Monday, July 6, 2015

Sandal Shopping: A Pain

I have difficult feet. I don't have specific physical problems like bunions or hammer toes. I just have sensitive, delicate feet that hate being touched by shoes, including sneakers. They don't mind boots so much, thank god, or I'd probably have to go around with plastic bags and animal skins duct-taped over my flip flops in cold weather.

Every spring, I realize I have no comfortable footwear besides my collection of Reef "Sandy" flip flops. I've worn them non-stop from May to October for about seven years now. What they lack in elegance they make up for in comfort since they are nothing but soft fabric ribbons attached to a cushy rubber sole. But last summer I started getting shooting pains between my toes and my Achille's tendons also started to complain. I'd gotten literally thousands of miles out of my Reefs up to that point, but I knew their days were numbered.

I suppose I could visit an orthopedic shoe store where they would provide me with sensible socks and  absurdly ugly, expensive, old-lady oxfords that wouldn't hurt my feet as I walked five miles or so every day. But they would hurt my sensibilities. I have never tried on Crocs, for example. Or Birkenstocks. Unfortunately, I have standards. And, besides, I can't stand socks unless it's cold and I'm wearing boots. My feet want to be free.

I just want simple, low-heeled sandals that aren't ugly and let me to walk many miles every day without blisters. It proved impossible for many years. I can't wear sandals with textured or embossed insoles, or sewn-in labels. So many brands emboss their logo right at the heel, and it's painful. I can't wear stiff leather soles or most styles of uppers. If there's raised stitching or hardware touching my foot, it rubs. If there's elastic at the ankle or across the foot, it bites me. I can't wear "comfort" brands like Merrell, Born, Teva, Clark's, Sofft, Ecco, Naot, Keen, Munro, Rockport, Earth, and so on. I can't wear any thong styles except those Reefs. (I can't even try on Jack Rogers sandals, cute as they are. That perforated daisy on the insole is a torture device, as are the thick thong and stiff sole.) I can't wear slides... although I found one, perfect, woven leather slide back in 2003 by Aerosoles that I lived in. I wore out four pairs over several years (taking them to the shoemaker until they couldn't be revived anymore). I bought every size 7 I could find until they vanished from eBay and the earth. They were the last sandals I loved.

Every spring since then, I've ordered LOTS of sandals, usually in groups of three or four styles at a time. I choose carefully: reading the descriptions, eliminating anything that's really ugly, watching the videos, and scrutinizing the details — knowing I'm still likely to fail. The sandals arrive together in one big box from Zappos or ShoeBuy. I try them on and test them around the house to see how much they hurt, knowing that they will hurt, and then I usually slap on a return label and haul the lot to the UPS store on Newbury Street. Then I order a few more styles and repeat the process multiple times. In the end, I usually keep one pair that I've grudgingly chosen as the best of the lot. Last year it was a closed T-strap by Cobb Hill; the year before I settled for a style by "The Flexx." When I finally get brave and wear them outside, they often start bothering me within a few minutes. I try to break them in, but eventually go back to my flip flops, leaving another pair of sandals gathering dust in my closet. (The Cobb Hills, in tan, were not all that bad, at least for a while. But I've realized they'd look best with a square-dancing outfit and I don't have one. And, fyi, this year's version of that style is made a bit differently and is less comfortable.)

This year, I'm amazed at my luck. I ordered about 15 pairs of shoes and ended up keeping three. It was a Christmas miracle in June. The winners are these "Capricorn" sandals by Naturalizer.
To me, they are vaguely "old lady" but they look much better on — simple and unobtrusive. I've worn them for many miles now, without any problems after the first day, when my little toes complained a bit. There's stitching on the insole, which I feel, but it doesn't hurt. After they proved themselves, I ordered a pair in black. I will probably order two or three more pairs when they go on sale later in the season. They make different styles with the same sole and I may try some of those, too. I've paid between $47 and $59 so far — a small price for the amount of relief they give me and all the miles they'll go.

It's SO wonderful to walk everywhere in sandals that don't hurt and look nicer with clothes than flip flops. I feel very lucky, finally.

I also can't wear cute little Keds sneakers because they attack the back of my ankle. For sneaker-ish situations, I now have these Bernie Mev "Catwalk" flats in denim:


They are a million times better than flip flops when it's raining, for one thing. And they are warmer than flip flops or sandals on chilly days in Maine, too. They are soft and flexible, and kind of artsy-looking on the foot. The only problem is that I had to size down to keep them from slipping off my feet and so they rub a little against my big toe. But it doesn't hurt and I figure they'll stretch there sooner or later, especially if I keep wearing them in the rain.

I haven't worn my third pair of keepers outside yet, and I can't believe you've stuck with me and read this far, so I'll save those for later. Go order a pair of those Naturalizers, which come in lots of widths and colors. They're amazing.

9 comments:

  1. Have you ever tried the sandals from apropos (http://www.aproposfootwear.com/shop_now/)? I walk miles in mine every day. Most comfortable ever and they hold up really well.

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    1. Those look very interesting! But I'd need try them on before committing, and wouldn't want to pay for shipping and returns. If I find any for sale in a shop, I'll be sure to try them. Thanks for the tip!

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    2. They're a local company (Lawrence) and have a stall at Faneuil Hall, I believe, though I haven't been.....

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  2. I can sympathize with your shoe search. I wear size 11 and have a bunion. I bought the Skechers version of something akin to the Bernie Mev and walked all over NYC (and around here too) in them. They are cushioned inside which makes them very comfy. I tried washing them in by putting them in a mesh laundry bag with a pair of Keen sandals I use intermittently) and they came out pretty well though I did have to use a magic marker to do a speck of touch up. No one is the wiser.
    I am ever in search of the perfect shoes. I fear they do not exist, but these come closest for casual summer use.

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  3. I do believe I will take your recommendations to heart, for many of the same reasons you stated, and order a pair of the naturalizes. Thanks.

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    1. Best of luck to you! Having done about 11 miles in the past two days I will say that my little toes are complaining a bit again, but not enough that I won't put those sandals back on for another 5 miles tomorrow. I always order shoes with free shipping and returns....

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  4. Wow. I can't believe that there is another person like me about shoes. And not just the comfort issues, I hate 'em. Hate socks, too. Slippers are the worst. As much as possible I am barefoot indoors...year round. The rest of the time I suffer. Okay, I also suffer when I'm barefoot indoors in the winter. Brrrrr, cold feet, but I still can't stand socks or slippers.

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    1. Slippers? Not in my vocabulary! Haven't had any since I was a kid! I'm barefoot as much as possible. But I will wear cashmere socks (from Garnet Hill, they converted me) in the winter when it's freezing in here. Oddly enough, my feet are not so delicate that I can't walk around barefoot outside on occasion. It doesn't bother me at all, but I'm afraid of glass and other things.

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  5. My foot is very 'tall' so often sandals cut my foot off, and I don't even look at them unless they have an adjustable strap. I'm currently wearing Ryka sandals which are pretty comfy, made for women by women is their claim. I was going to suggest Earth sandals because that is another goto of mine, but I haven't found a pair in years that works for me.

    Those catwalks are adorable. Going to have to look into those.

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