OMG shoes, am I right?
Shoes have been the bane of my existence. Given that I’m not cool or a fashionista(o? Er? Ist?), I’ve never been able to wear snazzy hype beastie footwear (ie shoes that just look bonkers), but that certainly hasn’t stopped me from trying either. It usually doesn’t go well. As the years have passed, I’ve also developed an aversion to things not ethically or environmentally made (translation: almost every shoe on zappos) and for that matter, disposable things (translation: almost every shoe on zappos). To that end, I’ve spent more time (and money) than I ever should have trying to find a shoe that is:
– Tough and would last more than a year
– Ethically made by people earning more than a living wage
– Could be refurbished once worn out for a second or third or more go arounds (ie resoled)
– Had a reasonable carbon footprint
– Looked good and was comfortable
Now let’s look at the greatest hits from over the years. This is a digest on all the shoes that have yet to wear out on me (and may not) in my lifetime, apart from re-soles.
These shoes, despite their appearance, have been ridiculously tough and well made and showed little to no wear over the twelve years I had them. In fact the only real wear they experienced was in the laces, which themselves ever gave out. The primary reason they lasted as long as they did (before I finally donated them this year), was that I found myself not wearing them that much. This was because they were poser shoes. Dainese is a brand focused entirely on stylish-but-protective gear for extreme sports, most notably motorcycling (a hobby I recently put on ice). I first began riding motorcycles in 2006 and quickly took a liking to Dainese stuff, but did not have an entirely informed opinion on what gear was good and what wasn’t and these shoes were an example of what wasn’t. They were non-functional stylish shoes designed to let people (translation: ladies) know you ride motorcycles with little stylish bits like the integrated toe protector and “pucks” on the outer sides of the uppers. But the shoes didn’t rise above your ankle, making any assumption that you’d be protected in a crash utterly absurd. So while they were likely decently made (in an eastern bloc country sweatshop), their downfall was that, in hindsight, they were as stupid as the Pilotis you see overtanned Ferrari owners wearing to Cars & Coffee.
In my ongoing quest to find a shoe that would work on and off my motorcycle, I did eventually find this TCX shoe…well, boot cut to look like a shoe really. And these boots were utterly brilliant. They were my primary motorcycle boot (offering gobs of protection) and also my primary travel shoe up to the present. Being made of a rather heavy grain leather with a waterproof liner, I trudged through every type of terrain in these shoes and have undoubtedly walked millions of miles (inches) in them. Millions I tell you. The issues I had with these included the fact that, like the aforementioned Dainese shoes, they were made in an eastern bloc sweatshop, were not necessarily suitable in all types of situations, and had inserts that slid around inside the shoe (although this last problem was remedied with custom inserts from the local New Balance store). I have beat the tar out of these shoes and they keep on going. Who knows if they’ll ever give out? The X-Street has since been replaced by the Street Ace which is the same shoe with some slight aesthetic changes for the better, but I do have to say that this is arguably one of the best sneakers ever made. If only it could be re-soled.
Unfortunately I had the idea to write this post after I had already sent these shoes to a “shoe farm up state” so here’s a link to the Walker Low Lace. This was a superb basic leather sneaker. I particularly liked the fact that it was/is made in the US (Kansas I believe?) and made incredibly well. My only issues with them was the lack of arch support, but that’s my problem, not the shoes. I got around this by using custom formed New Balance inserts (the same ones I used in the TCX sneakers), but that tragically required me to rip out what may have been the cushiest leather insole that has ever been made. That was my foot’s fault. I have some ideas though on how to save that insole with my next pair. One quirky thing about them was the fact that the excellent leather laces they came with (they also come with fabric as well), where way way way too long and required trimming lest you constantly step on them untie your shoes. But that’s a quirk, not a flaw, and I’d rather have laces that were too long rather than too short. But the laces were also super grippy and never came untied either, so no complaints there. The only real problem with them, was that their soles simply didn’t last. They were a soft rubber that wore out way too quickly, especially when compared to the bulletproof leather uppers. While this was, apart from short tread life, possibly the best sneaker I’ve found, it is, nonetheless, one I won’t be replacing, short of winning the Powerball lottery.
I found this small shop in Colorado that made minimalist footwear to an impeccable standard. They’re called Sense of Motion Footwear (aka SOM) and their shoes are fantastic. They ticked off so many boxes. They were incredibly light, extremely comfortable, very well made/durable, and capable of being re-soled. What’s not to love right? Well, there is just one thing. Wearing SOMs are a bit of a pragmatic decision. They aren’t exactly going to win any fashion awards, and as I can make Christian Louboutin’s shoes look unsexy, you can only imagine how in SOMs I’m 100th after the last man on earth. Their functionality is somewhat also their fashion Achilles heel: they have an exceptionally wide toe bed which feels great, but makes them look like clown shoes. Also, while they are capable of being re-soled, the vibram sole used does not last that long (maybe 6 months and a day), so be prepared to send them back. I’m such a fan of the business though, that when they released a new model and sole, I snapped it up immediately on impulse, despite being able to re-sole my existing pair. So now I have two pairs of quirky looking shoes although I may wind up donating a pair. They’re going to take a while to wear out the uppers.
The Trickers are a mixed bag. They’re an incredible boot, but I bought these more because I wanted a pair of Trickers than really putting effort into getting the exact Trickers boot I would have liked. I wound up with a limited edition Stow boot that was made for the shop Leather Soul, which at the time had a store in Beverly Hills, although they have since closed it to focus on their Hawaiian locations. Why Hawaii for stately and distinguished leather goods? I have no idea, but anyway. The Stow is a tough boot that, when paired with the right sock (still working on that) and 1/2 inserts for arch support, can probably do anything. I haven’t been nice to these boots. They’ve got scratches and slices and gouges galore and I’m not sure how most of them happened. I know that when I take them to a cobbler for some TLC, I’ll probably get a dirty look or two (“How DARE you sir??”). The downside to a forever boot like this, is that it’s quite heavy, and the Itshide sole (similar to Dainite soles) is so hard it must be made of carbon. Every step you take in an Itshide soled Trickers Stow leaves a crater in planet earth. These boots score a -4,000,000 on the Ninjability Scale. When the time eventually comes for my great great great great great great great grandson to get these re-soled for the first time, he may want to consider trying a traditional Dainite sole or perhaps a cork sole instead. One of the great things about the Stow is the number of colorways offered is basically infinite, and to a degree, you can order custom boots to your liking.
Alden Boots are another incredible boot that gets nothing but love the world over. They’re ridiculously well made (like Trickers) and in the USA at that. The Alden boot I impulsively bought was called the Indy (named for none other than Indiana Jones, who wore them, in real life, although I know he’s imaginary). These boots were arguably more comfortable than the Trickers Stow, and came with a softer cork sole that did not shatter the earth underfoot with every step. They also fail the Ninja test though in a rather dramatic (and possibly worse) way than the Trickers. They shoosh. No, they don’t squeak, they shoosh, or rather, one of the two boots shooshes, making for a rather annoying walk. You almost expect a heavy boot to clunk when walking (ie the Stow), but the shoosh? No, it’s awkward. It’s like a problem a character in the Amazon Prime show ‘Patriot’ might have. I plan to get these boots conditioned soon, and perhaps that will alleviate the shooshing, but it has kept me from wearing them, despite the fact that they’re great in every other regard. Like the Trickers, they lack any sort of internal support and so I do wear 1/2 inserts with them that make them feel and fit like a glove, so I do recommend that you consider inserts when looking at a traditional leather shoe. You won’t regret it. Well there is one caveat: you will regret it if you go with full length inserts. This will lead to exceptional discomfort along the top of your feet. I don’t know why, but this is unique to leather shoes, and so 1/2 inserts (or heel cups) are a must. The brand I swear by is called SuperFeet.
Sadly, I can’t remember the actual name of these slip on boots and Helly Hansen has since discontinued them lending credence to the phrase “you snooze, you lose” because these boots are worth their weight in “effing” gold. I absolutely love these. I picked them up on a whim at the Norway Pavilion in EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World, prior to it getting infected by the movie ‘Frozen.’ They’re waterproof, breathable, warm, easy to get on and off, and have soles that are the podiatric equivalent of the Bridgestone K02 tires on my Rover. They’re utterly fantastic, especially for travel and those winter days in the office around the holiday season when it’s cold and nobody’s there and you don’t want to waste vacation days when it’s not busy or hectic. Helly Hansen, as I mentioned above, no longer makes these and the closest equivalent they have now is the Garibaldi slip on. Logically, they should be better, but I have a hard time thinking of how one might improve on these. They’re fantastic for travel. You can pop them on and off in a matter of seconds at security checkpoints and since they’re insulated and waterproof, you can trudge outside in the snow having just gotten off a plane on your way to hire a car. They’re utterly brilliant.
This covers, for the most part, my greatest hits in shoes. I’m currently on a new pair of sneakers that have replaced the Frye Walker Low Low Laces as my daily pair, but I’m refraining from writing about them until I wear through my first set of soles and get on to my second. Sneakers, that are resole-able, and not SOMs. That should be a hint to you as to what they are and what to expect in a review down the line. Spoiler alert: I utterly love them so far…