The End of Shoes

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.  

I was surprised when I caught a glimpse of your new shoes.

LIFE: A collection of women’s dreams, recorded and then translated here as part of the Female Background metabolism. A way in, a way out.

It had been years since I’d seen you and we pretended not to know one another, which I suppose was not truly pretense. I looked over my shoulder as we passed one another and saw the high heel of your pale blue shoe and the shine of your pant cuff. You joined your family at the table where we used to eat. I continued my work purposefully after this sad interruption only now wondering at the deflective sheen of your uncannily foppish attire.

My Son Is Not A Little Man: 5 Style Tips

In the early days of my pregnancy, I spent a lot of time imagining how to dress my soon-to-be son.  By the time he was born, I had carefully selected clothing for his first six months of life. The thought of raising a boy considering the political events of the past year  inspired questions. Some days, it sounded outright alarms.

In the same way that we have strong associations with certain smells, I also have very strong associations with certain fabrics and patterns from my childhood. My wish for my son was that, if he remembered his early clothing at all, the memory would be a gorgeous underpinning, a depth of time, like a mossy undergrowth in an old forest or a well-loved storybook. His memories, carefully tended pictures, a kind of redolent imagery. I wanted my son’s clothes to be part of a beautiful, intentional life. I also wanted to resist the violence of binary conventions.

I’ve been on an evolving quest, man-repelling for baby boys, only, in this case, repelling his future-man in favor of his future. As soon as I took to the baby registry, the perils emerged: my son was headed for the major leagues or the military. He also had his choice of sanctioned interests: trucks, cars, dinosaurs, outer space, and superheros.

Certain companies pay lip-service to egalitarian dressing. They mostly make ‘boy-things’ cool for girls, most especially things conferring economic advantage, STEM for babies.  This strategy emphasizes the importance to creating an accessible iconography, defining a range of interests and assigning them to our children. This ideology, geared towards creating egalitarian economic producers, is often just undermined by the aesthetics of the garments. For example, frilly, pink dresses decorated with spaceships. Sure it’s important that girls can like science, but that is certainly a separate concern from considering the fundamental disparities between the sexes. Is it important that they are still girls? After all, what are girls and boys if these simple assignations, given at birth, disappear? In the words of J.D. Salinger in a conversation from Franny and Zooey: ” . . . all legitimate religious study must lead to unlearning the differences, the illusory differences, between boys and girls, animals and stones, day and night, heat and cold.”

Finally: Plant a flag: pink or blue.

Screenshot of Search for Baby Boy Clothes

 

Screenshot of Search for Baby Girl Clothes

I’m not blind to all of the yellows and pale greens out there, but frankly, that feels like a form of tokenism. Black, white, grey, and brown seem like better choices for color neutrality, although far from a solution. I would like to strive towards a future reality where there are no distinctions in dress between men and women, Until then, dressing my son in girl’s clothes isn’t an answer.

I’m wary of my own hang-ups: the unconscious expressions of my hopes and fears. Although there’s no way of relinquishing my ego completely, I try taking time to observe my son, as well as my gut reactions. For example:  I usually cringe a bit when someone refers to a boy as a “little man.” It feels a bit like fulfilling a prophecy we might reconsider wanting filled. We tend raise our boys to be the kind of men that we are used to seeing. Unfortunately, that is a nurture we have clearly come to regret. As Simone de Beauvoir describes the being of women as “what they have become” instead of “what they are”, so too with men. Children are not little adults.  At some point our choices will determine identity and I would like to choose wisely. To this end, I have a provisional set of guidelines:

  1. Avoid text and overt iconography.  Perhaps, it’s the explicitness that chafes. A foreclosing on the complexity that seems our birthright. Additionally, I have no interest in becoming an unpaid brand ambassador.

2.  Avoid sports and military themes.

3.  Mix & Match Color and Pattern: Combine traditionally gendered colors and themes, or choose those with weaker gender associations. All-over patterns are better than single images. Avoid ready-made sets. Select items that work together for more flexibility.

Bloomers: Lions, Flowers, Moons, Art: Satsuki Shibuya

4.   Use abstract designs and nature or animal themes.

T-Shirt, Onesie, Romper, Art: Georges Braque, Oiseaux Pour Paroles Peintes

Bodysuit, Sleepsuit, Pants, Leggings, Bodysuit, Romper, Art: Sarah York Designs

5 .  Simplicity Always Works.  Pattern, color and minimalism are not mutually exclusive.

Onesies, Shoes, Jumpsuit, Art: Karine Legér

 

I once read that Andy Warhol was “[making] the world safe for Andy.” Through some mysterious alchemy, showing the world to itself, reflecting it, making oneself simultaneously part-of and apart-from.  A mechanism for individuation. I hope that as my son moves through life, his individuality is complex and that he becomes aware of its fragility and contingency, but that he can become inspired and curious about it’s beauty.  Small choices made towards complexity increase safety and destroy illusory differences.

 

 

 

 

13 Ways to Dress a Boy

Or a girl.

 

Sweatshirt

Jersey Shorts

Sculpture: Louie Rockstrong

 

Forest Tee

Pants

Sculpture: Camilla Engman

Cotton Sweater

Bloomers

Sculpture: Joshua Smith

Cotton Tee

Cotton Bib Overalls

Sculpture: Santiago Ribeiro

Sweater

Bloomers

Sculpture: Nina Lindgren

Landscape Tee

Joggers

Sculpture: Evol

Rainbow Tee

Mustard Yellow Jumpsuit

Sculpture: Evol

Cityscape T-Shirt

Bloomers

Sculpture

Bunny Onesie

Leopard Joggers

Peach Espadrilles

Sunglasses

Sculpture

Raincoat

Sweatshirt

Jungle Joggers

Sculpture: Anne Rook

 

Striped Shirt

Trousers

Sculpture: Pamela Sullivan

 

Pretzel T-Shirt

Spotted Pants

Shoes

Sculpture: Wim Jonker

Jungle Bucket Hat

T-Shirt

Bloomers

Sandals

Sculpture: Evol