The package arrived on my desk without warning. Cream suede slippers with pink lining and a knitted cupcake on top of each. Utterly silly and ridiculous, but strangely compelling. "Oh my God," said Tamsin who sits behind me. "They're gorgeous." We agreed they were fun, but rather unwearable. Then we got to talking about slippers.
Tamsin is not a girl I would have imagined would worry about such things: she wears the latest fashions, looks great, has really long legs often finished off with something high-heeled. I never imagined slippers had a place in her glamorous life. But it soon transpired that we both had a similar problem: if you're a girl, it's really hard to find nice slippers. Your choices are: jokey slippers (silly and often uncomfortable); faux sheepskin (always end up smelling); ethnic-y (look great in the Toast catalogue, not so good in real life); beaded and pretty (the uppers are always cut so you can't really walk in them) - or you end up in flip-flops, which are practical, for sure, but sterile and hardly cosy, which slippers definitely need to be. In a reverse problem to the one Prince Charming had, I've spent years searching for the definitive slipper. The search ended only last year, but I'll tell you about that in a minute.
Men don't have this problem. Men can buy lovely leather slippers that are classy and practical, that look good and are everything a slipper should be: comfortable, but not ugly. Naturally women can buy these, too, but they don't come in sizes smaller than a six. Not much use if, like me, your feet are a size four.
Slippers play a very important part in a wardrobe. Indeed, I now grow suspicious of people who say they neither wear nor need them. How can you dress up if you never dress down? Slippers put one in a certain frame of mind; they are a useful - I would say essential - buffer between the world outside and the person you can be at home. And their word-association bedfellows are equally comforting: sofa, lounging, bed, television, fireplace, pyjamas and hot chocolate.
Early last year I was called upon, in a professional capacity, to research a woman's quest for the definitive slipper. She wanted something simply styled, in leather, and it had to be available in a small size. It took me ages, but I finally found a company called Shipton & Heneage that makes all sorts of glorious slippers, in amongst which was what I had been searching for all this time - something called the Deerskin Leather Mule Slipper. Each pair is handmade in England, and soled in suede. Annoyingly, once you've found them, you have to wait several weeks for them. They are wonderfully understated things, but not overly cheap (£89, in sizes from 3 to 12), but then, good slippers are like good beds: with any luck, you will spend lots of time in them, so you need to spend wisely.