So this week I bought the most expensive pair of shoes in my life, some new balance athletic shoes for $107. Now most people wouldn’t consider me the most fashion-forward guy or someone who invests a lot in my apparel, but I’ve had an interesting relationship with my shoes. Let me explain.
As a youth, I was a pretty average kid when it comes to fitting into the adolescent social hierarchy. I was funny and boisterous, but that can only get you so far with the cool kids, in fact, sometimes it even hindered my climb up the social ladder. I was overweight and that certainly didn’t help. So naturally, I turned to the only other area under my control: fashion. Among the cool asian north shore suburban community… the accepted male fashion of the day was pretty clear. It was a uniform consisting of a polo shirt with a crisp white undershirt, tommy hillfiger jeans with the painter strip logo in full view and (here’s the kicker): brown leather dr. martin work shoes…. complete with the yellow threading on edge of the rubber heals.
now obviously not all people wore that exact uniform, but that was what was etched into my mind as what would perhaps give me a little social boost in the coolness factor.
Anyways, those shoes would usually go for over 100 bucks and my parents would NEVER even go near something like that. For my whole childhood, we were always in the bargain clearence section of the shoe store.
So I remember one day, after saving up from years of caddying and other odd jobs, I took the bus from summer school to Old Orchard shopping mall and went to Marshall Fields. I remember thinking I was so happy when I found a pair of Dr. Martens. Like the ones to the left (only the picture is of women’s shoes… imagine a similar style, but more MANLY.
Anyways, I remember the feeling of walking out of that store with my newly purchased leather trendy shoes… obviously, i wasn’t thinking this would be the silver bullet for my ascension into the A-list of the high school pecking order, but in a weird way, I felt confident… i felt reassured knowing I had these shoes. Isn’t that crazy?
I could def. look back on those days and shake my head in dismay thinking, what a superficial, naive person i was back then… thank God now I’m so secure in who i am, I don’t have to worry about the superficial.
But then I remember a few years ago when my family stopped by some rural outlet mall en route to the Wisconsin Dells… I saw my brother purchase these Nike skateboard shoes… and I dunno, I thought they looked so “cool.”
See I don’t know I meant by that, but to be honest, i dunno, something in me was like… wow I think those shoes look really cool and I would look and feel cooler if had those. It wasn’t this overwhelming, compulsive desire, but I have to admit I felt it, even for a second. And I remember trying them on and feeling a little disappointed that it actually was a little bit uncomfortable when I walked. But I have no idea what compelled me to purchase those shoes thinking, eh maybe I’ll get used to it… at least they look cool!
Not to be, in the past few years, I’ve had more feet pain than I could ever remember… there are times when even walking for 10-15 minutes physically begins to hurt my feet. The last straw was a few weekends when I hung out in Madison and caught a UW football game and in the student section stood for almost three hours. My feet were killing me.
So this week I went to a nearby shoe store, not a big chain, but a small evanston botique-ish kinda place that focuses on new balance… something you might have read in “stuff white people like.” I went into the store and was immediately greeted by Gary, I kindly old man wearing a plaid shirt, dusty black slacks and a pair of worn old sneakers. In an odd moment of vulnerability, I started sharing how my entire shoe career I had taken only style and cost into account and was starting to feel like it was coming at a cost to my feet and how I just want a pair of shoes that are comfortable and don’t hurt.
He gave me a kind of knowing smile and told me to sit down on the little mirror stool thing. He took off my shoes and made me walk around the store. As he intently watched my feet, he began giving me a crash course on pronation and how the physical shape of my feet affects how I walk and which athletic shoes are a best fit. It turns out because my extremely high arches, I supinate, which puts me at leass than 10% of the US population.
And he brought out two shoes, one which was new balance and the other was ascics. when I put on the first shoe it was like eating a delicious candy, my feet felt so nice and supported. I was like, wow, I didn’t know my feet could be this comfortable. Then I tried on the second pair of shoes and I was even more impressed. It turned out hte secondpair of shoe had memory foam which made for even more support and comfort.
Well all of this to say is that I was really happy that I found some shoes which were not just decent, but EXTREMELY comfortable. But I had to pause, because to be honest they didn’t look that “cool.” In my mind, I was kinda wishing I could get the same kinda shoes with maybe some hipper flashier colors… maybe a fireball on the side or a dragon… you know, to make it really trendy and cool. And I kind of voiced this to Gary, and he didn’t say anything but just nodded. I think it was at this point my conscious kicked in and said aloud (more to myself than to Gary)… I’m just starting to learn that when it comes to my feet, I don’t want tosell myself short.
And I bought those new bakance shoes, even tho those cool nike skateboard shoes cost about half the price.I made a new friend in Gary and will likely return, maybe even to buy those Ascics. I learned that my feet structure put me int he small minority of the population (I like to think I’m in the 90th percentile of feet).
But perhaps the best lesson I’ve experientially learned is that when it comes to shoes function should always trump form. The past few days, from a feet standpoint, have been some of the most exciting days of my life. I’m excited to walk around… just because I don’t have to feel that twinge of pain in my arches after walking for 10 minutes. Its like I’m a new walker.
I went to my closet this morning to pack some clothes for my upcoming trip and I caught sight of those old raggety Doc Marten shoes from just about 10 years ago… they are falling apart, they don’t have much structure anymore and I don’t understand why I don’t just throw them out… but I dunno, I remember how important they USED to be for me and I think it would be weird to get rid of them… maybe I should…