Blame the Shoes

by gillis

Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out. – Iris Murdoch

I have loved shoes since my tiny Nana Billie gave me a cast-off pair of her shoes. The shoes in question happened to be kitten heeled, gold lame, boudoir sandals trimmed in maribou that had grown too tight for her. I wore those chicas up and down the tar-striped street during the summer between second and third grade. Did I mention they were trimmed with maribou? I played kickball in them, climbed trees in them, rode my bike in them and didn’t take them off until one of the heels snapped off and all the tape in my Dad’s basement workshop could not hold it back on. Part of the reason I loved those shoes is that we never got gifts of any kind from our grandparents, although they did give us money on birthdays and holidays, but buying gifts for all seven of their granddaughters was too much for them to take on. These shoes were as close as I would get to a real, picked-out-for-me gift from Little Nana, so they were special. Not to mention that they were trimmed in maribou.

These shoes turned out to be a powerful gateway drug leading to life of ever more dangerous podiatric longing. While I was still in junior high, I became acquainted with platform shoes. I could gain 2-4 inches with little effort wearing them and they were everywhere after the disco craze had peaked in previous years. During high school, I collected Candie’s brand high heel sandals that wrapped around my ankle in every color of the rainbow. This trend was followed the preppy look where I was torn between wearing Pappagallo knockoffs with grosgrain ribbon or my spiky heeled pumps modeled after the Robert Palmer video-dancers. My wardrobe was particularly schizophrenic in high school. Thankfully, I went to college in Vermont where there were practical matters like months of snow followed by months of mud to consider. I took foot fashion cues from LL Bean almost exclusively, but because I was a drama major, I did get my share of fantastic footwear to wear on stage, so I never felt deprived.

When I hit the workforce, I was one of those creepy commuters who wore her sneakers with white socks on the subway and changed into my stylish, but sedate pumps at the office. On the weekends, I wore Frye boots, bowling shoes, and Converse sneakers. I was leading a double life from the ankle down and it was starting to take a toll on me. I knew I was in trouble the day I realized I had taken to work one brown Bandolino pump and one navy blue Franco Sarto pump to wear. Something had to change.

Luckily, I went back to school to get my master’s degree and become a teacher. It was during this time that I realized I would need to find some common ground in my footwear if I was going to survive my semester of student teaching. I wouldn’t make it through the grueling days and weeks ahead standing for six hours a day in pumps, and I didn’t think I’d be taken seriously if I wore my Chuck Taylors. It was about this time that I discovered clogs. Not just any clogs, but the real things. Dansko. I scrounged up enough money to buy a pair of black, leather, full-shoe, stapled Danskos. They were an exorbitant amount of money for a grad student. And I couldn’t even wear them with a dress, unless I wanted to pass for a Catholic nun or someone with extreme bunion issues, but they probably kept me going in the MEd program when I was really questioning my commitment to the world of education. I knew I had to at least get my degree because I had spent so much damn money on those teacher shoes.

That was sixteen years ago and those clogs were finally retired when my son was born, nearly three years ago, because they had become stretched out to instability causing me at 7 months pregnant to lurch when I walked. By then, the staples along the wooden footbed were completely rusted and kept leaving marks on my pant hems. ย The utilitarian black clogs have been replaced with red, patent clogs, leopard print horsehair clogs (yes, PETA hates me, but I had no idea it was really horsehair when I found them on clearance until a student told me!), brown, hook-and-eye boot clogs that Holly Hobbie might have worn, various clog sandals, and several other less glamorous or interesting incarnations of the clog. I have other shoes, mostly Converse, Keen, Merrell, and J-41s, that I can teach in as well, but the 10 and counting pairs of Danskos are the ones I rely on to get me (and my back) through the days in my classroom with the concrete floor. I have a lovely shoe rack with the fancy or sublime non-teaching shoes that get to come out and play on occasion. When spring and summer roll around I like to stray and wear flip flops or beautiful, expensive Israeli sandals, but the shoes that have shaped my teaching career are the clunky, clumsy clogs. I think I may still be toiling in the land of the cubicles to this day if I hadn’t discovered the clog. I blame the shoes.