.
The owner of Caland/Schoen, Anke Griffioen, is a woman with a taste for fashionable footwear who had difficulty finding shoes in her size. She opened up her first Caland/Shoen store in Rotterdam and eventually a second storefront in Amsterdam. Calend/Schoen also has an online store.
Amsterdam Store: Bilderdijkstraat 66 (trams 12, 13, 14)
Rotterdam Store: New Shortcuts 14