Eric writes about the shoes

Aa a finger exercise in writing, I decided to submit a piece to Manolo’s
Essay Contest
. The constraints — low word count, a subject
that really doesn’t interest me much — appealed to me. I
figured if I could produce something interesting under those
circumstances, it would be an accomplishment.

Here it is. You be the judge…

I’m a geek, not a fashion plate. I don’t think about shoes a lot,
but I know what I like — and when I do think about shoes, I’m
profoundly grateful for some of the changes that have come about in my
lifetime. I’m thinking, more than anything else, of the way athletic
shoes have taken over the world.

When I was a kid back in the 1960s and early 1970s, “shoes” still
meant, basically, “hard leather oxfords”. Ugly stiff things with a
high-maintainence finish that would scuff if you breathed on them.
What I liked was sneakers. But in those bygone days you didn’t get
to wear sneakers past a certain age, unless you were doing sneaker
things like playing basketball. And I sucked at basketball.

I revolted against the tyranny of the oxford by wearing desert boots,
which back then weren’t actually boots at all but a kind of high-top
shoe with a suede finish and a grip sole. These were just barely
acceptable in polite company; in fact, if you can believe this, I was
teased about them at school. It was a more conformist time.

I still remember the first time I saw a shoe I actually liked and
wanted to own, around 1982. It was called an Aspen, and it was built
exactly like a running shoe but with a soft suede upper. Felt like
sneakers on my feet, looked like a grownup shoe from any distance.
And I still remember exactly how my Aspens — both of them —
literally fell apart at the same moment as I was crossing Walnut
Street in West Philly. These were not well-made shoes. I had to limp

But better days were coming. In the early 1990s athletic shoes
underwent a kind of Cambrian explosion, proliferating into all kinds
of odd styles. Reebok and Rockport and a few other makers finally
figured out what I wanted — athletic-shoe fit and comfort with a
sleek all-black look I could wear into a client’s office, and no
polishing or shoe trees or any of that annoying overhead!

I look around me today and I see that athletic-shoe tech has taken over.
The torture devices of my childhood are almost a memory. Thank you,
oh inscrutable shoe gods. Thank you Rockport. It’s not a big thing
like the Internet, but comfortable un-fussy shoes have made my life

Categorized as Culture


  1. “Ugly stiff things with a high-maintainence finish that would scuff if you breathed on them.”
    You forgot to mention the stiff backs that would take the skin off your heels on a daily basis until you’d owned them for at least a month. I went to a job interview a week ago and the skin still hasn’t grown back.

  2. Poor Eric. Poor last generation. I just went to a shoe store and I couldn’t tell the difference between the “running shoes” and the “walking around shoes”. I mean I literally couldn’t tell the difference, but there were two sections.

  3. I find in my experience that I can get away with wearing well-polished black steel-toed workboots in most formal situations. I like them becuase they’re comfortable and practical, although they do need to be polished alot.

  4. Real men wear stilettos, and maybe some supportive hosiery

    What?!?! Don’t say it’s just me… ;-)

    Seriously though…my hunting boots are the most comfortable footwear I have ever owned

    Day-to-day, my vote goes with Rockport shoes (dress/casual), Merrel mocs, and Bjorndahl fisherman sandals…

  5. Have you tried the “Croft and Barrow” and “Sonoma” brands? These shoes are some of the best valued shoes you can buy. I currently wear Sketchers, and they do last and are very comfortable, considering that I am on my feet most of the time.

    You can get these brands online at, especially when they go on clearance.

  6. My mantra (well, we all have many mantras; this is just one of mine) :If your feet hurt, you can never have a really good day.

  7. I too prefer black athletic shoes. However, if you do have to wear “dress” shoes, I find that Florsheim are actually quite comfortable. Not as comfortable as an atheltic shoe, mind you, but miles more comfortable than the average dress shoe.

  8. Thank the lesbians? Hahah! I mean, they *are* all about comfortable shoes, right?

    Dansko is a great brand for gals. Looks like sassy high fashion stuff, inside feels like you could work a double shift at a hospital. (Think: nurse shoes inside, pretty on the outside!)

  9. hey eric…totally understand what u mean about the comfort of shoes….i’m really fussy about those as well..but ive found a sitewhere u can find “the most comfortable” shoes and theyre stylish too…a real bargain and the site is so easy to use and man u’ll love the shoes….try it out,….its a real bargain…and i am soo sure u’ll love the shoes…i couldnt believe they were so comfortable….

    New Balance

  10. What ever happened to Steve Martin? When I was growing up, he was one of my favorite actors. Now he seems to be churning out zillions of movie which don’t do him justice.

  11. Its all about the shoes, when you are young you want to look good, then as you get old you want the shoes to not only look good, but fit right and feel good.

  12. Oh to be a man!!

    I so love comfy shoes but instead opt to cram my feet into sky high stilletos for my day job in the office. It gives me a sense of height (needed given my 5’3″) and they make my legs look thinner.

    Roll on 5pm and minus 5 inches!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.