Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Slip-On Shoe Conundrum

A few years ago, I happened upon an odd looking pair of casual shoes that I quite liked. I didn’t like the shoes because they looked weird. I liked them because they felt good.

It used to be that I would buy any shoe that fit, even if it didn’t feel particularly good at the time I bought it. Over time, newly acquired shoes would wear to the point that they felt relatively comfortable.

I’m not sure exactly what happened to change this. But at some point, it was as if new pairs of shoes stopped conforming to my feet. If a shoe didn’t feel good at purchase time, it never felt good. Months of wearing the things didn’t seem to help.

Maybe my feet just succumbed to the natural aging process. Maybe shoes are made of hardier materials than when I was younger so that they are no longer as malleable as shoes of yore. Or maybe some evil shoe gnome decided to curse any shoe I buy that is less than completely comfortable when I first try it on. It couldn’t possibly be that I have simply become less tolerant of foot-to-shoe anomalies as I have aged.

Whatever the reason for the spread of permanently uncomfortable shoes, I have arrived at the point in life where I simply won’t buy a shoe unless it feels fine when I try it on at the store. While I love buying stuff over the Internet, there’s no way that I will buy shoes without first trying them on. So my shoe shopping is limited to inventory that is in close proximity to the location of my feet.

Back to my strange looking shoes. (At least they looked strange to me. I see people wearing much more bizarre footwear on a daily basis.) These shoes looked like athletic shoes, but they were slip-ons. They were very snug on my feet, but they stayed in place even when I ran. They only slipped off when I worked to pull them off. But the main point is that they felt very good on my feet.

Imagine my good fortune when I found a second pair of this same model of shoe a few months later when my first pair was showing signs of wear. I bought the second pair and stowed them under the bed. When the first pair were so shot that I made them my lawn mowing shoes, my second brand spanking new pair were ready for service.

Life was good until the second pair of shoes were starting to become very well worn. I shopped for replacement shoes, but the model I had come to adore was nowhere to be found. After much casting about at various stores over a period of many weeks, I found a different slip-on shoe model that seemed to feel pretty good too. It didn’t look quite like an athletic shoe. It was a casual shoe that looked classier than the athletic shoes.

I threw out my old lawn mowing shoes, which were literally falling apart, moved my athletic slip-ons to that position, and started using my new shoes for everyday wear. The new shoes turned out to feel pretty great. Over the space of the next year, I was able to pick up three more pair of the same model, sometimes paying as little as $12 for a pair. These went under my bed to await their turn to be worn.

Those four pairs of shoes stretched out more than six years. But they weren’t as hardy as my athletic slip-ons. They fell apart faster. I still have one pair left. The sole is worn completely smooth in the high friction spots. The inner is so shot that some pieces poke my feet. But for some reason, I haven’t thrown them out yet. I’m still using the second set of athletic slip-ons for lawn mowing shoes.

Over the past year, I have tried on many pairs of shoes that have a somewhat similar style to the shoes I have found so satisfactory for so long, but no luck. Last winter I found the exact model of shoe I was looking for. It was literally the exact model as the wasted pair in my closet, but it sported a known name brand on the inner sole.

Alas, the shoes cost $40. Knowing what I had paid for the four pair of shoes I liked, I simply couldn’t bring myself to pay $40 for the pair. The store no longer carries this model of shoe, so I couldn’t buy them even if I wanted to.

Given my track record in finding the style of shoe I want that fits as well as I would like at price I am willing to pay, I suspect that I will likely never have those three criteria come together in a pair of shoes again. I am obviously a small minority in the market of those that liked the shoes in question. I was likely able to buy them at an economic price because they failed to sell well.

But such is the nature of the marketplace. There will always be products that become scarce that some of us wish we could find, even while we continually welcome the advent of newer products. In this respect, it is probably best to apply the motto used in the Disney movie Meet the Robinsons: “Keep Moving Forward.”

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