On Ugly Shoes, Again

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by Leandra Medine
August 12, 2013
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Want some? Don’t sweat it–fashion continues to have you and your birth control prescription covered.

5OahUq on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

For the record, I was totally kidding when, at the close of New York Fashion Week last September, I stipulated that Birkenstocks may be coming back.

I would have chased the query with a sweeping “LOL! JK! That’ll be the day!” had I believed it was necessary but the thought seemed so farfetched, so sardonic, so down right impossible, I, uh, “opted out” of what seemed like otiose clarification. As fate (and my luck) would have it, though, two weeks later in Paris, Phoebe Philo publicly-but-silently aped The Pussycat Dolls and sang to me, “be careful what you wish for ’cause you just might get it.”

My response? No way. No how. Sorry I’m not sorry.

My current stance? You know, they’re not that bad.

But who should I blame for the personal uptick in amicability? Nearly one year later and through an exhaustive number of consumer stories and personal essays on the unsung joys of electing to wear ugly footwear (I’ll plead guilty on milking the latter accord), the brand of manipulation powerfully indigenous to fashion is in high gear once again.

Stripped of all the referential jam-band, drug-infused, granola munching stigmas, they’ve staked their claim in the upper echelons of fashion (as evidenced by Vogue and a series of pro stories care of New York Magazine). Even I, who was still not entirely on board, not acknowledged but endorsed their rebirth in a story last march.

And all of these factors have probably helped catalyze their proliferation. (The documented blue and red plastic, white soled variants hail from Zara and have induced the yuck heard ’round the world.) Recently, though, I’m less concerned with how ubiqutious they’ve become and more with whether we’re writing these stories to convince ourselves that we love the certifiably ugly shoes, or if we are actually growing fond of the Schiaparelli-elicited trend? (I’d be hard pressed to tell you the recent surge is not at least a bit derivative.) The Marni shoes in the gif above, for one, predate any explicit trend by a lengthy two years.

Still, in the name of experimentation, I test drove the Birkenstocks not once, but twice in the last month. (This is a fancy way for me to say that I have fallen victim to the very manipulation specified above and it is the fault of an image of one Kate Moss, smoking a cigarette while wearing white jeans and the matching-hued ‘stocks). But frankly, I haven’t been able to crack the code on pseudo-comfortable, hideously high fashion shoes. Especially not in conjunction with my own proclivities, which have just left me feeling deeply self conscious and, I don’t know, maybe enthralled but only from a distance.

On the one hand, when I look down I don’t recognize the feet strapped to my ankles at all. This means I’m clearly not doing me to the best of my ability. On the other, even in spite of how romantically I’d idealized them pre-proprietorship (see: if only I had white Birkenstocks to wear with those cropped jeans, or that short dress, or this full white ensemble plus blazer), I can’t get past the stains of their previous identity.

I want to let them in. I really do. I want to be able to wear them without hesitating, without wondering how wide they make my feet look. I want to feel like Kate Moss, though I’ll take perverse French-ness if it comes. I’m just not quite sure I’m there yet–so what now? Back to the drawing board? Even more importantly–how do I amount for the dissatisfaction in trying to concede to a hyper trend but failing?

Zimmermann blazer, T by Alexander Wang tank, Current/Elliott jeans and Birkenstocks.

REPLIES
  • CarolinaG

    Love your blog!
    I’m posting looks from Los Angeles and accessories:

    http://www.thegavlaks.com

  • sarah du Révérencieux

    Mieux qu Kate Moss encore, se sentir soi …. avec un DIY de Birk ;))) comme ma collègue Anne l’a fait

    http://www.reverencieux.com/birkenstock_swarovski_diy/

  • http://www.glamdevils.com/ Mira Devils

    I always hated Birkenstock shoes but they are really not that bad. Depends on how you combine them. Dressed up they look uber cool.

    xx Mira

  • Meltem Toprak

    even in Germany and Turkey the trend continues – it’s crazy how they influence the taste of population by marketingstrategy

    http://www.meltemtoprak.com

  • Inês Meireles

    I still hate them…

    GIVEAWAY on my blog:

    http://www.the-goldensoul.blogspot.com

    XOXO,
    Inês

  • royal wang

    for me,your writing is so hard to understand,my english is not so good,but i am trying to read

  • http://www.patagoniagifts.com/blog/ Patagonia Gifts

    I’m sorry but they still look ugly for me… ;) I could only wear them with shorts for the beach.

    http://www.patagoniagifts.com/blog/

  • Jane

    would like to see the marni creatures styled as well!

  • ASULikeIt

    I’m used to seeing Birkenstocks only because I’ve been studying at a University in the mountains for the past four years. It’s like a granola phantom that’s floated it’s way off the trail and onto the runway. These are shoes that can easily overwhelm the aesthetic of the whole outfit because they carry such a strong personality on their own, one that can’t be quelled. Regardless of Phoebe Philo’s renovation of the shoe, the foundation is still the same. I don’t think it will be long until the collective fashion community looks back fondly on this trend as a meaningful attempt at putting lipstick on a pig.

    • http://nusardel.com/ Nusardel

      Lipstick on a pig! Now my comment feels long-winded and pointless.

  • http://mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr/ Mafalda

    I love ugly shoes!

    Mafalda ❤
    http://www.mafaldadotzero.blogspot.fr

  • alexis

    They do work with the outfit

  • Amatoria

    I think we are crossing the line from wearig what we want( instead of what men want) into what Vogue wants. Why?

  • STYLEDRVR

    Are you prepared to give birkenstocks another go?! http://bit.ly/145fUvH

  • http://www.fripperyvintage.com/ Frippery Vintage

    Still not a fan!

  • https://www.etsy.com/shop/GalipetteVintage?ref=si_shop Lucille Trachte

    There comes a point when you should throw trends to the wayside and wear whatever makes you happy and feel good. After foot surgery this summer (minor thankfully), I picked up a pair of birks (black with black hardware). As I type this from my office I’m wearing them with a j crew pencil skirt and vintage button up blouse. I think the key to wearing them is to go the more chic route then hippie/flower child. That being said I love your interpretation of the white ones above! When it comes to personal style I think it’s safe to err on what makes you feel most comfortable and confident. If you just can’t stomach something, don’t wear it!

    • http://sarahbolton.net/ Sarah B.

      Ditto, I have two pairs of birks (clogs and sandals) left over from college and now that I’m in my 30′s I find they work MUCH better with more “dressed up” outfits vs. the flared jeans and billowy tops from my late teens.

  • Sarah

    They look good with that outfit Leandra! I’m in the same boat as you. After seeing them on MKA I’ve been toying with the idea of getting myself a pair but I know that I’d be way too self-consious wearing them, and they’re not very “me”

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    Well, I wear them in my home office. Day in, day out.

    With socks in winter, obv, we’re in Germany here, though I seem to own only black socks.

    Why, this morning, I admired my ladylike pink toenails, sticking out of my comfy blue faux (yes!) Birkenstocks … I really did. I am wearing them with black skinny trousers and an XXL-tee (grey) with a huge black Finnish cartoon monster smiling … ruefully.

    I don’t wear my “birkenstocks” outside because I need to wear all the other lovelies from time to time, too. If I didn’t have those, though, I might … maybe. In summer.

    • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

      Oops, I forgot all ugly shoes of this kind are called birkenstocks in your part of the world … I call mine “slippers” (Slippers! Oy! Come here!) and don’t even know whether you call only Birkenstocks birkenstocks in Germany or whether that’s the name for all of them. The only other expression I have heard of is the slightly derogatory “Jesus slippers” (“Jesuslatschen”), which reminds us of their hippie past :-)

    • Janna

      I have to ask….who is on your t-shirt, Mörkö??

      • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

        Nope .. his name’s Stinky in English and Haisuli in Finnish :-)

  • Weir(d) Fashion

    Hippies are the first round of hipsters, original and irreverent towards what is popular. The hipster fashion trend has come and been accepted into mainstream so it seems to be even more progressive fashion-wise is to go back furthur in time (hippie pun intended). It is slightly irritating that shoes with such genuine roots are trending right now. Like when I see girls with fake flower crowns and a full face of makeup. Just please don’t call yourself Scarlet Begonia and please wear them if they suit you, not because they’re trending and you want to be considered cutting edge. A great side effect though (besides improving posture) is projecting a better taste in music/overall calmness than you probably have.

  • Belén Cavas Hernández

    Looks very confortable and you look gorgeous.
    Besitos.

    New outfit on the blog. Did you like it???

    http://iwanttobeavoguette.blogspot.com.es/2013/08/blue-summer-light.html

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    Also, Heidi’s wearing and making them, too … little gold diggers :-)

    • Grace

      These are so offensive.

      • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

        YES. :-) Ugly in a … golden Bavarian way, I’d say.

  • Belén Cavas Hernández
  • http://jessjoycej.wordpress.com/ Jessica Joyce

    Yesterday as I walked (more like, trampled) the streets of Manhattan, I saw yet another pair of Birkinstocks and wondered if they were THAT comfortable. But I just can’t even experiment with them. Maybe I’ll wait until I have a closet like yours.

    Your Friend, Jess

  • Luna B

    The Birk tan-line on my feet – now that is uber ugly.

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

    As much as I love to see you in them, and as much as I think you make them look über-cool, you have to do what feels right to you. I think that we can use the term Birkenstock to represent a shoe that we’ve hated and then loved/found comfortable — it doesn’t necessarily have to be the actual Birkenstock, or even a shoe. For you it might be the Horsebit loafers, and for someone else it could be a black shirt for someone who always wears prints. Anyhow, I think this whole thing is a lesson in not (necessarily) holding grudges against items with questionable connotations or pasts. And I’m really digging those white Birks, so if you end up feeling totally un-you wearing them, call me, I’d be glad to take them off your hands. And the company has been making shoes in some capacity since 1774, so I’m sure if you decide you like them again down the line, they’ll always be there. X

  • Charlotte

    One year ago I made a ill-fated purchase of Chanel jelly flat-forms. An incident of blinded by the label to the utmost extreme, I couldn’t resist the super sale price tag and thought I could pull them off the same way as my friend had. Truth be told they were extremely uncomfortable, cut my feet, and I fell 6 times upon first wear. I had a similar experience with Birkenstocks in high school which uncomfortably chaffed the area in between my toes. However, this doesn’t mean I’ve sworn off ugly shoes—as a matter of fact I quite like my ugly shoes but the differentiation is that all my ugly shoes are comfortable. I think there is a way to make what is comfortable seem attractive through styling, but when it is ugly and uncomfortable. I can’t concede. I would rather have my feet dismembered by a pair of cool heels…..

  • Jen

    i have no problem with loving ugly shoes, i own uggs bc i live in new england and they are so warm and comfortable. same with birks. if you love them, wear them. i sort of have a huge problem with ppl giving them the greenlight just bc suddenly celine made them cool and now fashion ppl are now jumping on the bandwagon. the celine ones are hideous, esp with the fur, but if you’ve got money to burn and love them, be my guest. i just think it’s funny how putting a huge pricetag on something is all it takes to get ppl to become instant lemmings. i think they look great on leandra but it’s annoying how every single blog is touting the birk all of a sudden.

    • Grace

      Uggs are Australia’s joke on the world: they really should only be worn at home, kind of like slippers.

  • Mimi Hecht

    Those are so NOT you, but it’s something you’re bravely trying in the name of repelling, so that IS you :) AWESOME outfit, fo real.

  • http://www.fashionsnag.com/ Fashion Snag

    Like how you styled them!

    http://www.FashionSnag.com

  • http://www.hautechildinthecity.com/ Chelsea

    I believe that this very conversation is how Uggs snuck into my closet. I’m not sure if I’m on the Birkenstock train just yet. Maybe a few more appearances in various fashion outlets will turn my nay-saying ways around!

    Chelsea
    Haute Child in the City

  • KellyO

    When I was 14 I worked in a shoe shop helping to measure and fit shoes for ladies of a certain age. It was definitely not a golden age and as such I now always associate Birkenstocks with the swollen arthritic feet of ladies who no longer have physical means to pumice/polish/trim nails etc and thus have limited options on what shoes they can squeeze their plates of meat into. It was actually really sad to see, to me they are akin to the retirement home of feet, where formerly fabulous strong healthy feet go to wither away.

  • tory

    Leandra, those shoes are just not you. I mean, the outfit looks cool but the shoes idk. I am facing the same dilemma, i’m caught between the thoughts “men, hose shoes are so bad” and “if you know how to style them, they can look nice”. I still don’t know if i might just go with the trend. Can i really be that hypocrite? I think i can.

  • http://perfectlyfolded.com/ Perfectly Folded

    This is the most elegant outfit I’ve seen paired with Birkenstocks! x

    http://www.perfectlyfolded.com

  • Jennie

    You weren’t cool unless you wore Birkenstocks in middle school, I gave in then, and if I had 100 bones to blow on orthopedic sandals, I would probably give in again too.

  • Nico

    I like the outfit and the way you’re wearing these shoes…but I hate them :D

    http://lowbudget-lowcost.blogspot.it/2013/08/daily-looks13.html

  • Ashley

    I share your feelings exactly, too much so, I may add:
    http://www.tonpetitlook.com/en/2013/08/09/wear-or-not-wear-birkenstocks

  • Emily K

    how about tevas?

    • Leandra Medine

      One at a time!

  • contentnet

    May Birkenstocks never go out of style! Also, I want to know how flatforms feel and whether or not I will fall down wearing them.

    Lastly, here is a look that’s a hit right now in Southern Cali.

    • http://www.looksharpsconnie.com/ Look Sharp Sconnie

      I hated flatforms.
      Until I wore them.

      Charge on, girl. They’re life(foot)-savers.

    • http://nicola-lynde.blogspot.dk/ nicola lynde

      Flatforms feel awesome on. They were my absolute favourite way to add a bit of height and stay comfy. That being said I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t mention the small fact that the last time I wore them I got a broken foot and a walking boot for six weeks int return. I now take the pain of heels any day over another broken bone.

  • Nicole Balano

    I have the thong style Birks in silver and I personally love them, but I do live on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, so you really can’t take my opinion into account…

    • Nicole Balano

      And I had the exact pair you’re wearing when I was a kid, but they were stolen from the change room at the community pool! Not sure what that says about their high fashion cred.

  • MichelleA

    awesome writing. Love the blog!

    xx

    lax2atx.com

  • Cat

    I am still in the romanticizing step, but I doubt I will make it up to ownership. I have to admit, every time I see an outfit like yours (minimal, sharp, understated) with those damn Birkenstocks I get a fluttery warm feeling. They are ugly and I dig it so hard it almost burns (by “burns” I mean “makes me run – not walk – to the mall and get some asap”). In fact, if I weren’t much shorter than you, this post would have been more than enough to push me over the edge and make me buy those monsters. Lovely, chic monsters.

  • cupcake6

    I love my Birkenstocks, have had three pairs for over ten years,my favorites for 14. Just keep getting them resoled.

    They are that comfortable. I never stopped wearing mine.

  • Michèle

    ugly shoes rock as every “ugly-called” fashion item. let’s be rebells and rock this ugly pieces! :D

    http://www.thefashionfraction.com

    http://www.thefashionfraction.com

  • Liz Sterrett

    As I always say… “The wider your feet look, the slimmer the rest of your body looks…” or something along those lines.

    I support Birkenstocks and all their hippified glory.

  • Nishe

    I am wearing my brand spanking new birks as we speak and I absolutely have no regrets with my purchase! I never got into them when I was younger because I was trying to rebel against my hippie upbringing, but now, in adulthood, it feels so much more natural to sport them. They play up basics in the most unassuming way and are versatile. Birkenstocks can be modern, despite it’s granola conotation. That’s the beauty of it’s new expression. At the end of the day, comfort should take precendence over anything else, which this style of shoe does provide.

  • Mona Jazo

    Love birkins! Hahaha … Don’t hesitate manrepeller.

  • Tatiana Popovitchenko

    Love the outfit- but I can see where you are having the meh moment. Try with a skirt or a darker pair of pants.

  • http://stylecurrent.blogspot.com Ashley Alan

    Next you’re going to tell me that Doc Martin sandals (which in 8th grade made my legs look like straws attached to cinder blocks) are de rigueur. I will then proceed to vomit.

  • http://www.looksharpsconnie.com/ Look Sharp Sconnie

    As a Midwestern “fashion blogger” who’s worn them unironically for years, it’s sometimes hard for me to get the hype. Here, this would not be looked at as a statement at all.

    I think fashion bloggers and style-mavens feel falsely empowered by saying that they “submit” to wearing “hideous shoes” just because they’re “comfortable” and they “don’t care.”

    They did care. They do care. And comfort has nothing to do with it. But the idea that they’re “sticking it to the [fashion] man” by wearing “unacceptable” footwear is just too appealing. I commend your ability to reexamine your affection. Though your Marni purchase does bring out the inner Wisconsinite in you.

  • pemora

    i have become completely convinced that i can rock my brand new emerald green birkenstocks with a black on black faux-suit.

  • Tessa

    I can’t… I just can’t. Regardless, this is the best I’ve seen someone style Birks. You almost make them seem like a good idea. Almost.

  • (BAD) Blog About Design

    A pair of Birkenstock shoes would look cool with a fitted suit.

    Check out the BAD Blog http://design-bad.blogspot.com/

  • jas

    fashion is so fickle! birkenstocks are the prime example of the fashion world telling everyone that something is cool and hip, when really it is just plain ugly. take celine’s furry birki-esque flats from their previous season. big fat YUCK. but bloggers and fashionistas all over the world (those who can afford them, that is) declared them the must have shoes of the season. WHAT.

    i used to work for birkenstock, so i know how great the shoes are. i give that they are great for your feet, posture, etc. etc. but really, only pregnant women, retirees and maybe doctors should be wearing them! they are friggen ugly! how are they fashionable?!? i wore them when i broke my toe because they were the only shoes wide enough to fit my foot in.

    sorry, had to vent about this because it has really been bugging me. so, someone said these shoes are cool and all of a sudden every blogger, fashion editor and model are wearing them. ok, maybe some people in the fashion world are wearing them as a big up yours to fashion, but it seems to me that people are actually wearing them to look “stylish” and trendy.

    that’s what i dislike most about the fashion world. it is so, so fickle.

    reckless abandon blog

  • Kristen

    Just bought three used pairs at Rosebowl yesterday, also found a pair last Christmas at a Church sale. Can’t say I’ve looked back; and might I say that the men also look sexy in them? Oh yes.

  • Melanie

    Birkenstocks are just one trend I will never learn to love…. no, not even Kate Moss could convince me

  • Lust Covet Desire

    The power of Phoebe Philo..she’s got me considering.

    http://www.lustcovetdesire.tumblr.com

  • http://nusardel.com/ Nusardel

    First point that needs to be made: what’s up with the MR site? For some reason it’s gone whack on my computer. Very pretty, but there are things all over the place where they don’t seem to belong. Secondly, I’d really like an answer to that last question, because it’s the same thing I was left wondering when I failed at the sports luxe thing (what was that, really?). Finally, I don’t see Birkenstocks lasting much longer than the Prada espadrille brogue creeper thingies. Give them a few Jeffery Campbell clones and most will be completely over the fad.

    • Leandra Medine

      You’re on the receiving end of a couple redesign snafus!

  • bibi

    THE OWNER OF BIRKENSTOCK COMPANY MUST BE LIKE “HELL YEAH BITCHES” AND ALL REDNECKS ARE LIKE “HEY YALL WE WAS WEARING ‘EM FIRST” AND PHOEBE PHILO MUST BE LIKE “THE WHOLE WORLD IS MY SLAVES”

  • sketch42

    You know, I actually love it.

  • Hannah Rochell

    I love Birkenstocks. But then I only ever wear flat shoes. I can see why you’d feel weird wearing them if you’re not used to them; it’s how I’d feel if I tried to force myself into heels!

    Anyway, love the blog. Here’s mine, with musings on the same subject…
    http://enbrogue.com/2013/06/26/stock-up-on-birkenstock/

  • Brine

    Leandra, just look at Marta in this blog post wearing them in all her french

    “je ne sais quoi” perfection. She’s got a couple of posts highlighting them Birks and making them look oh so good! Frenchie approved!

    http://martalicious.blogspot.com/2013/08/city-life.html

  • Tegan

    I think Garance Dore is partly to blame. I had a pair in highschool. I wish I kept them! So comfortable!

  • Kristen

    Last year my cousin wore Birkenstocks, like yours but in black, and I said, “Birkenstocks are ugly.” And she replied, “you’re ugly.” But I stood my ground and refused to participate in the Birkenstock-wearing gang of moms (my mom included) and the teenage girls at my school, who wore theirs with Abercrombie shorts and straightened hair. I just didn’t see the appeal. Then this year vogue claims that “Birkenstocks are in” and my cousin says, “see? I told you so.” And I have no idea what to think. Vogue says they’re in? And if phoebe philo sent them down the runway, they must be fashionable, right? But when I imagine Birkenstocks, I just can’t imagine how they would look fashionable and stylish and not sloppy. For me, the “blinded by the label” thing kicks in, and what was once so unfashionable suddenly becomes fashionable, all because Phoebe Philo and Vogue says so. I think you pull it off considerably well leandra, but they’re just not for me. Those platforms from Zara do look beautiful, though…

  • ASH

    Our fashion world has come to a point where there is no such thing as ugly. Try to think of the ugliest thing you could possibly wear, write it down, and in two or three seasons Phoebe Philo will probably sent it down the runway with a 2k+ price tag (also a obvious case of “blinded by the label”). We have slowly grown thicker skin for unattractive clothing. Two years ago, who would’ve thought that we would be coming to terms with a furry Celine-version of Birkenstocks, which look like you are wearing Elmo on your feat?

  • ASH
  • SJDJohansen

    Sadly, they look really good on you! Depression ensues…

  • Susie

    Oh boy! I need some pair for my arthritis. :)

  • Blakey

    My berkenstock half mary janes/opened back classic thingamajigs seem to have finally found a place in the world. Although the immediate transformation of my feet into platypi is uncanny, I kind of love them…

    XO

    Blakey
    http://thethingsiwear.blogspot.com/

  • Aimee Voyer

    Well shit, now you have me marginally considering them as a footwear option. Damn you, Leandra. Damn you.

  • Jordan

    I am in China right now and while we thought Birks were bad, the people of the People’s Republic are finishing chic outfits with CROCS. Ugly shoes are definitely back.

  • pegpeg

    Hey, I do not like “‘stocks” but I like those other sandals you have dancing with them! What brand are they?

  • Girlscout

    I’ve always had them due to the fact that they are über comfy, especially for my super sensitive feet so I guess I like them :)

    http://www.girlscout.ie

  • TigerLily

    good lord, look what you made me do. you made me buy them. i, too, have looked at birkenstocks from both sides. i grew up in norcal, so have always associated them with big sur drum circles and my friends’ parents who smoked joints in their organic gardens, until i spent a summer in Corsica and my ridiculously thin and chic Corsican friend trotted around in them with her matthew williamson and isabel marant. and i really kind of hate them, but when i saw your white ones, the wound was opened and i had to do it. thanks for this, i feel relieved that i can finally admit that sometimes what i hate and what i’m obsessed with is the same thing.

  • http://newbornfanatic.wordpress.com/ Newborn Fanatic

    Oh man, for some reason I thought you would totally jump on the Birkenstocks. If only because you seriously joked around about them SO much. Do they really look your feet look that big? I keep seeing bloggers wear them but in the pics the feet never look huge. And I love that white color of the birkenstocks…just wondering how dirty they would get. :) I seriously need some comfortable sandals for an asia trip next year and thought the birkenstocks would be perfect..

    https://newbornfanatic.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.yuvastyle.com/ Harsh Vardhan

    Awesome post!! The given blog post with images is indeed lovely.
    http://www.yuvastyle.com/men/footwear/formal-shoes.html

  • haleyisshort
  • Rachel Bell

    As for most pieces it all depends on how you are styling them. I thinkBirkenstock Sandals are definitely comfortable and we’ll see if they make their way back next summer.

  • sohoaccessories

    Birkenstocks,tevas,uggs should all be outlawed !

  • fehrlais

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  • Munnazza Khan

    I just bought a pair :-O
    If I can’t gather the balls to wear them outdoors in my non-fashionable home town, they’re just going to have to be holiday shoes.

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