An Australian Twitter user caused a flurry of excitement on Wednesday when she posted about a bargain find at a Vinnies op shop in Belconnen, Canberra: designer Manolo Blahniks shoes worth $2,125 for a steal at $35.
And not just any pair of Manolo Blahniks, but the same blue satin jewel buckle pumps that Carrie Bradshaw wears during her proposal and marriage in the 2008 Sex and the City film.
Dr Liz Allen, a demographer at ANU who is better known for her research papers on trends in Australian society, said she went to the Vinnies charity shop to find a replacement for her Hush Puppy sandals from the $8 shoe rack but was caught by the special shoes on the top shelf rack.
“I saw a sparkle in the corner of my eye,” Allen said.
She posted the discovery to Twitter where she said it “exploded” with comments from people from all corners of the country.
Twitter users were quick to draw her attention to the Sex and the City connection, but also to the fact that the shoes almost certainly were not genuine Manolos.
Speculation abounded as to who the donor could have been, with Dr Jenna Price suggesting the former foreign minister Julie Bishop, who is renowned for her fashionable footwear (but not for wearing cheaper imitations).
It wouldn’t have been the first time Bishop has donated her footwear to charity, having given the sparkly red satin heels in which she announced her resignation to be displayed at the Museum of Democracy in Canberra.
The Blahnik heels were size 38, which the Canberra Times reported to be the same size as the heels donated to the Museum of Democracy.
Asked whether she thought the shoes could have belonged to Bishop, Allen said “whether they’re previously been worn by a politician, through the halls of power, or not, I would like to think they were worn in celebration”.
Those questioning the authenticity of the shoes pointed out that the label was not sewn with the same precision as Blahnik heels. There was a suggestion that they could be a Marks and Spencer copy.
But Allen said those comments missed the beauty of op shops.
“Sometimes we get caught up in what we’re told is fashionable, what we’re told is acceptable. Places like Vinnies … allow us to explore what we get joy from rather than what we’re told to.”
Barnie van Wyk, the chief executive of the St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn, told Guardian Australia: “We rarely know who donated any of the items we receive in a Vinnies shop. We’re grateful for all good quality donations, no matter their origin.”
“We frequently receive amazing donations, which is why we often say to visit a Vinnies shop to find treasure. One quite significant donation was a Gumnut Babies book, including a letter from May Gibbs,” he said.
“The funds raised by the sale of goods in Vinnies shops support the programs and services we run in the community providing support to people who have experienced disadvantage.”
Unfortunately, size 38 was not Allen’s shoe size and the shoes went to Tasmanian ABC journalist Erin Cooper who, Allen says, was first in, best dressed.
Cooper told the Guardian: “I love secondhand shopping, but I never found anything as impressive as Manolo Blahniks.”
Allen was happy to give the shoes away. “In my life, if there’s no use for it, there’s no need to keep it,” she said.
There are some very stylish academics at ANU Allen said, but she doesn’t count herself among them. “I’m the one who gives lectures and walks around the corridors without shoes.”
Allen knows better than most the importance of passing on items of clothing.
“I would best describe Vinnies and my relationship as one of love and hate. I once hated going to Vinnies stores. I would attend Vinnies in times of great need as a young person, often without food and in times of great financial distress. It was a major source of embarrassment.”
Yet Allen is still extremely grateful. As a teenager, she wanted to attend a 1950s themed disco. The cost of attendance was free but the only condition was “you had to dress up”.
It was at Vinnies that Allen found the “perfect little black miniskirt with white polka dots. I still remember how much joy that gave me.”
“I don’t think people realise when you’re poor, little things like that make a massive difference. It’s like a gateway to society.”