The Shoe Collection of Imelda Marcos (Imelda Part 2)

Image: Imelda Marcos's shoe collection pictured in 1987, the year after she and her husband fled the Philippines. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features


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Fleeing her Manilla palace in 1986 during a popular uprising known as the People Power Revolution against her husband Ferdinand and herself, Imelda Marcos abandoned the thousands of pairs of shoes that she’s now world famous for possessing.


As popular discontent against them intensified into riots, Imelda and her dictator husband obtained American assistance and were spirited away, via a US base on Philippine soil, to Guam, an American island territory in the western pacific, and then on to the US Pacific island state of Hawaii. As news of the Marcos’s departure spread, the rioting crowds broke into the Presidential Palace. Although some looting took place by the angriest of the rioters, the majority of the populace were surprisingly respectful of the Palace, many treating the experience as something akin to a museum visit.


It was at this point that Imelda’s collection of approximately 1220 pairs of shoes and other possessions was discovered. Most survived the uprising against the Marcos dictatorship, and were transferred to a handful of museums across the country, including the Marikina City Footwear Museum and National Museum of the Philippines, both in the Manilla area, as well as her ancestral home in Tacloban on the Philippine island of Leyte, which also serves as a museum.


However, in the decades since the uprising, almost half of the shoes have been damaged, with only about 750 remaining in 2012. Floods, leaky museum ceilings, insects and general neglect have caused them to fall apart, with the Phillippine government declaring that the collection is “worthless”.


So why the attachment to shoes and material things? Why did she want them, and how did she afford them?


Firstly, her attachment to material trappings stemmed from the austerity caused by the Second World War and its aftermath: pre-marriage Imelda had very few shoes and in fact was not particularly wealthy – she worked as a singer at a Manilla music store before meeting Ferdinand.


Once Ferdinand became elected president, he changed his role from that of democratic leader to dictator and his rule became known as a “kleptocracy”, which is “rule by thieves”. This is due to the Marcos family’s plundering of the national treasury and to their increasing of the Phillipine national debt from $2 billion to $30. And so this gave Imelda more than enough money to buy many hundreds of pairs of shoes.


Although some were designer, many of Imelda’s shoes were cheaper, more basic styles. Even the pair that she grabbed while fleeing the palace into exile in Hawaii were simple Espadrilles from Nordstrom, which cost only a few US dollars. She did, however, buy shoes in quantity, which is why so many pairs were found in the palace after her departure.


So how did Ferdinand and Imelda get away with their 20-year kleptocracy? The short answer is that, due to Ferdinand’s anti-communist views, he was propped up by the United States during most of his rule. This was US policy during the Cold War: the USA would essentially support anyone who was opposed to communism. Ferdinand was far from the only dictator propped up by Uncle Sam during this period. Additionally, Ferdinand initially had the support of the armed forces as he vastly expanded them. Later, this support slipped and the army’s support of the people was crucial in the success of the People Power Revolution.


Despite her poor treatment of the Philippine nation and people, Imelda remains popular in the country to this day, and is an integral part of its popular culture, even being elected to parliament since her return to the country from exile in Hawaii.