For as long as I can remember until now, Birkenstocks were uncool and to wear them meant to cast yourself off from the rest of society into the lonesome role of “that weirdo.” Suddenly, I’m still not sure how, they became fashionable, and then extremely trendy. Now, they seem to be the final punctuation of every hipster’s tight pants-shrunken shirt outfit, the period at the bottom of a super-skinny exclamation point appended to the word “cool.”
So I bought a used pair of the Arizona sandals to see what all the fuss was about, and had to Shoe Goo the sole back to the upper because they were so worn. It seemed even more effortless to rock a pair of worn in shoes that looked like they had character and stories to tell than a pair of shiny new ones that may or may not be made of real leather any more.
They are my go-to shoe that fits into my current environment where “Grandma shoes” rule the roost. Everyone around me right now seems to be wearing something straight out of The Walking Company. Function is first and foremost, at the total expense of form if necessary.
But Birkenstock doesn’t quite make my exact size. Then I read this article about the Dansko clog that made it sound like that shoe was the only shoe one would ever need for everything that would last forever, and I had to know what wearing a pair was like. “Beloved by…every soft-skilled woman in New York I know,” wrote the article’s author, and “an example of an extremely rare category of item that projects nearly nothing.”
It used to be that the only thing more tragic than sporting a pair of Birkenstocks was opting for a pair of clogs. At a friend’s wedding, someone stood up and derided the clog in order to express her loyalty to the bride: “We will never let you leave the house in a pair of clogs,” she proclaimed, “because that’s what friends are for.”
But now clogs are chic and cool in an understated and effortless way that puts style above fashion, and utility on par with aesthetic. Clogs are for creative people that birth revolutionary ideas into the world in spite of the resistance of the stiletto-wearing status quo. Clogs are for people that dress for themselves. Clogs are for people that spend a lot of time on their feet – doing things, not just talking about things that could be done.
I bought a used pair from an owner that claimed they were in “excellent condition” just to try it out. The rubbery plastic sole developed deep cracks and mostly eroded away after just one wear. They were comfortable enough and I felt like a trendsetter as the only soul brave enough to wear a pair of clogs in public here, but the leather toe box didn’t breathe well, the staples that attach the upper to the sole were lifting out, and the sole wasn’t a durable piece of wood that would lend itself to resoling. I threw them out, and haven’t replaced them for these reasons as well as the fact that Dansko just doesn’t carry my exact size.
Now The Strategist has made a very convincing argument that the Charleston Monterey (formerly Vivanz, formerly San Miguel Milagros Para Ti?, pictured above) is the greatest thing since the Birkenstock. After owning a pair of wedges with a stretchy, strappy fabric upper that is like wearing foot bandages for sprained ankles on a platform shoe, I’m not totally convinced. And you can’t easily find an affordable used pair for a fraction of the retail price.
Meanwhile, I ran into a man wearing a pair of Mexican leather huaraches in a rich, deep brown leather with thick rubber soles that could have come straight off an old tire. He had those shoes so long he had resoled them multiple times and couldn’t remember where he got them from, although one can still find a very similar product easily on EBay. Unfortunately, the women’s version of those is designed a bit differently. I’m not sure about quality or longevity of this modern version.
The idea of owning one well-made pair of shoes that can go anywhere (except maybe a fancy evening affair) is so appealing, but finding that perfect pair of footwear is fraught with difficulty.
Do you have a pair of shoes that you love and wear everywhere? What makes them so great? Is there such a thing as a pair of shoes that can go anywhere, or is that an unattainable dream, a fashion unicorn?