It probably dates back to around 1985, when I got my first job. For some reason that I cannot now access it was important to me to earn an honest buck as early in life as possible, and as the then-legal age to start employment was 15, I managed to wrangle a job on Thursday nights and Saturdays selling shoes at a chain store in a local shopping mall, Fays shoes. I really enjoyed it. My colleagues were all young women, but older than I, and I stayed right up until I left the state at the end of my schooling. I snared some extra hours during school holidays too and had thus a little entree into what a full time job would feel like. During that time I went through around 4 or 5 managers and discovered that I was a fairly natural salesman, regularly outselling my cohorts and eventually being offered a place at their Management School. Of course, I was destined to follow my family interstate ("we all go, or we don't go")....what if's, eh?
A great deal of my pay went on shoes. Styles were changing every bit as rapidly then as they do now, and this was a relatively new phenomenon for men's footwear. I think at one point in my life I may have owned in excess of 25 or 30 pairs of shoes. I realise that this is nothing for many women these days. Funny things happened to my brain. Whenever I met someone new, or saw someone interesting, I would very quickly (after the evolutionarily-determined triangular face/body scan) turn my gaze to their footwear, assess their shoe size - I got very good at that - and layer my take on their shoes very heavily into my judgements and assumptions about their likely persona. I definitely enjoyed the easy intimacy of assisting attractive female types with trying on new shoes, and learned a great deal about the selling power of a good professional flirt. Flattery very often leads to matching handbags and possibly also a new pair of 'everyday' daywear shoes to upgrade the still lovely but very last-season shoes madam has come in with today.
Yes, I got a staff discount. But mine was a suburban run-of-the-mill chain store, albeit quite a good one, and soon as my fashion sense developed and warped through various phases I discovered the delights of the inner city boutiques. Despite their near-ubiquity at the time, and at various times since, I have never owned a pair of Doc Martens. I was heavily invested in various styles of winklepickers and when my school shoes wore out before the last year of school I responsibly announced to my mother that she need not shell out good money for a new pair; I would just wear my 'pickers to school. after all, they were just black dress shoes, yes? This was the first and perhaps only time I have ever been a fashion leader. Stovepipe school trouser legs followed. But I was the only one who rode to school on a Vespa.
Espadrilles, desert boots, brothel creepers, brogues, motorbike boots, elastic-siders, loafers....just about any style, you name it, I've had some. But life changes, doesn't it? Over timr, shoes wore out, I got sick of them, and the foot wardrobe ratonalised. I was moving house with great frequency and this makes for good impetus to cull. In the space of a year, I went from virtual centipede down to a few 'bare necessities'. But I always had an eye for quality, even when very impoverished.
But footwear is more than just fashion or practicality. Shoes are our connection with the earth in more than just a literal sense. There's something very special about shoes. And I have never really lost that looking-at-people's-shoes thing. You really can tell a great deal about someone through their shoes, even moreso than their other clothes.
I remember fondly once, window-shopping ostensible in an upmarket section of Claremont, dressed in my typical Freo bohemian hippy garb, and seeing a particularly lovely pair of tan Italian leather walking shoes. This is back in probably 1990, and I'm on the dole, with sporadic off-the-books income from gigs etc, and they were I remember something like $150.00. Not a lot at all now for quality but a fortune then. I did so love them. They were up to that point the highest-quality shoes I'd ever owned and the feel was.....just different.
My life has been punctuated with short periods of relative liquidity, and this is when I have purchased nice things. Like just before I was set to travel overseas I decided that a quality pair of RM Williams boots were in order. My Guitar offsider Tim had something to do with this too - he got some also. Boots are [practical onstage, as when you sit cross-legged as a flamenco guitarist does, your trouser leg rides up. Those boots - black RM Williams elastic-sided 'Craftsman' series boots, very expensive, but an Australian icon (and as gifted to POTUS Obama from habitual wearer then-PM Kevin Rudd), walked the streets of cities on several continents, climbed pyramids in Mexico, mountains in California, fled from security guards in Chapultepec, kept time on stage in front of thousands of people all over, went out somewhere every day and went through countless new heels and soles. They became my first real everyday, go-to shoe for all seasons and purposes. Eventually, I had to get some repairs done, 10 years on or so. New elastic, and some restitching of the sole. And this buggered them. Their previous perfect fit was narrowed by the restitching, and of course our feet change with time and age. I wore them less and less. But I kept them. I couldn't part with them. Until only a few months ago, I finally let go. They went to a charity shop here in my home town. I'll probably see them down town again one day. I hope they made someone's day.
Even before I first moved to the country - even before they became famous and fashion-forward courtesy of Stomp! the tap-dancing group at the Sydney Olympic ceremony - I had a pair of Blundstone workboots. Also elastic-sided, but where the RM Williams were really hybrid horseriding boots, the Blundies were out-and-out workboots. They came in one colour at first. Blundy colour, a sort of oxblood mahogany. Now they've added black, and countless imitators have cropped up - even outdone them, and since the early or mid 1990s I have always had a pair of these sort of boots. They last in the garden and as uncared-for kick-around boots for years until suddenly one day you realise they really are stuffed. Cheap too. But eventually....yes, mine died but something else happened - I couldn't reach down to pull them on any more. That was a sad day, when I finally admitted that it was just too much struggle. And they never got replaced.
But a good boot is a different animal from a shoe. There's something about a well-crafted boot that makes you feel different. It makes you walk differently, and it's not all due to the fact that boots do tend to have slightly higher heels than shoes. The energy of 'boot' is distinct. It makes you place your feet on the earth with more.....I don't know, consciousness or something. I've had love affairs with some of my favourite shoes over time, but none had ever lived up to my RMs or the procession of Blundys and their ilk. The RMs were like a long term friend or lover, where the workboots were like workmates who come and go. You get close, and rely on each other, but you know there's going to be an end. The RMs were lamented.
We don't get a good selection of Western boots here in Oz. There just isn't the market, as no-one wears them as everyday shoes like some in parts of the US and the wider Americas do. But I've often trawled online and drooled at some of the fabulous creations on offer - for rather large prices too. Still, It's not like I'm in the market for a pair of $500+ dress boots. Meeta has a Western dress thing too.
There's a whole mystique and legendary halo around Western-style boots isn't there? You know, that the boots are your best friend, reliable partners, all that. I get it. I remember in Mexico a brand of cigarettes called 'Boots' with a picture of a rumpled, old-looking pair of boots on it and some blurb about your Boots being your companion, you best friend, all that romantic bullshit. They were pretty meek ciggies though, from memory. I preferred the more bloodthirsty dark tobacco Aztecas. Actual good boots were everywhere in Mexico, but I just didn't have the taste (or desire to lug the weight in my backpack) then.
Under our Xmas tree last year was a very large box with my name on it. My birthday is very near Xmas so I get Xmas/birthday presents sometimes and this was one of them. Meeta had done her research and done something I'd never have done for myself. Bought me some cowboy boots.
(ignore that dark toe bit - it's just a shadow)
I was amazed. They're not dressy, or gaudy, but dead-set practical. They're Roper boots made by Ariat in the US and are basically your working cowboy's boot for those who send as much time on foot as in the saddle. The whole ergonomic high-tech durable cushioned sole, thick, heavy but soft oiled leather, and comfortable from the get-go. Once we got the sizing issue right (the reason I'd never buy shoes online, having been a shoe salesman and knowing all about so-called 'sizes') they have become my new best friends. My every-purpose shoe. You can wear them with everything bar business/formal clothes and if I ever need to wear that stuff again then - I saved a pair of shoes for that. My only 'just in case' pair now. Already they've done the heavy jobs in the garden, and strolled peacefully down by the river bank. They make me walk differently, in a way that I really needed to learn at this time.
I am grateful for many little, simple things in my life. After my long journey with shoes, I am the most grateful to have this one great pair of boots. I understand no the real sentiment behind the old cowboy saying of wanting to 'die with your boots on'. I get that. For me it means to die in a state of conscious connectedness with the earth beneath, ans standing tall to connect with what Is above.
I like what my footwear says about me now. I feel settled again with it. Sometimes I even forget to take them off when I come home.