London Calling: Kick the Sneaker Habit
I recently had a shocking revelation. I’d hitched a ride from my brother to a friend’s party and on the way, I asked him to pull over at a liquor store so I could “run in and get a bottle of wine.” He had a long drive ahead of him so I did actually try to run. Tried and failed. I was wearing heels. I was able to move quickly, but the faster I went, the smaller my steps were. When I returned to the car, I said something about how it’s not possible to run in heels and we started talking about how vulnerable that makes me. I wouldn’t be able to get away quickly in a potentially dangerous situation. Even the most mannerly mugger/rapist/killer would grow impatient waiting for me to unbuckle my shoes so that I could make a run for it.
This revelation couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m heading to London this September to work on a master’s degree. I’ve been going through all of my clothes and belongings, trying to decide what I’ll be bringing with me and I’ve come to realize that while I have ten shelves of fabulous shoes, I have only about four pairs that I could actually spend an entire day in. Three of these pairs are sneakers and the other a pair of Doc Marten Mary Janes, which although they’re just right for some ensembles, are pretty outdated, much like the flannel shirts I wore them with back in ’94.
Although I certainly like to play with fashion at times, for the most part I prefer to blend in, and to do so in London means that I’ll have to kick the sneaker habit. I have prolonged this abandonment of comfort for years now with the rationalization that surely my coddled tootsies are insufficiently prepared—and hardened—to handle real shoes. But London’s calling, and the fear of being turned away at Customs has me now turning away from my trainers.
Last week, I jumped feet first into a week of the very cutest sandals, heels, and slides on errands and around town. By Saturday, my feet were covered in blisters and I had relapsed to my sneakers.
I took a padded step back and realized that instead of shoving my feet into the pointiest instruments of torture I could find, I instead needed to focus my efforts on finding comfortable, but stylish, footwear. I caught myself laughing at this notion and realized abruptly that I was associating pain with glamour and comfort with dowdiness.
I knew in my heart and soles that I wasn’t alone in thinking fashion had to hurt to look good. I also knew that I hadn’t tested my pain threshold in many years.
When I trudged my besneakered self into Aerosoles for the first time, I expected to find “comfortable” shoes. I did not expect to find stylish comfortable shoes. I thought grannies and nurses shopped in Aerosoles, but when I visited, they had a decidedly young and hip new customer—and rightly so. Aerosoles carries a shocking amount of cute, hip shoes that don’t necessarily look “comfortable.” I tried on seven different pairs and the one thing they had in common was that they all felt as if they’d already been broken in. Nothing felt pinched, squished, or compressed. There was no teetering either. The heels were all sturdy without being chunky.
I ended up with two pairs, both with lots of cushioning and rubber soles. The first one is a retro-inspired oxblood patent leather heel with a wing toe and a t-strap—very old-school, very moll. The other pair is a more basic sandal in black with white stitching and a two-inch wedge heel. The stitching and braided leather detail on the toe strap gives it a slightly earthy look, but even so, it’s light years more stylish than my New Balance trainers.
The next day, I strapped on the wedge sandals and took them to the dry cleaners, Walgreens, the post office, Staples, Kinkos, the hardware store, and the grocery store. I felt proud that I had lasted the whole day without my sneakers; I also felt … nothing—no pain, no blisters, no arch-aches. It was as if I’d spent the day in my sneakers.
I had to wonder: is this just a fluke? Did I just happen upon two pairs of shoes that possess that rare quality of being both attractive and user-friendly or is there a whole other world of comfortable cuties out there that I’d always been blind to? I decided to press my luck. The next time I was downtown, I sought out The Walking Company.
Now as anyone who knows me can attest to, I’m one of the least outdoorsy gals around. The fact that I was willingly entering an establishment that proudly displays the newest versions of Uggs and Birkenstocks is almost unthinkable, but there I was, determined to keep an open mind. I resisted the roll-my-eyes reflex that usually seizes me when I gaze upon a display of shoes intended for tree-huggers with orthopedic issues. Looking closer, I saw that placed among these utilitarian disasters was a selection of darling styles.
Seeing mostly Eccos and Danskos, the ones I admired were the strappy sandals and Mary Janes. I actually tried on a pair of Dansko’s Mary Janes with a braided strap. They felt dreamy, but were a little too granola for me. Actually, for $109, they were a lot too granola. I might have felt differently had they been half the price.
A few days later, I was at DSW (aka Designer Shoe Warehouse, aka my second home). Inspired by my recent revelation, I decided to bypass the obviously dangerous styles and seek out the more practical. After a lovely half hour of trying on different designs, I marched up to the register with a pair of fabulous faux suede chocolate brown Rocket Dogs. They’re designed in the shape of a Mary Jane, but they have the soles of a sneaker.
Now that I’ve opened my eyes—and my mind—to the idea of stylish comfortable shoes, I’ve been finding them at every turn: ballet flats, flat suede pumas (these don’t qualify as sneakers), and chunky heel oxfords for fall. If anything, my problem is now that the custom’s agency might turn me away for having too many shoes!
So the moral of the story is that comfort and style can go hand-in-hand, or rather, foot-in-foot. Would I retrace my footsteps to walk them all again in more fashionable shoes? Absolutely not. I’m not convinced that fashion has always walked in step with function. My years of trainer-training were not for nothing: they taught me to keep my feet planted comfortably on the ground. I refuse to shove my shoes into an uncomfortable shape just because someone says they’re stylish.
Besides, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that I can quickly “run in” for a bottle of wine on the way to a party, and quickly escape bad guys on the way home. There is indeed a certain comfort … to comfort.
Photo courtesy of Petr Kovar
Related Story: Comfort Chic