Shoes Dyed to Match

A pair of orange heels on display in the shoe department caught my eye the other day and brought back this memory of a long-ago evening with a long-gone friend…
 When I was growing up, it was the mark of a special outfit if you got shoes dyed to match. You’d go to Leed’s, the inexpensive shoe store at the mall, with a swatch of your dress, or the dress itself, and the man behind the counter would find the right color to dye your  satin flats, or—when you got older—your peau de soie heels. You would come back the following week to pick them up, and there would be your  shoes—reborn in just the right color.


A couple of years ago, when my younger son was getting married, I chose a mother-of-the groom dress in an impossible-to-match shade of green. After striking out in several shoe departments, I ordered a pair of ivory fabric heels online. I called around to shoe repair shops and finally found a place that might be able to dye them. I gambled on the outcome and won. The shoes turned out to be a lighter shade of the color of my dress, which was good enough for me.

My first pair of dyed to match shoes were satin flats, dyed the color of the trim on the lace dress I wore to my older sister’s bat mitzvah. The dress was sky blue with short sleeves and a full skirt; narrow satin bands at the waist were a darker shade, like my favorite crayon color: cornflower. On this special occasion, I got to wear real stockings—no ankle socks like a little kid. I  wore this outfit on my last day of sixth grade, when my mother let me borrow (without permission) my sister’s coveted pair of pantyhose.

The second pair of shoes I got dyed were  bright yellow, to go with another dress—white lace, with a yellow lining that showed through. It was a sleeveless A-line that looked like two pieces—skirt and sleeveless top. The best thing about this dress was that the top flared out a little bit, hiding the fact that I did not (and never would) have a small waist. The shoes had  a “kitten heel,” ( back in vogue these days): a low heel that tapers down to a small point.

One advantage of getting shoes you can dye is that you can dye them more than once.  I had made an orange A-line dress that cried out for matching shoes, so I took the yellow ones back to Leed’s for a do-over. The canary yellow kitten heels now looked like my favorite  summertime treat: a Creamsicle®.


During my junior year of high school, I wore the orange dress and shoes on a date with a friend named Bill. Even though I had an older boyfriend who lived far away, when Bill called to invite me to be his date for a dance, he sounded so desperate that I said yes. We weren’t really close friends, so I’m sure I wasn’t his first call. It was a  Snowball Dance—sponsored by the youth group connected with  the Freemasons, an organization Bill hated. But his parents insisted he attend—with a date.

When Bill showed up at my door in a suit and tie, I panicked. Was this a semi-formal and he had neglected to tell me? Things were awkward enough, so I hadn’t asked. I was not especially dressed up, even with my matching shoes and dress. And I had accessorized with my boyfriend’s gaudy black and gold high school ring, just to make sure Bill understood the situation.

So off we went in his mom’s station wagon, both of us determined to make the best of it, despite the overwhelming odds against having much fun.

When we arrived at the dance in downtown Oakland, the evening was already in full swing. The Scottish Rite Temple looked imposing, even from the outside. Some girls wore long dresses with corsages. Unlike our high school dances in the Cafetorium, the large room sparkled with fancy decorations and a wintery theme. No one else wore orange, because who wears orange to a Snowball Dance?

Once we understood what we’d gotten ourselves into, we began to plan our escape. I think we may have danced one dance together and slugged down some punch. We didn’t stay long.

Bill drove us along  the winding road that leads to the top of the Berkeley hills, where you can see the bridges and the city lights of San Francisco: a classic make-out spot. We ended up in a big parking lot overlooking the city. He turned off the ignition and took a deep breath. Was this the moment I’d been dreading?  I figured he was planning to make some kind of move. Why else do you take a girl up there? I twisted the ring on my finger and waited. But he just looked at me, and finally asked, “Would you like to drive?”

“Uh, sure,” I said, relieved that I wasn’t going to have to put up a fight or remind Bill that I was spoken for. He knew I didn’t have my license yet, but it didn’t seem to matter.  We switched places and I took the wheel. I did a few donuts in the parking lot and we laughed nervously as I swerved  and skidded in his mom’s battleship of a car. Then we just laughed our heads off. I got a little giddy before we switched places again and he took me home.


I treasure this memory now.
We only went out that one time, and I wore shoes dyed to match.

6 Responses to Shoes Dyed to Match

  1. ByJane says:

    Oh gawd, this has me tripping down Memory Lane big time. The excitement of taking your swatch to Leeds (or Bakers, on the East Coast) to get the dyed-to-match satin shoes. I didn’t know they would do redyes, so I got a new pair for every affair (remember affairs?). It never occurred to me that the shoe stores aren’t still dying to match. How sad.

  2. Risa Nye says:

    Thanks for stopping by. It was tougher than I thought to find a place to do the recent job–three round trips to SF with the dress in hand! Wasn’t it fun though, back in the day? I loved that whole process…

  3. Granny-Guru says:

    Cafetorium! Do they still have those in schools?

    I never had a chance to wear dyed-to-match peau de soir shoes, the height of being with-it.

    Thanks for the memories.

    • Risa Nye says:

      They knocked our high school down a couple of years ago–it sat right on a fault line! So, I don’t know if they rebuilt the cafetorium or not.
      And if peau de soir shoes were the height of being with-it, that may have been my fashion pinnacle! Thanks for stopping by.

  4. I love writers of our generation! They bring it all back, just like you did in this post.

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