So, Imelda, just how many pairs of shoes are in your closet? Well, the real Imelda Marcos had, it was reported, something like 2,700 pairs.
Me? Well, I happen to be what I consider to be a very reasonable man, who is fortunate enough to spend something like 80% or better of his time barefoot (one of the benefits of working from home, I might add). Still, it must be said: I do happen to have quite a few pairs at the moment, all in various states of condition – mostly well used. A quick inventory revealed these:
- Old Tennis Shoes – Condition Fair
- New Tennis Shoes – Condition Good
- Casual Dress / Walking Shoes – Condition Fair
- Semi-Formal Dress / Walking Shoes – Condition Fair
- Formal Dress Shoes – Condition Fair
- Danner Hunting Boots – Condition Fair
- Mud Dog Hunting Boots – Condition Good
- Browning Hunting Boots – Condition Fair
- Generic Work Boots – Condition Poor
- REI Snow-Pac Boots – Condition Good
- Merrill Slip Ons – Condition Poor
- Sheerling “Boots” – Condition Fair
- Rubber Barn Boots – Condition Good
- Rubber Waders – Condition Poor
- Neoprene Surf Shoes – Condition Good
- Old (and quite battered) sandals – Condition Abysmal
What’s really amazing about this study in “American Male Minimalism” is what’s not on the list. Again, I work at home, barefoot through most of the day. So, even what passes for “dress” shoes in my wardrobe are pretty-well substandard by conventional office (or church) standards: no Oxfords, no black, no loafers, nothing all that nice, really. By even casual American standards, there’s not much new and, it seems, not much depth.
This too: Several (maybe quite a lot) on the list ought to be officially retired. At least 90% of my needs could be met with, say, four pairs. Perhaps, something like this:
- One (good) pair of Casual Dress / Walking Shoes
- One pair of Tennis Shoes or Trainers
- One (really good) pair of Waterproof All-Purpose Boots
- One (very comfortable) Slip-on Shoes
Naturally, specialized activities (hunting, fishing, hiking horses, dancing with the stars) might require some additions. Still, even at a theoretically minimalistic limit, you can be talking about quite an investment. These days, a decent pair of shoes or boots will probably set you back somewhere between $100 and $200 and, frankly, what you get in that price range isn’t really going to hold up all that well. Your mileage may vary.
In this regard, the most important piece of gear that I’ll ever own is my everyday work boots. The current pair (pictured above) are nearing the end of their useful service life, depending on whether or not my ongoing efforts to keep them on the road are successful. These are “no-name” generic work boots, nothing fancy, but with good leather and, most important to me (at present), standard, old-fashioned, replaceable, treaded, outsole. This latter feature may just keep these work-horses out of the trash bin, we’ll see.
I used to always re-sole my best boots. There was one pair, quite possibly the last ones ever actually “Made in America” (outside the custom shop), that I picked up directly at a now-long-gone factory in middle-Ohio as I happened to be hitch-hiking past as a college student. With re-soling, these quite generic work-boots lasted me more than 16 years of very heavy use and were only retired when the last re-soling didn’t go so well. Alas.
But most of todays shoes are quite a different story. I have this (as yet unproven) theory that there’s one big giant tube of synthetic super-goo somewhere in Korea (or, now, in China or Vietnam) from which every modern product sold in America – from Yachts to Video Games – is “splooged”, each through one of various, ingenious, interchangeable tips. Need shoes? Just change the tip and splooge away.
Of course, this process makes a “theoretically” affordable, but quite disposable, product. A good pair of shoes or boots, I think, ought to be somewhat easily repairable and, under reasonable use, ought to last several decades. Quite a novel idea, don’t you think?
Sadly, even though some “cobblers” remain, they are rather few and far between and tend, often as not, to specialize in glueing on tiny new rubber “heels” on the spike-ends of those rather bizarre women’s killer, “leg enhancing”, stilt-shoe-things. The last time I had a pair of actual boots re-soled, it cost me $70. Of course, that was quite a long time ago now, when a “decent” pair of new boots cost me $90.
Who knows, what it might cost me now. I have found that I can order new outsoles for these boots for as little as $10 or so, giving me reason learing yet another new skill. Can it really be that hard? I don’t think so (but, I’ll let you know).
As with so many parts of my life, I’m just getting a little tired of replacing what ought to be easily repairable, especially those things we rely on the most, like a good pair of shoes. With proper maintenance, even our cars should last quite a long time. As I’ve had reason to suggest in the past, nothing can really beat a simple design when combined with durable and easily replaced materials.
I have become increasingly aware of just how much of my life’s effort has been frittered away with the disposable “good enough for now” expediency that tends to pervade our most of our consumerist lifestyles. We take on debt, because we’re punished if we don’t. We compound that immensely when borrowing to buy things that will turn to crap a few short months later.
Sometimes, it’s a little hard to buck the tide, but I’m going to keep trying, starting, I guess, with a little shoe repair.