Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.
I had a friend once who spent half her income on shoes, or at least that's the way it seemed when you looked into her closet, where a swarm of miscellaneous footwear peered out in hopes today would be the day they were chosen to be worn. This was a preoccupation that dated back to her teen years. For her shoes were her personal expression. For me shoes were what I put on my feet to avoid getting kicked out of stores. Oh, the glory of barefootedness.
If you were to look at my glorious shoe stash it'd include a pair of red Chuck Taylor All Stars, my indie-loved babies that I wear everywhere, a set of $12 galoshes for wet inner country excursions, a pair of even cheaper canvas slip ons I lovingly call my "sh*t-shucking shoes," a pair of dress shoes I begrudgingly keep for formal occasions, and a pair of knee high F*ck-Me-Boots, that I bought at the Salvation Army, to make my aforementioned friend vibrantly uncomfortable for an evening. I don't think I will be tottling around in those again but the memory is so amusing I keep them around for laughs.
The only reason I talk about any of this is because one night I was over at a friends Midnight Madness and I was asked what was up with my Chucks, why was that the only thing I was ever seen wearing, and I honestly didn't have an answer. I'd been wearing them since third grade and it never occurred to me most people change their foot wear at least by the decade. I decided it was because I had flat feet and didn't feel like spending exorbitant amounts of dough on anything else. Why is dressing our feet so expensive?!
Anyway, the point of this whole ramble is that after I got done with that train of thought I then started to wonder about shoes... in specific their delightful and often violent names. So please, join me in falling down this wonderful rabbit hole...
Sweet, Gloriously Iconic All Stars!
I'll start with my favorite shoes, Chuck Taylor's Converse All Stars, not because they're violently named but because they have so many names. When I was growing up they were just called basketball shoes, which was really weird as no one who played basketball wore them, instead their feet seemed to be adorned with sneakers that were composed of more than a scrap of canvas and a thin layer of rubber.
As it turns out they did start their life as basketball shoes back in the 1910's when they were invented. They were some of the earliest sneakers around, and were outrageously popular with athletic individuals in the day, including basketball teams (which hilariously, and flagrantly flying against modern stereotypes, were comprised mostly of Jewish teams back then... What ever happened to this??) Chuck Taylor was not the inventor of these shoes but he was a basketball player who started wearing their predecessors in 1917. His suggestions on how to improve them gave them their iconic look and feel and that's really why his name is still on them. By the 1960's almost everyone playing any kind of sport were wearing them, they were even big at the Olympics! But as time marched on so did shoe technology and the All Stars were left in the dust, only to be picked up by an intense amount of other subcultures who still adore them to this day. This might be the reason they have so many names... Chucks, Chuck Taylors, All Stars, Converses, basketball shoes... Personally I am going to run with them and someday you'll be hard off to pry them off my cold dead feet. You just can't lose with this much geek chic!
Steel-Toed Boots, Choice of Construction Workers and Mobsters Alike!
I guess the other super utilitarian shoe would be steel-toed boots. Generally they lack in any pizzazz but wow can they keep your toes away from harm! Especially when kicking the tar out of stoolies! This is probably where they get their most well known moniker as sh*t-kickers. It's a name so embedded in the culture that most people do not call them steel toed boots anymore. But hey, there are less psychopathic reasons to sport these lovely knee cap killers. In fact construction workers favor these boots because they protect their weary toes from heavy things falling on them. Careful though, if said thing is too heavy it can actually bend the metal in the shoe which can then act like a guillotine for your toes, which I suppose could be great if you're one of Cinderella's step sisters, but not really if you're anyone else. This is why it's great to have friends who work in the ER. Good god the horror stories... totally worth every minute!
Stilettos - The Stabbiest of Shoes
I love stilettos, not wearing them of course, as that's a really easy way to end ass over bambox, but admiring their brutal history. Stiletto, as it turns out, is an Italian word for a type of ice pic-like assassination device that they sort of resemble. In fact in the middle ages, stilettos, the knives not the shoes, were used by hitmen in large crowds. You see a target could be approached, stabbed under the ribs from behind, and the assassin could walk briskly into the crowd faster than it'd take for anyone to notice they'd been stabbed. It was genius. And gruesome. And why are we calling shoes this now? Oh yes, because of those stabby little heels.
Heels on shoes started in Asia a few thousand years ago but they didn't look anything like modern day stilettos. In fact they looked like shoes you couldn't rightly walk in because that's not what they were made for. Instead heels were invented to help keep people riding horses steady in the saddle. The heel would hook into the stirrup and add extra balance, especially for archers who could now shoot arrows with far greater accuracy atop their galloping steeds.
It wasn't until the middle ages that Western civilization caught on and here high heel shoes were only worn by men, especially of high status. It'd take another three hundred years for "mannish" peasant women to say, "Hey! These make my calves look fantastic! I am so taking these!" At which point they got more ridiculous as the decades went by. Give me some color! And more outrageous height! I NEED GLITTER! By the 1930's or 40's they were the shoes we recognize today - shiny, slippery, and stabby.
Knee High Boots: When Stilettos Just Aren't Enough
This is another funny story because it made me question my own linguistics. In my article's introduction I made mention of buying some boots as part of an elaborate gag. Well! Seeing as that is not my scene, I sauntered into the Salvation Army and asked them to direct me to the Knee-High F*ck-Me Boots, which they always seemed to have (maybe there's just that many dead hookers? I don't know.) Immediately upon saying this I questioned myself, is that really what they're called?! Or am I just being horrible?! Nope, judging by the laughter, that is really what they're called... for obvious reasons... if you're snarky.
Actually, I decided in a moment of poor judgement to ask Google where F*ck Me Boots come from and well.... apparently, though this style of boots have been around for decades, the term itself is somewhat of a mystery, evolving through first positive musical references and then devolving into harsh slurs slung from various types of women to each other. Honestly this could be an article of its own... written purely for my own entertainment. But until then all I can really say is if you want to blame someone for this harsh terminology I suggest looking over the pond. It's always nice to give the Brits an occasional side-eye anyhow.
Brothel Creepers: Now with Half the Brothel and Double the Creeper
And since we're throwing some shade on whatever the Brits are doing over there (seriously, what ARE you doing?!) I wanted to introduce you to the most wonderfully named shoes of all time, which are also apparently named by some sarcastic Brit, Brothel Creepers.
Brothel Creepers are preposterously ugly shoes, endearingly so, whose defining characteristic is a super thick rubber sole topped off with a simple foot covering of usually canvas or suede. I can't remember how I stumbled onto this word, seeing as I don't clomp around in these things, (yet?) but I can say that the terminology immediately intrigued me. So I went to FaceBook and asked all my female friends, most of whom just told me I was crackers, there is no such thing, but there is! Then I consulted the oracle at Google, "What the hell Google, are brothels hard to creep into? Should we be creeping into anywhere, especially into a brothel? What gives?" Google sighed and started to tell me this wonderfully bizarre story.
After world War II British sailors were wearing these shoes (with those adorable bell bottoms... if you need a completed picture) and they somehow got the name Brothel Creepers because, well, sailors tend to like their hookers... After the sailors lost interest in them the Teddy Boy subculture picked them up and they've blipped on and off the map ever since getting increasingly weird with every incarnation, which in all honestly makes me adore them all the more...
Puddle Jumpers - More Jumping, Less Creeping
It's about here I lost any sense of inspiration and started asking my more femininely inclined friends, "And what kind of weird shoe do you think I should look up today?" which got the answer puddle jumpers. This is a term I'd never heard of, probably since my life currently lacks a lot of children, but it seemed cute enough to look into.
They seem to be some sort of waterproof sandley thing for little girls and no one seems to know where the term comes from! In fact I can find no history on them at all! Perhaps no one cares as much about children's fashion as they do adult fashion.
Clod Hoppers - When You Graduate from Jumping to Hopping!
Now this is a term I heard a lot growing up and it seems there's little consensus on what it actually means but it's a country colloquialism that I think is fairly entertaining. A clodhopper, according to the dictionary, is not a style of shoe so much as a description of any country-worn shoe or boot that clumps and clomps and makes a lot of noise. In fact this term in the 1600's was used to only apply to the people wearing these shoes until the 1830's when it also referred to the shoes themselves. The word itself might be a pun on grasshopper. It's hard to say. I also suspect clod might be a bastardization of clog, considering traditionally a clog is a wooden work shoe that makes a damn lot of noise!
"Bred" Sneakers, Because Why Pronounce All Those Letters if You Don't Have To?
Apparently there's a cutesey nickname out there for Air Jordan sneakers: Bred. They're called breds because they're black and red and well... Americans are lazy, even when wearing athletic sneakers. Huzzah.
Foot Gloves - Because Feet Mittens Sounds Ridiculous
I don't know what to say about these other than I truly admire their cut-to-the-quick naming scheme. Foot gloves are exactly what they sound like - pretty much gardening gloves for your feet. Rose bushes be damned!
Crocs - Guess What They're Load of!
Love them or hate them Crocs are here to stay. In fact their sheer determination to do so really shakes me to the core. I once crawled into a burned out shell of a house and everything was pitch black with char - except a tweety bird yellow pair of crocs just sitting there chilling like nothing had happened. It's an image that will forever stay burned into my mind.
But why do we call crocs crocs? Because they're made by Crocs Inc. Well, that was anticlimactic... but maybe there's something we don't know about them? They were designed as "boating shoes" - maybe crocodiles hate them. Anyone want to test this theory out? Anyone? Anyone at all...? Just this one guy? Oh well, I suppose those fat water lizards don't need to be fed anymore toes anyhow.
Galoshes - The Splashy Good Boots of the Country
By reading the rest of this article you may have guessed I have farming in my background. Well, nothing says farming more than seeing these sitting just inside the door! When I was growing up we called them rubbers but this caused too much confusion in our teens and we started calling them galoshes instead, which is a bastardized French word the Brits took meaning, "wood shoe." This is in itself confusing since it's neither wood nor a shoe but you know those Brits...
Actually galoshes are rubber boots made to be worn over an already existing pair of shoes... but if you're like me you probably just wear them with three pairs of socks or if it's summer, with nothing but your glorious bare tootsies. They're awesome if you have to slog through mud, or poop, or leech infested waters! All hail rubber boots!
Shoes are weird and the people who name them are even weirder. Also if you have a shoe you'd like me to look into please chime in the comments section and I would be glad to oblige!