Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hardly Stepping Softly

 I have wickedly awkward feet. It’s not that they have a funny shape or a pungent odor (at least I haven’t had any recent complaints), it’s that they are ultra-sensitive to the shoes I am wearing. If my feet are not comfortable I can’t go more than a few steps without giving up and heading toward a softer shoe. It’s my lot in life. I have unusually soft skin for a man and, by extension, unusually soft feet. It is because of this genetic flaw (I think it is, but the ladies say it isn’t), that I’m overly picky about the shoes I wear.
     I searched high and low and high till I found the dress shoes that not only fit the shape of my foot but allowed me to comfortably dance through the night. Expensive. Cheap. I didn’t care - as long as they had leather soles for doing the lindy hop and a rubber heel for a bit of traction.

     When it came to athletic shoes I had the same problem finding the right pair, because, with me, dress shoes were always the priority. After all, I am a man about town. Well, now came the time when my priorities changed. I was sitting pretty with my career and decided it was high time I started working out. No more ordering pizza or heading out to grab the steak for lunch. No more getting home, hitting the couch, and mesmerizing myself with a book or a show. I was ready to live life with a heart pumping and I needed to escape the pounds I built up from having the comfortable money flow. But where to start? There were a pair of sneakers in the closet but they just didn’t fit the bill. I mean, they had no style and… Well, if I was going to hit the pavement running, I could have just gone out looking like I stopped by the local Wal-Mart, grabbing the first thing I saw, but I never like the first thing I see; I like what is me. I want what fits my bill.
     So I decided to get the shoes that looked the least evil and those were the classic black pair of Chuck Taylor shoes with the white laces. Picking them up, I asked ‘Who’s Chuck Taylor, and does anyone ever ask that question?!?’ Well I do! I need to know what I’m getting into, and if I’m going to buy a sport shoe, I better know what I’m buying, so… Who’s Chuck Taylor? What are plimsoles? Who is Marquis Converse? How are Keds and US Rubber connected? How did a badminton star get a shoe named after him (Jack Purcell)? On and on, I looked into the history of the rubbery soft shoe, trying to find out how they came about, how they became the de facto standard for shoe wearers (even dress shoes are going rubber) and how they became so ugly. Years ago, BF Goodrich and Keds manufactured shoes that made you look like you were about to wrestle a snake or box a kangaroo - they were shoes that said 'I’m an athlete in soft shoe comfort’ - but currently we have the New Balance shoe with… Well, perhaps they are a bit more comfortable, but with that big ‘N’ on the side they certainly don’t have the style of those old shoes. No style at all. And, while we’re on that topic of style, who was Chuck? Well, just to cover that base, he was a basketball player who helped Converse redesign its basketball shoe into what it is today. I remember older versions having a bit of a thicker canvas and the laces being beefier, but that was when they were manufactured in the U.S. rather than China. Despite the material changes, the iconic design hasn’t, but I have to admit that great design still doesn’t help my feet. The simple truth is Chuck Taylor’s hurt. No arch support, synthetic foam insole, and they’re just plain uncomfortable. So I was stuck with the ugly modern looking shoes for my workouts. Yeah, I had the grey sweats and the cool workout shirt that looked like something a 1930s college coach would have worn, and I periodically sport a Brooklyn Dodgers cap during a jog, but every time I looked down, I kept thinking the same thing: my shoes were ugly as sin.

     Then I saw them.

     I was touring websites for shoes and I ran across a company called Baggins in Canada, and while looking at all the styles of painful Chucks I saw something that not only grabbed my eye and said, ‘You need me Matt Deckard,’ but… Well, actually that’s it, that’s what it actually said. Baggins had listed on their page a 1946 reproduction Converse Chuck Taylor All Star. They were different. The rubber on the front was a big bumper, the heel swooped in to hug the ankle, the color, the design… they looked rad and I needed a pair. I jumped on the phone and ordered two pair. One high top pair and a low top pair, both in the parchment color. They were very different from the standard offering. The souls were softer, the cotton was thicker, the quality was better. They cost a bit more than the regular Chucks, but it was worth the expense - piping around the tongue and thick cotton laces – and, best of all, they were comfortable. Perhaps not as comfortable as the digital era ugliness you find on your common walker but they didn’t leave my feet in pain and they looked like shoes for playing basketball. They looked like shoes for working out in a real gym with medicine balls and a boxing ring in the middle, and, in the end, that’s what really matters once you get past the fit part.

     As I couldn’t work out in dress shoes, I had turned into a rubber soul convert out of necessity. Along with the reproduction Chucks, I found a few other brands bringing back their classics as well. Keds reproduced the 1930s Triumph model for the movie The Aviator (Howard Hughes often sported them) and they also reproduced their original boxing shoes. New Balance bought out and re-released P.F. Flyers as a brand. Once famous for their run faster, jump higher campaign, you can once again feel what Posture Foundation is all about and see the variety there was in color and style back when canvas and rubber shoes were taking over. P.F. Flyers also re-released a new favorite shoe of mine called the Ringside. A shoe composed of cotton, leather, and rubber, it looks like a two-tone wingtip with the construction of a 1930s sneaker. They wear as spectacular as they look and it makes you wonder how they ever went out of production.

     Anywho… I have my shoes, and I’m glad to report I can work out in comfort. Now to switch into the leather soles and hit the town.

Inside Converse
Inside detail of Converse 1946 reproduction.
Period accurate footbed, tongue detail and
candy-stripe lining.

Keds Title-Bout Hi-top