I’m not what you would call a fashion queen, though I do have my own distinct quality in how I dress. In fact, I am more like an anti-fashion queen. I sport a kind of world, folky, ethnic style. I have no trouble with mixing plaids and stripes, patterns and colors of all sorts together, which is probably due to the fact that my mother would dress us that way when we were young. Though she was quite stylish herself, we would be dressed in clothes that were clean but in mixed patterns. I guess I grew to like the statement such combinations made.
Though my friends and even strangers on the street have commented on my dress, I have never elicited the numbers of comments that I have recently received focused on my shoes. At Gilbert and Sullivan Saturday night, an older woman with bouffanty hair, sitting a few seats from us, told me how much she liked my shoes. “And, dear, your feet are so little.” She also asked where I had got them and did they cost a lot. Waiting in line in the rest room during intermission, a stringy blonde-haired woman in a black cape interrupted herself while speaking of the quality of the performance to comment on my shoes. At school, on the train, in the grocery store, I have repeatedly been stopped and asked about my shoes.
My mother and her twin loved shoes. They weren’t quite at the level of Imelda Marcos, but had boxes and boxes of shoes nonetheless, mostly heels. The good news was that there were always innumerable boxes available for art projects and organizing “stuff”. I had always wondered what there was about shoes that so attracted my mother and my aunt. When she took them off, my mother would leave them on the stairs where they were readily available as disciplinary trajectories when she was angry with us.
In the fifties, we would shop for our shoes at the Buster Brown Shoestore. I always looked forward to this event because the store had two very compelling pieces of decor. One was the full length mirrors which faced each other across the space which meant when you stood in front of them, the reflected images of yourself went back into infinity. I remember staring as far as I could into that deepest of space to see if I might catch the remotest image of myself. I would wave or jump or turn and twist to watch myself repeatedly gyrate in limitlessness.
The second amazing piece of decor that ostensibly had a scientific purpose was the x-ray machine for your feet, a shoe-fitting fluoroscope. You stuck your feet into a slot and could look at them through one of three viewing ports at the top–one for the patron whose feet were being zapped, one for the parent of the child, and one for the salesperson. The idea was that you would slip on a new pair of shoes and put your feet in the machine to see if there was enough room in the toebox; your footbones and the outline of the shoes were visible. This was an amazing visual to my under ten self. Looking inside my body was a mysterious magic to behold. I remember being scolded for wiggling my toes.
Going to Buster Brown’s was like an exercise in identity. I could witness myself as I stretched and repeated forever into space and I could inspect the very insides of my being. I never really cared what shoes we ended up buying. It was all about how far I could see inside and outside myself.
And now I wear these Spring Steps. They are comfortable and funky (looking not smelling) with a wide toe box that almost feels like wearing slippers with good support. And I didn’t need an x-ray machine to tell me how well they fit. Sometimes I find myself staring at my feet and watching myself walk. Usually in Birkenstocks, my feet have found a new warm and cozy space to support them in the exploration of the world and have offered me yet another way to connect with others whose paths cross with mine. They are beautiful inside and out. Just like me.
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By 1960, most states had passed legislation banning fluoroscopes because of well-founded fears of overexposure to radiation.