What Ever Happened to…? is an investigation into the whereabouts of former pop culture icons, political figures, and urban legends. This week, we’re diving into former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos’ 3,000-pair shoe collection.
As a girl growing up in the Philippines, the first thing I knew about our infamous First Lady Imelda Marcos, is that she owned 3,000 pairs of shoes. I could not imagine how this looked, because the combined number of footwear in our house among a family of four did not even go past 50. (Granted I’m more of a bag person, but to this day, I only rotate between four pairs, at most).
Three thousand pairs sounds even more ludicrous now than it did back then, since it has become an emblem of the billions of dollars her family stole from the people while her husband, late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, ruled for 21 years.
Her locally made shoes were said to be priced at anywhere between $6-11, while imported pairs cost up to $100 or more. With the money I make, I would not be able to rack up that many shoes in my lifetime, even if I started today (trust me, I just calculated it).
Despite its more serious backstory, I can’t help but be fascinated by Imelda, now 90 years old, and her gaudy lifestyle. I know many are, too, since she’s now at the center of the new documentary The Kingmaker, which premiered at the 76th Venice Film Festival in August, and opened in select theaters in the United States last week.
This fascination has led me to ask some serious, and not-so-serious questions: How did she get away with this? Did she get to wear all those shoes? (This would've been equivalent to not repeating a pair for 8 years!!!) How hard must it have been to break in every pair?
I imagine the pumps, peep-toes, and sling-backs that once strutted the pavements of cosmopolitan cities and rubbed heels with dignitaries, back when they fit neatly into the soles of Imelda, and can’t help but wonder, where are they now?
Here’s what we know.
Seven hundred twenty pairs of shoes are at the Marikina Shoe Museum in Metro Manila. Of that, 253 are on display, while 467 are in storage, according to local reports. This includes designer brands like Charles Jourdan, Christian Dior, Gucci, and Oleg Cassini. There are also shoes by Filipino designers; local makers reportedly gave the then-First Lady 10 pairs of shoes a week, according to ABC News Australia.
The whereabouts of the rest are less definite.
One report claims that many of them are now destroyed. In 2012, the Associated Press reported that more than 1,000 pairs have been damaged by termites and mold, after years of being stashed in boxes. They were only discovered after being drenched in rainwater that leaked through the ceiling of the museum hall they were locked in.
Another possibility is that the collection is smaller than what the legend of the Marcoses’ downfall would have us believe. There is a discrepancy among reports of how many pairs of shoes were actually discovered in the presidential palace Malacañang. The Philippines’ Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) confirmed the 3,000 count to Rappler, but Time reported in 1987 that the “final tally” was 1,060 pairs. More recent reports from CNN, The New York Times, and the BBC also report it at over 1,000.
"I did not have 3,000 pairs of shoes. I had 1,060," Imelda herself said in 1987, though we all know it’s wise not to believe everything their family says. And if that number were true, it still means not repeating a pair for nearly 3 years!!! That’s still one (thousand) too many, especially considering that many Filipinos were in poverty while her family was in power. Many still are.
Imelda’s shoes are also just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Marcoses’ corruption. As of 2016, the PCGG has only recovered about PHP170 billion ($3.3 billion) of the wealth stolen by the family and their cronies, a fraction of the estimated $10 billion they amassed.
And yet, like a pair of rotting old shoes that are two sizes too small, Imelda still won’t budge. More than 30 years after her fall, she still insists that everything she has done was for the Filipino people.
“When I became First Lady, it became demanding for me. I have to dress up and make myself more beautiful,” Imelda says in the trailer for The Kingmaker. “Because the poor always looks for a star.”
Actually Imelda, we plebes are just looking for your shoes.