I’ve been searching for decades for an elusive shoe, the one that will end my desire for all other shoes. As I eagerly await a new, in-transit prospect, I have an Amazon-Prime-Delivery-moment to reflect on the nature and history of the quest.
I have a pronounced allergy to excess. A visceral objection to material encumbrance. Moreover, a nagging, consumerism-inspired anxiety created in the dissonance between the multiplicity of options and the dearth of satisfactions. I’m afraid my journey has now yielded excess instead of the desired monastic efficiency required to “think about other things.” Not that I am entirely so high-minded. I am aesthetically drawn to the ascetic. My fashion taste being in the ballpark of post-apocalyptic barbarian and Diane-Keaton-joined-a-cult. (An ex once described that ballpark as the “elegant retiree”, this before the advent of menocore.) “That’s a wicked woman”, a friend’s child remarked upon seeing me in an old opera coat of my mother’s with a $2, satin, Chinatown dragon hat.)
This ideal shoe must be practical, serving a range of weather, supporting varied occasions, and functioning in different walking conditions. While all of these pose unique challenge, I’ll wager that the topline to hem relationship presents the make-or-break situation, one with elaborately specific exigencies for each person. It’s a moving target because these shoes must work with a variety of pants, skirts, and dresses.
My memories of the incipient quest take me to grade school, where sneakers sufficed. Not to say that the type of sneaker was not a consideration, but once that decision was made, it was truly the shoe for most of living. The narrow range of situational requirements in that time of life eases the task. I had a pair of pale blue, Converse high tops that lasted through quite a bit of 5th grade. At some point near the end of high school, I moved on to black low top Converse, which I revisited again 15 years later in graduate school. A mistake I’ve now made too many times, alas, those shoes do not have arch support.
Several years ago in graduate school, I committed to a pair of black, mid-calf, motorcycle boots from J.Crew. (At the time, I also wanted the sweater to end all sweaters and jackets, a tall order. I ended up with a grey, cocoon shaped cardigan, which that same ex with a knack for sartorial nomenclature coined my “Romulan” sweater. I don’t think Romulans actually wore sweaters, but if you take a sidelong approach to imagination, you kind of get the idea.) I still have the boots, several soles later. My dog, Petey, once ate through the buckled straps and I had those repaired, too. On the last trip to the cobbler, a strap was lost and they again face sole repair. So I’ve come to terms with my waning enthusiasm for them. I consider throwing them away, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. My perspective on their topline to hem relationship has changed over time (or maybe my body has changed), while they have stayed the same. A classic growing-apart.
The ugly sneaker seems to fit the bill for many, but I’m not there. All I see is “trend” in flashing neon. I imagine commuters changing out of these kinds of sneakers once they get to work, a kind of reverse Mr. Rogers. The comfortable shoes get you where you’re going, but the right pair is waiting for you when you get there. They’re forever relegated as the means in a troubling ends-justify-the-means scenario.
Included in the list of contenders, sitting at the back of my closet: Birkenstock London, Dankso Maria, Clarks Wallabee, a pair of dusty-colored monochrome, Maison Martin Margiela high-top sneakers. A leopard bootie from Boden and perhaps surprisingly a pair of Nike slides are clear front runners. I love my LL Bean winter boots, but the shearling makes them prohibitive most times of year. WIth all of these options, I still struggle to find the right pair on any given day.
When my new Doc Martens arrive tomorrow, I know that, as yet another pair of shoes, they won’t have the capacity to end the chronic nature of consumer desire. I’d like to believe that fulfilling my list of impossible requirements was possible. However, here’s a new kind of wager. These new boots will help me be the person I want to be by dressing like I already am. If it’s wise to dress for the job you want, “like the boss” as it were, then I’d like to think of my best self as that boss. In my case, since the boss is that ascetic-loving, Inner-Worldly mystic living in the awareness of abundance, she doesn’t think about shoes– she’s moved on to other things.