Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I've been wearing man shoes and I have some thoughts.

A bit of a tomboy, I'm no stranger to shopping in the men's department.

But shoes? I've never considered men's shoes because it just seemed a little… wacky. Like crossing an invisible line.

But I was helping my husband pick out a new pair of work shoes and I realized that some of these dude shoes were actually really cute. So, I went down about 1.5 from my lady size and started browsing through the men's selection. It didn't take me long to find two different pairs of boots that were super cute. I slipped them onto my feet and was stunned. They were comfortable. Very comfortable. There wasn't some mysterious "lady" difference in my feet that kept the shoes from fitting properly. Instead, the boots felt like they'd already been broken in.

Some backstory that you're welcome to skip: I'm a dancer with extremely sensitive feet. My toes, heels and arches blister up at the drop of a coin, I've got high arches and short achilles tendons and I've suffered through issues with my tendons and plantar fasciitis. If I'm standing or walking around, my feet are probably hurting. My younger sister has inherited hundreds of shoes from me because they ended up being so uncomfortable that I couldn't stand to wear them.

This all brings us to today. I've been wearing these boots for a few days. And ladies? I have some things to report.

1. Men's shoes have thicker soles.

It's true. I'm not sure why men get thicker soles on their shoes, but there it is. Lady boots at an equivalent price would have a thin, synthetic sole with very little traction on the bottom. If I planned to wear said lady boots for any period of time, I'd have to get an insole thicker than a classic novel to make them bearable. But not men's shoes. They've got these big, thick rubbery soles that hug the pavement and are never, ever slippery. I feel like I could run in them without falling and hitting my face on the ground.

2. Men's shoes have better quality fabric.

I've bought a lot of shoes and I'm pretty aware of value. To get a women's boot with thick leather or suede, you have to be ready to shell out some major bucks. But men's boots? Quality fabrics are almost a given. Both my men's boots were under a hundred dollars and both have fairly high quality leather that is warm and doesn't soak through to my socks when it rains. They're also soft enough that they doesn't rub my feet and cause blisters. Speaking of which:

3. Men's shoes don't have to be broken in.

What? Maybe I was just extremely lucky in the only two pairs of men's boots I've ever bought. But there has been absolutely no break in process. No carefully selected outings where I know I won't have to walk too much so I don't end up getting stuck somewhere with aching feet. No limping at the end of the day. No whispering to myself that if I can just keep at it, one day they'll be slightly less uncomfortable. Instead, I put the shoes on my feet and walk outside. For reals.

4. Men's shoes are foot-shaped.

Dudes, you might be laughing at me right now. "Of course they're foot-shaped," you say. "What else would shoes be shaped like?" But women know what I'm talking about. You know how it feels to resent your pinky toe. To frown at your heels. To wish your arches weren't quite so high, your calves so big, or the front of your foot so wide. You've spent a lot of your life wondering why you had to get stuck with such difficult feet.

But it isn't your feet at all. It's the fantasy of what a woman's foot is supposed to look like. Thin, delicate and small (and pointy at the front? what's with that?). Heaven forbid any of us have a normal foot. No, we have to squeeze them into the most desirable shape, just like we're supposed to squeeze everything else into the most desirable shape. Forget walking comfortably and existing like a normal human being. Not a priority.

(Just a note: I'm not talking about the occasional pair of impractical, sky-high heels. Those can be fun are supposed to be uncomfortable. I'm talking about the everyday shoes we use to get to work, run errands and walk around downtown.)

5. Men's shoes are durable.

Okay, so I've only had these for a week and I'll have to get back at you with my long-term observations, but these cookies sure seem more durable than the average lady shoe.

My man shoes
It's been a bit of a mind-bender. You don't always know what you're putting up with until you get to step away from it and see how the other side lives. And you can't always step away when your feet are hurting. Why are men's shoes so superior? Why are they more comfortable? And why are they cheaper?

I worked in retail for a while and I observed that men tend to shop differently than women. Your typical man (thought there are lots of exceptions!) will walk into a store and buy what he needs. He doesn't spend long there. Bonus points if he doesn't have to try anything on. Don't expect to see him again until whatever he bought falls apart or starts to smell. Maybe not even then.

Are women vulnerable because we buy more into the fantasy, the experience of shopping? Are we vulnerable because we truly believe that the right accessory will make us better people? The right shoe will change our lives? Is it blinding us to what's actually being provided? Keeping us from realizing the lengths retailers are going to keep us on the treadmill of fashion? Are we really such impractical creatures? And, if so, is it because we were born that way, or because it is what's wanted of us?

There are so many issues at play when you talk about women's clothing. So many historical references you can make which have led us to where we are, from corsets and bustles to bloomers and pants. An obvious line can be drawn from foot binding and heels if you choose. It's never simple with us. It's never straightforward. There's always a world of sexual politics behind every brooch and bouffant, whether we want it there or not. Maybe that will change one day.

In the meantime, I'll be over here with my man shoes.