Body and Sole: What Shoes Say

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Body and Sole: What Shoes Say

The shoes men wear and the way they wear them are closely related to their personalities and their lifestyles.

I'm used to seeing my father's perfectly polished black oxfords in the foyer of my house. When he returns from work, he wiggles his feet out of these shoes and takes off his thin black socks to expose his feet. Every morning he sits down on the stool with a solemn expression and reinserts his feet into his shoes using a long shoehorn, and ties the shoestrings into a perfect bow. He has a cabinet full of different kinds of black shoes that look almost exactly the same. He has so many pairs of nearly identical black socks that it takes hours to match the pairs after washing them. Going through every sock, my mother sorts out the ones with holes, muttering to herself that my father NEVER wears worn-out socks.

Even as a young girl, I knew the shiny black shoes were for formal occasions because of the strict ritual he followed when putting them on. Looking back with nostalgia, I remember how those black shoes always went perfectly with the immaculate suit my father wore. I also knew men's loafers were for casual occasions because it didn't take much time for my father to slip them on. On weekends or casual nights out for dinner with the family, he would resort to the shoes that looked the most beat up, and the way he put them on was the same way my school friends put their shoes on: Without unlacing the shoes he would jam his feet into them and after dragging the shoes on the ground for a few steps, would untuck the heel from under his feet with two fingers. He always wore khakis or checked slacks with these shoes.

My father still dresses the same way, more or less, even after a couple of decades. Recently, as I watched him put on his shoes in the same manner he has done all his life, it became clear to me that he has been equally meticulous and strict about many aspects of life.

Personality-wise, he is a perfectionist; I can tell this by the way his shoes are polished and from the diligence with which he ties his shoestrings. Based on observations of my father, I have formed a conclusion about men's shoes - the kinds of shoes men wear and the way in which they wear them are closely related to their personality and lifestyle.

Like my father, men who wear polished oxfords are proud professionals. The way shoes are groomed is equivalent to the way a woman puts on make-up. As make-up is to women, oxford shoes are essential to men. The more polished the shoes, the more the pride. The tidier the shoes, the more professional his attitude and organized his life. But the longer the shoes are worn during the day, the more uncomfortable and often suffocating they become. So when the majority of men who look sharp in their suits and shoes return home, we women have come to expect that they will wear hardly anything more than a pair of boxer shorts when they are taking it easy.

These all-around popular oxford shoes for men can come in anything from thick soles to the supple Italian leather sole. The tougher the sole the stronger the desire to express masculinity. The thin soles are for artistic spirits and, on the other end of the spectrum, the thick recycled tire versions are for the militant type. So it is natural that a disciplined jock, who boasts being a three-time Taekwondo champion, chooses to wear lace-up shoes with soles as thick and tough as combat boots.

The soft kind of oxford may appear on the foot of a well-travelled gentleman whose sophistication involves wine-tasting and collecting Swiss watches. Next to an expensive wristwatch that can lure attractive airline attendants like a fish to bait, an expensive pair of shoes quietly speaks of elegance and money. Women digging for gold somehow find men wearing Italian slip-ons with bare ankles irresistible. These men are self-conscious Adonises who are masters in getting what they want. They are close to what men see in women who wear slinky sandals that fail to hide exquisitely painted toenails.

Dress shoes with rubber soles are a new variety introduced by the younger generation of men. They are comfortable and stylish. Before this new sporty look hit mainstream fashion though, rubber-sole shoes were worn by a marginal fraction of the population, including arthritis patients and nurses. Now a pair of those simple shoes can allow any man to turn back a few years on the clock of time. I've asked my father to try them on for a change, but he flatly refused saying, "I'm not desperate to become young."

There are shoes for insecure types as well - dress shoes designed especially for shorter men with hidden heels to add extra height. Men with height complexes tiptoe in the locker room, discreetly slip extra padding inside their sneakers and refuse to go out with women shorter then themselves. Among these fellows, the ones who truly scream insecurity are those who claim to be in love with the cowboy look year around. Western boots, when worn with regular suits, are gaudy in idea, but can add overt masculinity and maximum height. A female version of that type would be a woman in thigh-high boots with super-high spiky heels. Remember the famous movie poster for "Pretty Woman" which featured Richard Gere wearing a nicely groomed pair of dress shoes and Julia Roberts in those shiny, thighhigh boots? Not exactly picture perfect, if you know what I mean.

But perhaps the worst type of shoe is the new hybrid which may look like your ordinary shoe but has a zipper on the side. These shoes are intended to make modern man's life easier and take only seconds to put on; however, in the art of fashioning shoes, it is considered cheating. The shoes deserve zero points on a scale of one to 10 for style, and the men who choose to wear them give off an essence of utterly boring.

Going back to my father, I recall two kinds of shoes he seldom wore: hiking boots and sneakers. There are a considerable number of men who wear hiking boots on the street even though they have no intention of climbing a mountain. This is adventuresome, but hardly nature appreciative. A grown man who insists on wearing sneakers at times other than play may think of himself as a perpetually youthful Peter Pan in his own mind. But to the rest of the world, unless the guy happens to be Steven Spielberg (who is notorious for wearing sneakers to board and press meetings), wearing sneakers at formal functions is virtually taboo. My father loves the ocean, but having been a banker without any holidays all his life, he doesn't consider himself the adventuresome type. And so my father despises sneakers and says with a condescending tone that sneakers are for "kids," and "kids" he is not.

by Ines Cho

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