I promised myself I would never wear ballet flats again. I had embraced them in the noughties, pairing them with flares or shorts or leggings I wore under denim mini-skirts. I wore them with skinny jeans, with khakis and for a short time, with gaucho pants and band T-shirts.
I wore them in the snow, in the rain and with loud, printed socks, horrifying my loved ones (and anyone else who could see me) in the process. Then, finally, I discovered Converse sneakers, slouchy boots and vintage loafers, and in my suddenly older-and-wiser mindset, I denounced ballet flats forever.
That is, until I watched “The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel” this winter and, inspired by Midge and her 1950s-era aesthetic, I bought two pairs. After all, everything old is new again — unless were talking about flip-flops.
I hate flip-flops more than almost anything. I hate their sound. I hate their feel. I hate how they tend to fit properly (“properly”) only after days of break-in blisters and increasingly calloused heels. I hate how dirty your feet get when you wear them. I hate how they make every outfit look inappropriately casual. I hate how I believed for so long that they made me look like a star of “Blue Crush.” I hate everything about flip-flops. I hate them so much. And I hate the majority of their cousins, sandals.
Im a woman who likes socks. I wear tiny, sneaky socks you cant see with oxfords, loafers and (my new) ballet flats. I wear ankle socks with sneakers. I wear work socks to bed (during the winter; during the summer I try not to die from heat exhaustion). Ive lived through too many blisters and cuts and bruises and cold feet to be breezy enough to go for it and dive in, feet first; to live sock- and/or fancy-free and risk needing to use a communal sock at a shoe store if I decide to spend money irresponsibly. My purse is a vessel in which Pepto Bismol, Imodium, Gravol, Tylenol, Advil and hand sanitizer thrive and multiply. I keep a tiny bottle of hairspray with me because you never know when youre going to need it, and I like a structured wave. I recently began buying Butter Rum Lifesavers because I have accepted that I am, essentially, elderly. I like to plan, to plot and to ensure comfort and hygiene at all times. I like and need a sock.
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Sandals, however, require the opposite. Aside from the gladiator (which are just shoes with holes in them — and another topic for another day), they are risky. You wear sandals assuming you wont need to walk far, or wont need to slip in and out of them someplace, or wont need to walk through puddles, mud or anything gross. Sandals require a silent pact with the universe that something wont go horribly wrong. To wear sandals, you must trust your company and yourself, and make peace with the fact that you have outed yourself as a Summer Person. A soul who can commit to the sun and the heat so wholeheartedly that they fully reject shoes.
I am no such person.
To me, flip-flops and sandals are like the beach: no thank you, under any circumstances, how dare you even ask me. And not without lack of trying: I spent high school wearing $7 Old Navy flip-flops religiously, convinced their charm lay in how dirty theyd be at the end of a week. I worked countless American Eagle shifts from 2005-2009 breaking in suede, leather and plastic sandals that were never meant to endure countless hours of standing (and countless spilled coffees).
In 2016, I went through a temporary “I Love Summer” phase in which I embraced my last gasp of twenty-something adventure-dom and used Sun-San sandals as a way of declaring my new allegiance to sand, water and spontaneous road trips. I pretended Swedish Hasbeens were a great sandal for any activity aside from what they were designed for: standing or walking, slowly. I thought briefly about buying the pair of Adidas flip-flops I wore the summer I went into eighth grade. I re-watched “Laguna Beach” sometime in March and wondered if it was possible to make Roxy sandals cool again.
And then I looked at my clothes, and I looked at my shoes, and I looked at myself — and I thought: absolutely not. Maybe a pair of dress sandals at a wedding; maybe my Sun-Sans when I do a coffee run. But a shoe-free life is not for me. I am a square, near-76-year-old-at-heart who likes fabric and comfort and the illusion that I am far more together than I actually am, socks and all. Flip-flops and sandals are for those who can be vulnerable and submerge themselves into a season without worrying about where the nearest source of shade and cold water is. Shoes are for the rest of us: curmudgeons who like summer as long as it doesnt look at us square in the face. Who will suffer through slacks and sleeves and maybe even a light jacket because we know what were about, and it is not a campground or beach.
Because this is the myth about sandals: They wont make much of a difference. When the humidity kicks in and the suns relentlessness threatens to destroy us all, it wont be footwear that saves us. So, regardless of what style of footwear you choose, a day spent existing from June until September calls for being submerged into a vat of ice where you can call on your memories of this endless winter. Your flip-flops wont save you any more than my socks can save me.
But at least mine fit neatly into my ballet flats. Which, I should add, should never, under any circumstances be worn with any type of flare.
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