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; Al Martinez, a longtime mule wearer, is a columnist for the Metro section

It is generally not my practice to intrude on matters concerning haute couture , for obvious reasons. I am too short to be stylish and, up until last Tuesday, I couldn't even spell haute couture .

The most fashionable garment I own is one of those rumpled, off-white suits favored by British black marketeers in Kuala Lumpur. It sticks to me in hot weather and I look like hell.

However, I have learned over the years that being against someone in an effort to be for something does not require a considerable amount of basic knowledge or even interest.

Take, for instance, mules, those backless, often glittery kick-around shoes once beloved by royalty and cinematic sex queens. I'm for them.

But before you sail off on a sweet sea of hyperglycemia, let me add that as much as being for them, I am opposed to the sudden outpouring of vitriol by those who are opposed to them.

Mules are the hottest item in the shoe biz. They range from modest, $18.50 cloth numbers favored by the missus, the little woman, to $400 sequined-spangled-beaded-and-bejeweled supermules worn by megabuck female rock stars who ain't nobody's little mama.

A designer named Manolo Blahnik initiated the current craze and others climbed aboard, both along Rodeo Drive and in malls populated by gum-chewing Valley girls who follow fashion scents the way dogs pursue escaped felons.

So all right, no big deal here, a shoe is a shoe. It simply isn't worthwhile being against something not likely to rob your liquor store.

So who's bad-mouthing the mule?

The group consists primarily of radical feminists who, by burning their underwear in the 1960s, declared war on . . . well . . . clothes. Their bras were metaphors for the chains that bound them and they were, in effect, burning their chains.

Not an easy undertaking, but then that's a metaphor for you.

At any rate, the mule, because it is currently the most popular footwear since "Cro-Magnon" wrapped woolly mammoth hide around his feet, is today's target of the feminists' guerrilla movement.

I'm not sure why, but it's probably hormonal. Body acids pollute their logic mechanisms. That's a personal explanation. You won't find it in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Mules, however, do not deserve feminist bile. I did a little research to find a core of evil in their creation and came up empty.

Also known as scuffs, moyles, chopines and mulleus, they have surfaced periodically throughout history in Egypt, Rome, Czarist Russia and Hollywood.

To prove how lacking in impiety they are, mules spring from the ancient craft of shoemaking, which has its own patron saint. St. Crispin, as he came to be known, made shoes at night and preached Jesus during the day.

Angels, the story goes, helped provide shoe leather. I mention this in passing only to enlighten mules' detractors on the gentle nature of the item they scorn.

The classic mule is a shoe meant to be worn outdoors, mostly by women. Screen star Betty Grable wore them in the 1940s and had the most beautiful legs in the world. I used to stare at pictures of her legs for hours. Mom warned if I kept looking at things like that I'd get pimples. Life's a trade-off. I took the pimples.

In times past the term has been applied to include the household slipper, which may also be worn by men without fear of ridicule.

I wear them. Well, I wear one. My old dog Hoover hides the other in places almost impossible to discover. I clump around the house in one mule, scowling and hunched forward, with a gait suggesting one leg is shorter than the other. I look like a troll.

Contrary to muddled feminist thinking, mules are not an element of sexual politics and have nothing to do with cultural restraint. If a woman has the stuff to lead an empire, it's not going to matter what she has on her feet.

Mules will not automatically cause pregnancy, career failure or the insatiable desire to don an apron.

Queen Elizabeth I wore mules and remained a virgin until she died. I hasten to add, however, that mules do not necessarily guarantee chastity. Don't count on them.

In truth, I don't care that women gave up bras and I don't care that the militant among them don't take to mules.

As far as I'm concerned, they can lead their empires shoeless. As long as they get the house vacuumed and dinner on time, what they do with their feet doesn't matter at all.

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