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Peterson: Footwear offers glimpse beyond one's sole

Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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For months now, maybe it’s closer to a year, I have been paying close attention to the kind of shoes people wear.

Just to be clear from the start, I do have a lot of idiosyncrasies, but I do not have a shoe fetish. I do not covet others’ shoes. I do not own thousands of pairs of shoes. Not even hundreds.

But now that I’m counting, I’m embarrassed to say I might have 10, which is too many. That includes winter boots for snow shoveling – alas, they’re still in season – and work boots with holes in them for painting and yard work, and slip-on shoes for public showers and rocky beaches, and slippers for warmth in the winter – alas, they’re still in season, too – and a pair of casual shoes that make my feet and back hurt but are perfectly good otherwise.

I have two pairs of go-to shoes to cover all occasions – my leather work boots that are at least 6 years old and my cordovan wingtips that are at least 15 years old. The boots are for everyday use, and the wingtips are for when I wear a jacket and tie.

But I have been concerned about both pairs of shoes because they are wearing out, and I need for them to completely wear out before I will buy a new pair. Many people judge the worth of their shoes by the condition of their soles.

What people don’t realize is that soles can be replaced when they wear down to nothing. The leather tops are just fine; they’re broken in to fit just so. There’s no sense in wasting money and filling landfills with shoes that still have soul.

My leather boots have been resoled at least three times, and for the past year, the soles have been wearing down slowly, and it is to the point now that they need new ones. Which I would do in a minute because they fit my foot perfectly. But the leather tops are wearing out. They are separating from the sole in several places; the stitching is coming apart. They are beyond the help of a cobbler.

And the wingtips are in a sorry state, too. The leather tops are separating from the leather soles, and no matter what the cobbler does, there is not enough leather left to make a longtime repair. I had a black pair of wingtips that matched the cordovan, but I apparently wore them more often because the holes could not be repaired, so I had to pitch them.

If I look at shoes, other people must look at shoes, and holey shoes make the wrong impression.

I’ve been looking at shoes because my go-to shoes are nearing the end of their lives, and I need to replace them, and I need to know what other men are wearing.

And what a lot of them are wearing leaves a lot to be desired. Men can get by with far fewer shoes than women. For everyday wear, men can get by with two or three pairs of shoes. What a relief.

But some men actually wear orange shoes. Or blue shoes. They wear shoes that are a cross between casual and athletic, and I can’t tell the difference. They wear shoes that are made out of vinyl and rubber. They wear boots that have serious weight problems. They wear cowboys boots. And loafers. And shoes that blur the distinction between casual and formal. They don’t polish them. Or clean them.

In all my looking, I haven’t come up with the definitive pair of shoes to wear.

But out of necessity, I did buy a pair of black shoes with leather tops and rubber soles, and they definitely fall into the category of dress shoes that can be worn for many occasions. I bought them a month ago, and I only wore them inside the house to get a feel for them, to make sure they did not need to be returned because they did not feel like any of the shoes I have worn for the past 20 years. I’ve since taken them to church a few times, and this week, I’ve taken them to school.

I am getting used to them. They have soul. I think.

But the boots are a whole other story. I need to change brands because the kind I wear have a sole that wears down to next to nothing in about two years, and it’s getting expensive to have any shoes resoled, which is disappointing. But I need something that I can wear for almost all occasions in a boot style that supports my arches and can comfortably hike, while maintaining the look I am going for.

The search has become epic, like the film “Das Boot,” about the German World War II submarine that eventually is sunk by the Allies. These boots are about sunk. They are taking on water. Literally.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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