The Tool Shed

Everything starts to look like a nail.

In Defense of Monkey Shoes

So I was reading my favorite men’s style blog-slash-web series, Put This On, when I came across Jesse’s enthusiastic link to this blog post arguing against the wearing of “barefoot shoes”, specifically Vibram FiveFingers, for anything but running. She argues,

I would like to posit, strongly, that these type of shoes should not be worn in any context other than jogging, or perhaps walking to or from a jogging-like activity. I have seen way too many people out and about this summer wearing barefoot shoes—as regular shoes.

I feel compelled to respond, both as a man who takes a great deal of pride in his appearance and as a runner.

Here’s the thing with that argument, the one where you should wear them for running only, as that is what they were made for.

It doesn’t work that way.

This is a bit complicated, because she’s partly right, of course: they look kind of stupid.

I’ve been wearing them for a few years now, and I’ll be the first to tell you they look kind of dumb. But I bought them for a very simple reason: I had a very fucked up running gait, bought the Frankenstein corrective running shoes, and still got injured. I could in fact barely walk after completing my first marathon.

Then I read about barefoot running, and turned to it in desperation. I began consciously focusing on building the muscles in my feet and lower legs to correct what was wrong with my stride, and that kicked off a long and often frustrating climb toward developing a running style that was healthy and low-impact.

This is the key part: it doesn’t work if you only go barefoot for thirty minutes to an hour, three times a week. Growing up in normal shoes encourages you to let muscles in your feet and lower legs atrophy, and building those muscles back up only happens if you’re working on them as often as you can, which means going barefoot or barefoot-ish as often as you can.

So I get that they look dumb. I get that they’re a fad right now, which automatically makes them annoying to everyone who didn’t buy in. It also means a bunch of poseurs who don’t run wear them, the same way you see fat guys eating ice cream in Under Armour and want to have a conversation with them about cognitive dissonance, and that’s even more annoying.

But for the thousands of us who are honestly trying to become strong runners and fix what’s fucked with our feet? We got no choice, maing.

Can you get casual or athletic shoes with no toes with minimal soles to wear when you’re not running? Sure. Merrell makes some (one men’s casual leather), as do Vivo (note that most of those look stupid too) and other companies.

But I only have so much money to spend on clothes, and I’d rather not spend a hundred bucks on another barefoot shoe. I’d rather do as Jesse suggests and save that money to buy a nice pair of brown captoes, or maybe even a nice suit (if I’m lucky enough to find a good enough deal on ebay that Put This On hasn’t broadcast to the entire world—-seriously, guys, I know you’re trying to add value, but don’t spoon-feed the people too lazy to do their own hunting).

If that means looking kind of doofy when I go to Walgreens or take my kids to the park, so goddamn be it. I’m sorry if every third neuron firing in your brain is focused on my shoes (yes, you are over-analyzing), but I assure you mine’s focused on other stuff.