Pope Benedict XVI's papal shoes are, like the man who wore them, headed for retirement. B16, who plans to resign on February 28, will trade in the red, shiny, and expensive-looking slippers for a pair of pedestrian brown loafers presented to him by a Mexican shoemaker when the Pope and his entourage visited the city of León, in central Mexico, in March 2012. (León is known for its enormous leather industry.) While it's understandable that the Pope would abandon his iconic footwear in retirement — the shoes are a papal tradition, and on Thursday he will no longer be the Pope — it also comes as a shock to the system, since his decision to wear those same red shoes led to accusations, not all of them fair, that the Pope possessed an unusual taste for luxury.
These accusations began with the early rumor that the Pope's shoes were manufactured by the Italian fashion house Prada, which supposedly evidenced his tendency toward expensive labels. Shortly after his coronation, for example, the Associated Press wrote:
Whether it's Prada and Gucci, or just fancy ecclesiastical tailoring, Pope Benedict XVI is his own man when it comes to dressing [...] the vintage styles have turned Benedict into something of a fashion celebrity. "Those red shoes have made quite an impression," said Vatican historian Alberto Melloni.
Even though the shoes weren't manufactured by Prada — rather, they were made by a Roman cobbler named Antonio Arellano — the rumor lingered, so much so that Reuters spent several paragraphs debunking it following the announcement of the Pope's resignation. One reason why the rumor stayed around was immediate precedent: John Paul II, who served from 1978 until his death in 2005, never wore bright red shoes. (Indeed, wearing them is optional.) So for many — like Catholic blogger Andrew Sullivan — the shoes seemed ostentatious. Another reason: the Pope has been photographed wearing expensive Serengeti sunglasses, a decision the Vatican brushed off:
A senior Vatican official averred that the Pope's choice of products was "completely arbitrary". He's aware of the buzz," he went on, "but mostly he laughs about it because it's so absurd. What does he really have to choose? He doesn't wear a tie or a coat. The glasses he wears are the same glasses he wore as a Cardinal, as is the pen he writes with."
Benedict will also take on the title of pope "emeritus" — perhaps former fake shoe enthusiast might work, too.