My rock bottom was some 30,000 feet above ground. Flying home from a family vacation, I scrolled through the iPhone photos my husband had taken over the past week: our toddler daughter napping in the sharp California sunshine, a row of Victorian homes in madcap colors. There was only one thing I didn’t recognize: myself.
Day after day I dressed as if I’d been denied access to mirrors, in a knee-length skirt or dress, worn over leggings (it had been colder than the weather forecast I’d packed for!). Each of my outfits bottomed out with a single pair of sneakers, my beloved Adidas Ultra Boosts—the insanely wearable bouncy castles that started out as my running shoes before morphing into a permanent extension of my body. Perhaps they would have looked smart with a Rachel Comey jumpsuit or a cashmere poncho from The Row. The problem is, comfort is my weakness and I have a tendency to let it all go. And so, terrifying as it was, I resolved to stop wearing my sneakers, at least for a month.
I used to be a “shoe person.” In my early 20s, I mastered the art of finding beaded Dries Van Noten boots and Louboutin flats at discount stores (this was pre-Internet). I once threw a party in honor of the Veronique Branquinho lavender stilettos I loved but couldn’t walk farther than three feet in. (I remained seated all night long and let guests flutter my way.)
What was it that got in between me and my fancy footwear? Having two children? The rise of Yeezy and #athleisure? No matter, it wasn’t good.
The day before my sneaker detox, I reached into the dark corners of my closet and dug out all the shoes I’d been neglecting—the black suede ankle booties, the brown Vanessa Bruno wedge boots I’d thought I’d left at my former workplace. This would be a fun challenge, I told myself, like the time I committed to eating down the mysterious items in my pantry. (I am still working on the sack of millet.)
My first sneaker-less week was hard work. I was out of practice, and a lunchtime “run” to the pharmacy in my four-inch-tall booties took the better part of an hour. My toes hated me as I bounded out of the office to a drinks meeting in a pair of Charlotte Olympia flats that were half a size too small. When the weekend rolled around, though, I was Miss Stick-to-It-Ness, and brought my son to his Saturday morning soccer class wearing knee-high Miu Miu boots. It was 9:05 a.m., and lined up against the wall were 15 rumpled dads in 15 pairs of New Balances, Rod Lavers, and Stan Smiths. They clearly hadn’t showered and they eyed me suspiciously, pityingly. Perhaps I was taking things a little too far.
I decided to edit my plan: The marshmallow-soled Adidas Boosts were still out. But this being 2016, I could wear sneakers that were designed for downtime in my downtime. I purchased a handsome pair of Nike high-tops, in cream with lime green lining, and promised myself that I would limit these to occasional weekend use and commutes (habits die hard).
But at work, at dinners, at book parties, it was nothing but four-inch Rag & Bone boots and Sigerson Morrison heels. Even when I ran uptown to meet the designers of my beloved Boost sneakers, it was in my Ferragamo patent pumps. I crossed my legs, somewhat apologetically, and listened while Adidas’s Mikal Peveto, senior director of the group that dreamed up my favorite sneaker, explained why I love my Boosts so. The shoe has a superlight knit upper and a bottom made of 3,000 foam pellets (think tiny packing peanuts that are melded together). “We really hit on something,” Peveto told me. “It’s the Everlasting Gobstopper meets Flubber.” I sighed and mentally counted down the number of days left until I could slide them on again.
My new shoes, however, were compliment-fetchingly spiffy, and none of the mothers at my son’s school asked me if I was “working at home today,” as they used to. The Monday of my third Boost-free week, I bumped into my colleague Emma Elwick-Bates, who was looking particularly smart in a pleated Proenza Schouler dress and patent leather Tabitha Simmons flats. “I flew in at 1:35 this morning,” she grumbled. “I get dressed up when I’m exhausted. It tricks me into feeling like I’m on top of my game.”
I understood completely. I’d been taking better care of every aspect of my routine when I got ready in the morning, and feeling more polished and self-confident north and south of the ankle all day long. It rained that Friday, and I laced up my Nikes and darted to a bookstore where I was meant to appear on a panel that evening. I arrived in the nick of time, though I didn’t have a chance to change out of my sneakers. Still, I was dressed a grade above my typical casual Friday attire (for one, I was wearing a dress), and when my husband posted a picture of me sitting on the podium, in my sneakers, on Instagram, our friends commented with thumbs-up and fire emoji.
My detox month is up, and I’m getting ready to incorporate the new version of the Boosts that just arrived in the mail. When I put them on, it will feel like a release, not a relapse. Sneakers aren’t the enemy. Self-neglect is.
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