SHOOZ – Part Two
continued from part one
It’s always interesting to reflect on our past and shake our heads at the foolish things that were once very important to us. I may have not had any money, but I still wanted those fuckin’ Doc Martens. So I started rat-holing the moolah I would get from my mom and buy cheap junk food in order to have some change left over from the weekend. Try as I might, I couldn’t break one hundred dollars. I couldn’t even barely save eighty.
One weekend, I went on a school trip nine hours away from my hometown in Missouri to Egypt, Illinois with my show choir. On the first night we arrived, we went to eat dinner at a mall food court. My mom sent me with sixty dollars to last all weekend because she knew we would be eating out for every meal. I had visions of Sbarro Pizza or Panda Express in my belly from the mall food court. But that would never happen.
While trekking through the shopping center, I spied with my lil’ eye a shoe store on the way to the eatery with a 50% Off Everything! sign hanging in the window. My heart stopped and I bee-lined inside. Like Sherlock Holmes, no—more like a Beagle—I snooped through that shop trying to suss out a treasure. Finally, what did my wandering eyes should see but a pair of Doc Martens, just for me!
I got really excited. I kicked off my Adidas and pulled up my thick, winter-time socks so I could strap those yellow-threaded bad boys onto my hoofs. These shoes were made with a matte black leather, seamed together on top with black thread, and an axiom created by the usual golden stitching around the trade mark jelly soles. They were funky, unique, and interesting. But I lerved them. I assured myself that if they looked good and were reasonably priced, that I would get them.
They looked glorious on my feet. Sure once I slipped them on they were a little big, but I figured I could just wear thicker socks with them. I was fine with grabbing the last pair even if they were too large for my tootsies. Of course they looked a little feminine and really fucking gay, but I knew I could rock the look because I j’adored them. When I finally noticed the price tag, my heart nearly leapt out of my chest. Typically selling for $110 a pair, these shoes were now only $50! I knew buying them would mean I’d probably only have something like $5 after taxes to eat off of for the whole weekend, but I didn’t care. I could always eat air or figure something else out.
By the time I made it to the food court, everyone was nearly finished eating and I was carrying my bag with my brand new shoes it. It didn’t matter that I was hungry and missed a meal to purchase footwear, because I had finally been able to do what all the other kids at school had done: I owned a pair of Doc Martens!
I was so proud of my new kicks that I didn’t wear them that entire weekend. My family, least of all my mother, didn’t even know I had such an “extravagance” for several months. In fact, I waited for weeks before I premiered them at school. When the big day came and I decided I was ready to show the world that I was just as cool as them, I set them out and just looked at the pair like they were a treasure. A tres gay treasure.
I remembered I needed thick socks, as the shoes were a little too big for me when I bought them. I dressed in my jeans and shirt, and wrapped my feet up in the thickest socks I could find. As soon as I stepped into those clogs, I felt like I was that skank Cinderella once the prince had re-found her and identified her as his by placing that glass slipper on her paws. I have always wondered how that bitch didn’t fall, break those slippers, and have the glass shatter everywhere—cutting the fuck outta her feet—making it nearly impossible to ever find Cindie until her fairy godmother turned another pair of rats into couture footwear. Anyway, I thought I looked like a prince in the Docs and got really excited to see what everyone at school thought of them. I mightn’t’ve had hot running water in my house and mightn’t’ve had heat in my house in the middle of the winter, but I did have my damned Doc Martens, goddammit!
I was almost ready to head out the door en route to class when I noticed something odd about walking in my new kicks. Something didn’t necessarily feel right. I had the buckle as tight as it would go across the top, but for some reason, one shoe definitely felt different that the other. I had a few minutes to spare, so I sat down on our landing and inspected the Docs. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary without totally taking the shoes off, but one foot still didn’t feel right. I resolved to removing them from my feet to really investigate the situation. Again, nothing jumped out at me as to why I was feeling a bit of discomfort. Finally, I looked inside the shoes and what I noticed made my heart sink to my feet that my new shoes were supposed to be comfortably covering.
Each shoe was a different size. One was a size ten and one was a ten-and-a-half. And this new information mortified me. I cannot believe that I nor the sales girl noticed that this was not a matching pair of shoes. This was devastating. All I wanted to do was have these shoes so that my peers would look at me differently and not treat me so poorly—pun intended. There was certainly no way I was able to go back to the middle of Illinois and exchange the shoes. So I was forced to make my branded footwear bed and lie in it. I made the choice to just suck it up and wear the shoes, despite the fact that I realized I would never be truly comfortable in them.
The worst part wasn’t the fact that I had two wrong sized shoes, but the actual attention I received for owning them and wearing them wasn’t pleasant from the beginning. I think the first day I wore them, some of the jocks ridiculed them calling my new Docs “faggy” and “queer shoes”. Other people questioned if they weren’t imitation Doc Martens because of how different they looked to others. Even my “friends” admitted that they looked “girly”. The footwear I had foolishly thought was going to help catapult me into the throngs of acceptance actually ended up flinging me into the fire, instead. Though I was happy to own a pair, I realized these shoes were not my ticket to stardom amongst my fellow classmates.
A year or two later, I did eventually buy a pair of one hundred twenty dollar Docs once I was able to afford them with funds from my fast food job at Hardee’s. But by then, their lure and time in the spotlight of being the “it” shoes had fizzled out and was soon over. And even when I did own a real, legit pair that I really paid what all the other kids had paid for them, my popularity was never enhanced. I was then and—in fact, still am—somewhat of a social pariah. Maybe I was an outcast because I was a gay boy growing up in conservative Missourah. Maybe it’s because my classmates were a bunch of fucking douche bags who were too wrapped up in pretentiousness to ever have really given me a chance?
Despite it all, I tried the entire time I was in high school to achieve a greater level of acceptance that just really never came for myself. I am proud of moi that I stayed true to ME in the latter years of K-12, but conforming to the way everyone else dressed not working for me and all the money I spent trying to be like them, but failing, is the price that my individuality cost. All the Abercrombie and Fitch shirts and Lucky Brand jeans were never going to make me cool, despite how many meals I skipped out on to be able to afford those brands. It just took me longer than a lot of people to eventually end up realizing that I didn’t give a high holy hell what those people thought.
When I graduated and moved to California, I realized that the name brand obsession hadn’t changed and was still a bi-product of American gimme gimme gimme consumerism. In college, I WAS so poor that I ate canned cat food and my priorities changed from desiring to fit in to desiring to survive. I figured out then that I couldn’t ever keep up with the Benjamin’s, but I knew I wanted to retain my individual appreciation of myself and fashion. A friend in college had the best wardrobe I had ever seen on a guy and he had scored all of his clothes second hand.
That is when it finally hit me: I wasn’t necessarily looking for acceptance anymore, I was looking for self expression. I didn’t want to own the same clothes that everyone else owned. The same clothes and brands that had once been deemed unfit for the likes of me simply because I couldn’t afford them. So I took my uni-buddy’s idea of Macklemore-ing it to the thrift stores.
Now, ten-to-fifteen years later, I am proudly one of the best dressed people you will ever meet. I don’t wear suits and Pradsky loafers, but I do wear skinny-mod thrift suits from the UK circa 60s with second hand high tops. Corduroy Levi jeans that I have cut up into short-shorts with knee-high leather gladiator boots. These days, NO ONE owns the clothes I have because they were all bought from stores here in Los Angeles that specialize in recycled bling like Buffalo Exchange and Out of The Closet. I feel such a sense of pride when I rock fashions that not another soul has but that people wonder where my stuff was bought. Fashion to me has always been about my expressionism and my body the billboard displaying my everyday art.
While I deeply admire many fashion houses like Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, Yves Saint Laurent, Prada, Ben Sherman, La Croix, etc., I don’t know that I will want to spend that much money on clothing and accessories, ever. I love my wardrobe, but one very excellent thing about having recycled clothing is their fiscal value is almost nothing other than the j’adoration I have for the way they look on me. So I don’t mind losing a jacket here or there or a fierce Kylie concert t-shirt because I didn’t spend much money on it in the first place. As formerly stated, I do have a few select pieces that are dear to my heart and have even shelled out $600 for a couture blazer from Mike Sweetman in Paris. But when you have been so rich in experience and life as I have, whilst also having been as poor as I have been at times, you know what to actually place value in. Things like family. Friends. Traveling. Adventures. Experiences. Learning. Music. Art.
And most of all: Shoes.
previous: SHOOZ – Part One
more by KOELEN ANDREWS
photograph by Skitter Photo