Wednesday, August 26, 2015

these boots were made for walkin’

In my ongoing, desperate attempt to find writing time in the midst of work and family time, I joined a parent-writers group online. This week one of the members, Hannah Shanks, offered this prompt:

Tell us about one of your “little things”—a personal talisman, your daisy-print office supplies, your worry beads, your prayer shawl, your favorite mug, whatever grounds you to yourself and the wider world. Tell us about one of your touchstone items. How did it get to you? Why do you love it? How does it help you get through the day? Who gave it to you? What stories would it tell, if it could talk?

One year my friend Meehan set a resolution to wear her favorite clothes more. She had a habit I recognized all too well, of wearing her meh clothes and “saving” her special stuff for special occasions. Inevitably, by the time a worthy occasion rolled around, the clothes she’d once loved too much to wear would be out of style.

I love reading the Nostalgia column in Vogue because the writers fetishize single items of clothing so beautifully. A cream-colored cashmere sweater, a classic trench, a filmy scarf purchased on holiday in St. Tropez. These items are made from the finest materials by nameable designers. They are associated with summer romances, internships with famous photographers, mothers who died young and never let their children see them without lipstick.

"Anjelica Huston remembers the Richard Avedon photograph that launched her career." (Don't we all?)
This is not my relationship to clothing. (And thank god that wasn’t my mother’s relationship to me.) I love clothes in the way I love cooking; I’m not very good at either—although I’m better at clothes—but I enjoy being creative in a quick, daily, low-stakes way.

The other night I went to a party wearing skinny jeans from Target, a patterned tube top from Forever 21 (or maybe it was H&M) and a blue collared shirt with a bird embroidered on the shoulder, which I found at a thrift store. I thought about wearing heels, but we were bringing Dash to a house with a lot of uneven stone steps, so I stuck with Kelsi Dagger olive-green army boots. That’s the kind of dresser I am.

Army boots for wars fought on the mean streets of Paris.
Clothes come to me temporarily, ill-fittingly, with an attitude of “sure, why not?” I like that I experiment and embrace secondhand stuff. I don’t like the fact that, on some level, I’d rather have six not-quite-right dresses than one perfect dress. I want to be a one-perfect-dress kind of girl.

That’s why I love my motorcycle boots. I bought them, oh, seven or eight years ago from Zappos. The brand is Gabriella Rocha, a shoemaker I don’t have any particular affinity for. They are black leather, stopping just below my knees. A seam runs vertically from the tip of a rounded toe to the top of the shaft. There are a couple of non-functional-but-sassy buckles and a low wedge heel (so no, they’re not for the riding of actual motorcycles).

Mine weren't lace-up, but you get the idea.
That Christmas, I had let it be known to those interested in buying me gifts that I was in the market for a pair of black boots—leather or not, style flexible. My dad’s girlfriend gave me a pair of shiny faux leather boots with chunky heels. They were nice boots, but I realized upon getting the not-quite-right thing that I had a specific thing in mind. In life, in America, I think we often need to learn to make peace with the not-quite-right thing, or get creative in adapting it. I.e., I’m not sure that every expensive purchase a woman makes is some empowering feminist act. But for me in that moment, it was good to learn that I actually wanted something a little more durable and kick-ass, and to then go and get it.

Because of the durable part, these boots are one of the rare really-nice clothing items I wear all the time. For years now. The soles are getting worn down and I keep meaning to take them to a shoe repair shop, but even with a lot of wear and tear, they look great.

They don’t have sentimental value beyond what I’ve imbued them with in my years of traipsing streets (Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, Positano). But that’s part of it; when I wear them I don’t owe anyone anything. They’re great for making a cocktail dress funkier or jeans (slightly) dressier. They’re like armor when I have to face someone I don’t like.

Since Dash was born, we’ve been the recipients of three amazing handmade quilts, each sewn with love and extraordinary craftsmanship. Having read Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” back in college, I wouldn’t dare consider hanging them on the wall, and yet here I’m choosing to write about my boots instead, maybe because their special-ness is defined almost entirely by their use, by their thing-ness. These boots are made for walkin’, and walkin’ made these boots.

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