The Shoes Make The Man
October 24, 2008, 9:23 PM
Filed under: Fashion, Potpourri

Shoes aren’t something I’d consider to be a commodity.  When people say, “Man, do I need a new pair of shoes!” I think to myself, ‘Well what about when people didn’t have shoes?’  There was a day when we didn’t have shoes, even if you can’t recall it.  It was centuries ago, probably when having something on your feet was a good idea, since it was hard to harpoon a wooly mammoth with an icicle if your feet were black and lifeless.  Although, if you were hungry enough, I suppose you could skip the mammoth altogether and feast on your feet instead.  But that’s a morbid and rather off-topic discussion I guess.

These days, we don’t have to worry about treading around the snow barefoot looking for shelter.  We get into our Prius, drive to the nearest Motel Six, knock back a few, and call it a day.  So why does the world have this unjustified fetish with covering our feet?  “It’s indecent to be barefoot in public!”  Who says?  Not to mention the only places that make note of this are fast food joints and jiffy lube stops, the last places I would consider touching my bare skin to the floor.

I get the fashion perspective.  I get that you want to look cute.  I want to look cute, and I want to wear shoes while I’m doing it.  I love shoes for that sole (no pun intended) reason: they can bring together an outfit, they can make you feel sexy…hell, with the right pair, you just might be able to walk on water, or at the very least assume that you can and then fall pathetically beneath the surface.  But I’m not talking about looks this time, I’m talking comfort.  Sometimes I just want to be barefoot because it’s comfortable.  I’m not making a statement, I’m not making my first steps towards joining a nudist colony.  All I’m doing is airing out my feet after an exhausting day at work, I’m just trying to do some grocery shopping, I just wanted to visit the art museum.  Whatever activity it is, I want to have the option to do it sans-footwear.

When I was younger, I was, by default, mentally incapable of understanding anything logical.  Logic told me that wearing shoes on a playground would protect me from the possibility of broken glass and slippery used condoms.  But because I was such a free and stupid spirit, I’d run around the entire neighborhood without shoes on for hours at a time.  It was my feet that those prickly weeds dreamed of piercing and that the little bugs told each other scary campfire stories about.  My feet were an intergral part of nature, just how it was supposed to be.

Unfortunately, all of this nature was starting to stick to my feet, and my mother wouldn’t have it.  “Jesus Christ, Christopher!” she’d say, “Look at the marks you’re making on the kitchen floor!  If you won’t wear shoes to save yourself from cuts at least wear them to save my linoleum!”  I didn’t know what she was talking about, so I looked back behind me.  Sure enough, there were large, grayish footprints tracking all the way from the back door to where I was currently standing.  As a kid, this was interesting to me, and I was curious as to what I was walking in that could have caused such a darkened impression.

I went to the bathroom to observe my feet.  Actually, looking back on it, I’m not so sure if you could even call them feet.  They resembled tempered pieces of black leather, the kind Donatella Versache would rave about and PETA would picket.  Squashed on the surface was an assortment of bugs, small candies, and plant shrapnel.  To me it was like a beautiful collage, homage to a blissful summer evening.  To my mother it was thirty minutes on her knees with a bucket of Mr. Clean and a scowl on her face.  I decided that I would bite the metaphorical bullet and wear at least socks when I left the house.  Apparently, I couldn’t please my mother with this either. “Look at how black the bottom of your socks are!  Do you know how many times I washed these and they still look like this?”  I could have guessed, but I didn’t have the energy.

As I was growing up, I began to develop a love for odd clothes.  Shirts, jeans, pants, khakis, cords…I’d wear pretty much anything, testament to that being the purple Reddi-Whip polo that I would don frequently during my sophomore year in high school.  The comments from my friends were all so negative and narrow-minded: “What the FUCK are you wearing?  What?  No, you can’t sit here.  Find another lunch table.”  What it was about sundae toppings that invoked so much rage in them, I’ll never know, but nobody who saw me in that shirt thought it was a good wardrobe choice.  And looking back on it, I know it wasn’t, but I’m not embarassed.  Why should I be?  If anything I should be proud for making such a bold decision, even if I looked like a part time ice-cream truck driver in the process.

My love for strange clothes was certainly running wild, but the shoes were never a part of the process.  I usually just had one pair of shoes, either found, stolen, or bought on clearance at Payless.  I did develop a fondness for sandals, however, which was as close as being barefoot as you can get without offending anyone.  I found that it just wasn’t the same, but I also found that I could be relatively content in this partial life.  I wore sandals well in to December, constantly lying to my peers by explaining that my feet never got cold.  “I don’t know, something to do with my chromosomes or something.  It’s in a textbook, look it up.”  They never did, which was perfectly okay with me.

It wasn’t until recently that I began to fully appreciate a good shoe.  I had just been cast in a show at a local community theater, and as the rehearsals progressed, I realized that my lack of footwear compared to the rest of the cast was painfully obvious.  Sure, they might not have been the most attractive articles, but what these people lacked in taste they made up for in quantity.  The same shoe was rarely worn twice, and I started to feel obsolete and exiled.  “Ugh…black dress boots again?”  Of course, theater people never say these things, and some of them probably don’t even think it, but the point is that I thought these things, and that’s just as bad as if they would have said it in the first place.

My lack of shoe variety was first brought to my attention by one of the other gay male cast members, who always wore a cute and trendy pair to rehearsals.  “C.J., you need to expand your shoe collection,” he said very somberly, making it sound like I had been collecting shoes for years and suddenly stopped due to some horrible freak accident involving penny loafers.  “I mean, once you take a look, you can find some really cute shoes out there.  You’d be surprised.”  I shrugged and half-heartedly agreed with him, now firmly believing that if I was ever going to do anything from now on, it would have to be in a pair of beautifully designed shoes.

I was at work one day, and while absent-mindedly surfing the web, the conversation with the cast member replayed in my head.  I paused for a second and typed in the URL, thinking that it would never hurt to look, and even if I did buy something and my other shoes felt betrayed, I figured they’d get over it.  As I searched for the options in Men’s size 12, I was astonished at not only the selection, but the quality.  Purple shoes, brown shoes, red shoes, crocodile skin, sherpa, clogs, cowboy boots, slippers…It was both the most exciting and overwhelming feeling I had at work, except that time when the vending machine gave me two bags of Sun Chips on accident.

I went wild, clicking and adding to bag, clicking and adding to bag, clicking and adding to bag.  I went to the checkout.  ‘How much!?’ I thought, looking at the astronomical price.  I removed about seven pairs and went with my favorite three, and instead of adding to bag, I went to clicking and adding to wish list, which is a nice feature, since it gives you the satisfaction that you may eventually buy it, but you might not.  The shoes sit there in a state of limbo, in online shopping torture, just waiting to be placed in the bag and sold to the next interested user.  When my shoes finally came, I caved and put them on.  It was an oddly powerful feeling to be in such a nice pair of shoes.  It felt like how I imagine it would feel when Power Rangers morph, as if this was my special key for turning from just a black ranger into a bull mastodon.  I was hooked.

I must say, I’m happy that I overcame my somewhat prehistoric views, but I can’t help but feel a nostalgic twinge when I see a lopsided freckle-faced kid running around his neighborhood without his shoes.  I still think to myself, ‘That’s how it should be.’  But that’s the wonderful thing about society, right?  When you are forced to conform to a standard, it isn’t because the standard is right or even correct, but it’s just because it’s what people want.  They want structure and rules.  They want someone to tell them they can’t wear shoes in a jiffy lube or a Burger King.  And they want magazines telling them that shoes are hot accessories, that the “shoes make the man,” et cetera, et cetera.

Most of them do.  I don’t.  But I’d much rather wear a nice looking pair of shoes rather than walk into my workplace barefoot, and when asked why I would think this was acceptable, begin my lengthy explanation: “Well, it all started when…”