It’s hard to imagine wearing any article of clothing made from a substance known for its ability to puncture and shred flesh. And yet. Who’s Cinderella without a glass slipper?
The basic idea of the Cinderella story—young woman, bad circumstances, objects incite a change of fate—dates back thousands of years to many, many cultures spanning the globe. The current givens about Cinderella—fairy godmother, prince, glass slippers—we owe to French author Charles Perrault. Disney’s animated film, of course, seared their adaptation of Perrault’s tale into our collective brains so completely that sometimes it’s hard to imagine the story without talking mice. Perrault added the elements of the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage and the glass slippers, which have become synonymous with the story.
Next weekend, we welcome back Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the musical theater duo’s adaptation of the Perrault-inspired folk tale which has nothing to do with Disney, please note. The show does very well because people love this story, and they never stop loving Perrault’s particular embellishments. If you want to see a crowd of disappointed faces, show them a version of Cinderella with no glass slippers. It would be like going to a version of Ireland with no green fields or Guinness. Just doesn’t compute. Shouldn’t exist.
The glass slippers, like the fairy godmother and her magic, require a delightful suspension of disbelief to make the story work. It’s myth and folklore at its most enchanting. Naturally, science ruins myth with its evidence-based understanding of the world, and so it goes for our young soot-covered maiden’s infamous footwear.
First, let us give you the good news: the glass slippers could exist. It’s not like arguably-functional glass slippers are impossible. About three years ago, some mechanical engineers got together to determine the feasibility of glass slippers. They deduced that you could wear a pair of soda lime glass (i.e., coke bottle “everyday” glass) shoes if you stood perfectly still and weighed roughly 110 pounds.
Here’s the scientific assessment, though, and it raises the more important question of whether or not glass slippers should exist.
First, you’d still have to be 110 pounds with a size 6 foot. The heel would have to be less than a half-inch to keep the shoes from shattering once you started walking. That’s roughly the height of nice pair of Florida flip flops which is to say “flats” which is to say who cares about the glass slippers if they don’t have a legit heel? The glass would have to be tempered safety glass, not regular glass. Safety glass seems okay until you start thinking about bending your foot, or slipping on the Prince’s polished ballroom dance floor, or running briskly down several stairs in a heart-pounding race against midnight. Safety glass is just thicker, not unbreakable. So, one step at the wrong angle and crash!, the weight pressure will shatter your instep, sending you to the ER at midnight in your raggedy dress.
The upside, however, is that it would have been much easier for the Prince to find Cinderella by tracking the trail of bloody footprints to the sliding door of the ER, and he never would have had to touch the feet of those odious step-sisters.
Back to reality: some of the world’s most high-profile fashion designers took the challenge of creating a glass-slipper shoe in 2015, when Disney released their live-action Cinderella film. Jimmy Choo, Ferragamo, Charlotte Olympia and six others whipped up fabulous shoes with enough sparkle and Swarovski to put a fairy godmother to shame. These designs turned into real-life buyable, wearable couture, and you can still get your hands on a pair with minimal Google-work. That same year in Japan, the glass artisans of Nakamura Glass Studio unveiled their hand-blown slippers, made by a process without cutting or molds, that took eight years to perfect and seem to contradict the mathematical findings of our aforementioned engineers. At $697.00 per shoe—that’s $1394.00 per pair—you yourself should probably be in the post-Prince part of the Cinderella story. We have no idea if you can walk or run in them, but you can buy them and put them on your feet. On a scale of 1-10, the comfort level looks to be around an H, indicating that some things may be best left in the realm of the imagination.
Come to the realm of imagination when Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella plays in Morsani Hall July 5-8.