I need a new pair of shoes.
There is nothing unusual about this. We are used to hearing women talk about “needing” new things. Blogs have more or less become spaces primarily for talking about what we wear and I, for one, have an unhealthy addiction to pretty footwear. It shows in the collection I’ve amassed over the past decade and a half since my feet have stopped growing. I like shoes. I like that they have a sculptural aspect and that the size constraints are not as cruel as they are with other kinds of clothing.
This time though, I actually need a new pair of shoes since we have a research tour in Japan in a couple of weeks, and looking at the itinerary (and from the testimonies about the past tours), this looks like it’s going to be pretty brutal. On my feet.
I have about 2 dozen pairs of shoes, a good dozen of which have been in circulation for over 5 years. I have teal creepers, aqua cowboy boots, red ankle boots, leopard print desert boots, low red heels with ankle straps, tricolored monk strap derbies, and a bunch of other things that have stood the test of time and distance. Many were bought second hand, and I am proud of having an eye for the kind of quality that can withstand the beating I put my shoes (and, of course, the rest of my body) through. Despite having more shit to wear on my feet than I’ll ever need, I am still fairly picky when it comes to shoes. This is why most of the stuff I like, I come across by pure chance in a thrift or vintage shop.
This, unfortunately, is not the case with sneakers. Sneakers are meant to be broken in and are built to last. You just don’t pay second-hand prices for something coated with that much toejam and sentiment. To be more specific, I don’t have the kind of sneakers that can survive nuclear winter in Japan. I need something that can handle both sidewalks and steps, will come off easily at the airport, and can go from the field to the conference hall. Adidas Stan Smiths are a little too pricey since the trend hasn’t died down. Same goes with New Balance and Onitsuka Tigers, and with that I haven’t even gotten into the ridiculous distinctions between styles “for men” and “for women”. They’re shoes, guys, what the fuck.
I tend to pay bargain bin prices for new sneakers because so much of what is relegated to the womenswear section is never built to last, so why shell out? Still we are expected to pay premium prices for subpar quality precisely because of a mindset associated with female consumers that is “capricious” at best and “fickle” at worst. And we still pay, because what alternatives are offered? Even worse, every women’s running shoe or lifestyle sneaker I’ve looked at comes with a stripe of pink or purple or shiny leopard details or gold studs. Who the fuck needs gold studs? I just need to not feel like throwing myself into oncoming traffic after walking for two blocks–or less. I need a running shoe I can actually run in, or at least get me from Tokyo to Hiroshima in the middle of winter without falling apart (especially since shit in Japan is expensive and I’d rather not have to buy anything while I’m there).
What really bothers me is that this is not just about shoes, but about what has been accepted and institutionalized about how women buy and use things. By way of gold studs and needless details, shitty quality notwithstanding, it goes to show that a woman’s shoe is not actually supposed to take her places, but to complement an outfit that never gets dirty. Among other things.
After four years of having taught clothing design and theory, I’ve talked a great deal about form and function. The only function I’m really looking for in this case is for the designed object to go on my feet. And my feet go on the ground. This is the first step to getting somewhere, but somehow we can’t even get that first step right.