February 5, 1993

What Fools These Mortals Be

Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit.

George Santayana (1863-1952)

Of all of the ridiculous things that people do, the most ridiculous are done in the name of fashion. Ubangi women put plates in their lips because it is fashionable to have lips like a broad billed duck. People punch holes in their ears, noses and even nipples and foreskins. But the most ridiculous fashions have to do with footwear.

In China, it was the custom to bind the feet of female children, deforming them terribly and having females in continuous pain. Why? Because someone thought that small feet were attractive.

Have you ever looked at a normal foot? If you haven't, take the time --that is, if you can find a normal foot. You will notice that the front of the foot is broader than the back and the toes are more-or-less square. Feet vary in size and shape, but I have never seen a foot that came to a point in the front. At the same time, it's hard to find a dress shoe that doesn't come to a point in front.

There is a TV ad for Shock Blocker Pumps that shows people playing basketball in spike-heel, pointed-toe shoes. Anyone who believes that a shoe shaped like that can possibly be comfortable, still believes in the tooth fairy. After playing for 15 minutes, if the players don't kill themselves by falling, their feet will feel as if they have been in a vise for an equivalent time.

The shoes worn by primitive people conform to the shape of the foot. The deer-skin moccasin used by Native Americans is comfortable and practical. The snow boots made by the Eskimos is not only comfortable, but warm. Even the wooden shoes of Holland did what they were supposed to do. A well made sandal works fine if you live in the tropics.

A number of years ago, a Scandinavian company made what they called Earth Shoes. These shoes were shaped much like a human foot. They also had a heel that was thinner than the sole, so that the heel was about a quarter of an inch lower than the ball of the foot. The company made a big thing about that negative heel and they had fancy theories about how good it was for you. The hype, which had considerable attraction for the counter culture, is something that I could have done without. At the time I had a job that kept me on my feet, on a concrete floor, all day. My calves ached terribly. That pair of Earth Shoes that I bought put an end to the pain. That company is now out of business. I can't understand why, because they made an excellent product. The shoe was well crafted and comfortable. So what if the theories are questionable --a well made comfortable shoe is hard to find. It may well be impossible to find.

This fall, Lu started a job that kept her on her feet, on a concrete floor. When she came home after the first few days, she was in agony. Her feet and legs ached to the point where she could barely walk. That Saturday, we drove to Ukiah to a shoe store to find her shoes with more support than those she had been wearing. The most comfortable shoe that she could find was a running shoe made by Saucony. It drastically reduced her foot and leg pain. The problem, as with all athletic shoes, is that they look like something out of a circus. You can't buy a pair in black or brown. You can't even get them in plain white.

It is possible to get a comfortable work shoe, hunting boot, or sneaker (that's Eastern for tennis shoe); but if you want something comfortable that you can wear inconspicuously to the opera, forget it. It doesn't exist.

The popularity of the tennis shoe with people in all walks of life indicate to me that many people want a comfortable shoe, even if the prices of them are ridiculous. It's no accident that many old ladies wear tennis shoes. When you get old you don't have to care what people think about what you wear.

Why then, do people buy those ridiculous torture devices? I suspect that most will do anything to conform, even if it hurts.

The people who sell fashion must hate people --especially women. Why else would they push those ridiculous things that are called fashionable shoes? Even more puzzling is why people buy them. How do I feel about those designers and manufacturers of dress shoes? I believe that justice would be served if these people were tortured in the same way as they have tortured millions over the centuries. They should either be hung by their big toes or have their feet squashed in a trash masher. As for those who buy those torture devices; they probably deserve what they get.

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