FASHION : They’re good news to Betty Grable fans, bad news to feminists. Before you trip out and buy a pair of mules, consider both sides. : Walk a Mile in Whose Shoes?

TIMES STAFF WRITER;<i> Patt Morrison, who wears hats but not mules, is a reporter for the Metro section</i>

Mules are back.

I didn’t know this for a fact myself; I’m just passing the news along. Newspapers are supposed to do that.

Hmmm. I see that didn’t keep you from peeking ahead to “The Far Side.” Me either.

Until I heard about this, the only mules I knew were the sterile offspring of a donkey and a horse. One of them starred with Donald O’Connor in some movies that were considered hilarious during World War II, but you have to figure that when there’s a war on, people are very sorely tried and are liable to laugh at almost anything.


The only other thing I knew about mules was that they lugged borax out of mines in teams of 20 for the manufacture of Boraxo so people could wash their hands, and that Ronald Reagan sold it on television in the 1960s, which was the first but not last time he soft-soaped the American public.

But these mules are shoes, a hot item, footwear-wise. I’m told they are shoes, but now that I’ve seen them and know there’s not enough leather there to cobble Tinkerbell, I also know them for what they really are. They are not shoes. They are a political conspiracy.

A mule is a backless bit of footwear. Often it has a high heel. Sometimes it has fluffy stuff on the toe, like the combings from a bunny.

Jean Harlow used to wear mules in the movies. They may have come in very handy when she needed something to throw at Wallace Beery’s head (if she could deliver much of a pitch with her arm weighed down by all those diamond bracelets). Mules also look swell if you kiss the way women used to kiss in the movies, lifting one foot up behind them like a needle on the ecstasy gauge.


But they are not much good for anything outside of a boudoir. My grandmother would call them frippery. Then she would notice that they cost about as much as a whole set of saucepans and would ask in shocked tones what the world is coming to.

The world isn’t coming anywhere, Gran, at least not with us. We can’t walk fast enough in our mules to keep up.

Here is where the conspiracy comes in: Mules seem suspiciously like the Western world’s version of foot binding, useless footgear for anyone who does more than loll around in bias-cut satin waiting for Her Man to come home.

You don’t believe me. Fashion couldn’t do that to you, after you’ve been so loyal. All right. So you buy one pair--maybe the Marla M. style, with big rhinestones. Suddenly it’s too hard to double-clutch to drive to work, too hard to make it up the escalator to your office. So you start staying home.

Maybe you catch up on Reader’s Digest condensed books. You make saumon en papillotte --on a weeknight. By week’s end you’re waxing your ankles and waiting all day to catch that cute Bobby on Home Shopping Network.

End of contact with the outside world, end of career, end of life as a grown-up. Vote? Who, me? Well, bust my corset strings.

Look, we’re on top of this, aren’t we? We stabbed the shoe designers through the hearts with their own spike heels, right? How can you stride impressively into a boardroom in shoes made for the seraglio? Who’s going to take you for a whip-cracking account exec when you shuffle in like Ma Joad toting well-water?

Mules are worse than barefoot and pregnant. Barefoot, you can at least hightail it down the street if your house catches fire. Try to make your escape in high-heeled mules and they’d find you face-down in the smoldering ashes, right where you tripped trying to get to the front door. Another mule-related tragedy, the fire investigator would say, shaking his head and slapping his notebook shut.


Spring styles are pouring into the stores. And what are they? More mules. More throwing good leather after bad.

But I’m still encouraged. Recently, I was trolling the sale racks of a major store’s shoe department--purely for research purposes, of course. And I am happy to report that the racks were full of mules. Silly, half-price, unsold mules.

Way to go, ladies.