This spring, with timing suspiciously close to my thirtieth birthday, I bought my first real pair of don’t-give-a-shit shoes. They are flatform Tevas. They are everything.
When they arrived from Amazon (foreshadowing), my husband shook his head in disgust. "You're never wearing those." His was not an existence where his wife of nearly six years wore ugly shoes. Ridiculous shoes? Frequently. But not ugly ones.
We were going to Florida for a wedding and had planned a side-pilgrimage to Harry Potterland. I was 29 and coming to Jesus about walking for extended lengths of time in heat and humidity. I was ready to be practical, whatever the personal cost.
In the end the ugly Tevas were a resounding success in Florida. I took laps around Universal without an oozing blister and no one there batted an eye at the contraptions on my feet. But alas, it was Florida.
After that trip I only wore the terrible shoes in Queens while running errands. Queens is a place where you can go to a restaurant with $30 entrees and see men in track jackets. This borough, as a rule, is shameless and definitely doesn’t waste its time forming opinions about foam-soled sandals with velcro straps. There are dumplings to eat and pedestrians to mow down with midsized sedans.
The real test of resolve and gumption was Manhattan. I was starting a class near Bellevue hospital. Many of the hospitals here dot the riverfront edges of Manhattan--places that are nowhere near a subway station. You can take a crosstown bus or you can hoof it (you can also ride Citibike but nope). Living in New York requires knowing the limits of particular shoes: ballet flats that are good for five short blocks, heels that can teeter from a car to a bar stool and back to a car. The walk from the subway to school was just under a mile, a distance, once factoring in return trips, beyond the scope of my attractive, acceptable summer shoes.
On lab days I had to wear closed-toe shoes, lest I drop chemicals/sharps on my feet. But on lecture days, the Tevas were freedom: freedom from blisters and restrictions and stifling socks. I lived for the Teva days. Endeared, I started calling them my clompers. They were sturdy, reliable things, like if goats were not ornery or prone to jumping on nice sheep. I could run at a good clip in my clompers too, which is more than I can say for my Jack Rogers sandals, the preferred summer footwear of WASPs everywhere.
Still, I’ve been the subject of furtive glances and hushed whispers between stylish mother-daughter pairs on the subway. I try to throw off the impression of hippy-dippyness by wearing oversized cateye sunglasses and Everlane tees. But there is no undoing the absolute unstylishness of Tevas. They are hideous, and they are strapped to my feet.
If you’re not ready to wear a signifier for giving up, I understand. It requires getting to a point where efficiency and comfort are your chief concerns, beyond priorities like not looking like you just wandered off the PCT in a delirium. For a lot of women, this seems to coincide with motherhood. For me, it was the prospect of walking 1.5 miles a day in the summer.
We all have our breaking points.