All About the Shoes

by Abby on May 2, 2012

Green Doc MartinsIn the days before I left for college 20-some years ago, I was wracked with anxiety. I wasn’t worried about being homesick. I wasn’t that nervous about whether I’d get along with my roommate. Nor was I concerned about academics or choosing a major. Nope. I was worried about my shoes.

See, I had it in my head that the shoes I wore on the first day – when we’d be having all sorts of orientations and I’d be meeting lots of people – would cement my social status at the school for the next 4 years. I suppose this tells you what kind of person I was at age 18. The kind of person who judged people by their shoes. Now stop judging ME, I was 18, people!

Anyway, it’s not that I was trying to impress anyone with my fabulous footwear. This was before teenage girls knew what Jimmy Choos and Louboutins were. I had only ever worn heels to my prom, and I’m pretty sure those were (*blushes, lowers voice to a whisper*) Naturalizers.

It was more that I was trying to avoid being pigeon-holed. If I wore sneakers, I’d likely be pegged as a jock. Penny loafers? A prep. Flip-flops? A slacker. My green suede Doc Martins? (Shut up, it was the early ‘90s.) Well, those were probably my best bet, as they could be seen as alterna-cool/artsy/urban chic. At the time I was listening to a lot of 10,000 Maniacs. I could see Natalie Merchant rocking the Docs with a flowered prairie dress or something. Too bad it was 80+ degrees in August.

The REAL problem was not my footwear, of course. It was that I still had no idea who I was, or who I was trying to be. There were parts of my personality in every single pair of the (many) shoes that I owned. I was a tennis-playing, oil-painting, alternative-music-listening kid from a college town in Connecticut who intended on majoring in psychology. Or maybe English. Or anthropology? (It turned out to be French, FYI. Because that makes perfect sense.)

I just didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. And, yes, I’m aware NOW that probably 80-90% of college students feel that way. It’s just that most of them seemed far less angsty and more outwardly confident about their identity struggles. Like that one guy who always wore skirts around campus. (How funny would it be if he’s now a balding, middle-aged accountant in NJ who wears Vineyard Vines and tasseled loafers. Argh!! There I go again, judging people by their [imaginary] footwear! Old habits…)

The funny thing about this story – and from your perspective, I suppose, anticlimactic – is that I can’t even remember what shoes I ended up wearing to my freshman orientation. I think I went with some sort of sandal. Or maybe an espadrille?

I would love to say that now, as a full-fledged adult with a mortgage and a family, I have embraced my true identity and have a far less fraught relationship with my shoes. I’m sorry, but that’s not the case. Remember the Danskos? I CAN say that I no longer have an anxiety attack every time I get dressed to meet new people. Thanks in no small part to a pair of silver flats that go with everything. They’re no green suede Doc Martins, but hey — we can’t all be Natalie Merchant.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali May 2, 2012 at 8:13 am

I don’t think your anxieties were silly. My first year of high school in a new city, I wore Doc Martins (they were the craze in my former, small town), while all the other girls wore 10-inch platform knee-high boots. I think everyone thought I was an alien from outer space.

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Abby May 2, 2012 at 11:38 am

They thought YOU were the alien? Did you go to a stripper school?! I’m sure we would have been good friends. 🙂

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Ali May 3, 2012 at 11:20 am

Catholic school – LOL.

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Lou Mello May 2, 2012 at 8:28 am

shoes, schmoos….I’m still trying to figure out who I am. It does get a little easier, though, with a few more years of experience.

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Corey Feldman May 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I think life is a process of figuring our who we are as we grow. But I am pretty sure most of them were just as angsty, its just harder to notice in other people when you are feeling it yourself.

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