I'm sure plenty of retail stores have weird policies like this one, but allow me to share my favorite thing about the Aldo at the mall. It has a visible sensor on the doorway, no doubt intended for tracking customer entrances and exits. A friend of mine who once worked at Aldo confided in me that tracking customers is only half the point of the sensors; the store judges its salespeople based on their own personal sales to customers ratios. The magic number, I was told, was one in seven. So, by walking into Aldo seven times and buying nothing, you're hurting a sales clerk's job security. My friend wasn't lying either, as I have certainly seen a store employee or two duck under the sensor bar on the way out of Aldo in my day. My girlfriend and I had a few fun times with this policy, and made sure to drop into Aldo every time we passed it for about a year or so, just to watch the salesperson squirm with frustration. In some of our more epic charades, we managed to cross the sensor laser to enter the store a total of six or seven times. I think our record was ten, three of which came from me standing just behind the entrance and doing an exaggerated beckoning gesture in which my arm pumped back and forth wildly. We stopped soon after that one, realizing that we were being nothing short of assholes.
Aldo sells a few bags and sunglasses, but primarily is a shoe store. I think they do indeed sell some men's footwear, but like any shoe store, it's the other gender they're focused on. They have some pretty bold and crazy shoes. Some of the more memorable ones I have seen in there include a series of brightly colored, wooden-soled, patent leather five-inch heels. Another pair that comes to mind was a white one of heels with large pink and green flowers adorning them. They have plenty of lower-key options as well, but my point is, a girl could really turn heads walking around in some of these. And yet, so rarely, in any wake of life, do I see such footwear. For all I - a straight guy - know, maybe these Aldo specimens are far too garish and outlandish for the average girl to wear or too hard to match an outfit with or something. But still, for a gender that has earned and embraced a reputation for loving footwear, the female sex has left me scratching my head at what they choose to sport on their feet more times than not for the past decade or so. Without further ado or remorse, join me as I venture into an area to which no grown man should ever go: a contemporary history of women's shoe trends.
Let's start in the late '90s. During this era, stiletto heels were nearly absent even in the most formal of settings thanks to a "chunky heel" trend where women young and old alike took to wearing shoes with heels at least an inch wide. What was the point? I understand that a high and thin heel can be pretty uncomfortable, but isn't that mostly due to the height, and the angle at which the foot is forced to maintain itself for hours on end? As someone who has never worn a high-heeled shoe, I guess I'm far from justified in making this statement, but it doesn't seem to me like the heel's width has that much impact on the comfortability of a shoe. Some, sure, but not much. So why ditch the long-established sexy stiletto for a clunky block heel? Also, i think "Mary Janes" - buckle shoes that young girls wear - made a big comeback during the '90s for older women. Again, why?
Moving on to 2003 or so, we see another terrible trend: the heeled flip-flop. Now, flip-flops are a monstrosity all of their own, but I'll get to that later. What killed me here was the self-contradiction of these shoes. When a short heel - a "kitten" heel, says Wikipedia - is added to a shoe, it is meant to give it a little bit of feminization. I do understand why a lot of girls wanted to make their flip-flops less unattractive. That's fine. But then, by adding a heel - even a little one - are you not making the flip-flop uncomfortable and slightly difficult to walk in? Isn't that the argument against heels in the first place? So now you're stuck with a shoe just slightly less frumpy and ugly than a standard flip-flop while sacrificing the shoe's sense of casual comfort. If you're going to lose a lot of practicality for a little bit of class, why not go just one step further and wear a real heeled shoe? Or how about a pair of sneakers or clogs or something that remains practical without looking butt-ugly? A pair of heels makes a sexy and classy sound when a woman comes walking down a hallway. Everyone's familiar with the click-click-click noise and the air of sophistication it brings to any atmosphere. Flip-flops, on the other hand, are named after the awful noise they make, snapping back and forth, slapping pavement and foot soles alternatively. The hybrid noise these awful kitten-heeled flip-flops make is a click followed by a sole slap. The whole ensemble reeks of a confused 16-year-old Supercuts employee who shops at Wal-Mart. Thankfully, these click-flops only seemed to last for one summer.
The same cannot be said about Ugg boots, which caught on sometime around the winter of 2004/2005 and haven't left since. Now, maybe it's because they've been here for so long, but I'll admit, at this point I'm more or less okay with these shoes in most cases. But I still think they defy women's fashion entirely. No woman prides herself for having big fat feet or large ankles with thick calves. Yet, that's the outline these "boots with the fur" create. I've seen girls squeeze into a nice slimming dress and then pair it with these cankle-makers far too many times to find it funny anymore. Especially toward the beginning of their popularity, when it seemed like few girls knew how to sport Uggs without looking dumb. Far too many pairs ended up salt-stained and discolored from rain and snow. They're not snowboots, ladies. They're $300 casual boots. Another classic gaffe was the Ugg-skirt combo. If it's warm enough to wear a skirt, it's probably too warm to warrant Uggs. These days though, it seems like most of the young women I see have found a way to make them look stylish. I'm way outside of my element here, but I'll venture that it's only when you play up the clunkiness of Uggs that they start to look decent. Tucking one's jeans into them and wearing a puffy vest, for example, makes for an "I look this way on purpose" style that I really can't find too much trouble with. Still, where have all the classy high-heeled boots, like the ones found all over Aldo, gone? There even exist plenty of furry animal-skin heeled boots, if you're looking to retain the style while adding some class. Sadly, it seems that from October to March, almost every girl in my generation would rather stick with the (apt) name brand: Ugg.
Finally, perhaps the worst trend to come out of left field in the women's footwear realm was, in my opinion, the flat. Now, flats have pretty much always been around. We've just always referred to them as grandma slippers. After all, until 2006, what non-senior-citizen was rocking ballet shoes in public? I just don't get it. If you're going to remove the heel from a shoe, why not just wear a socially acceptable non-heeled shoe such as a clog or a sneaker? I think part of my issue with flats was the whole fashion moment that they were part of. What I really couldn't stand were the leggings and skinny jeans that so often accompanied them. After all, a girl being casual in loose jeans and a t-shirt is committing no crime by wearing flats, in my mind. But all too often in college, I'd see girls coming "out" on the weekend donning skin tight pants and loose tops and then squeezing into these shapeless unattractive grandma slippers. The majority of the offenders were small, pale girls, many of whom I would stereotype as chain-smoking vegans with short hair and long bangs. You know the type. It's like, come on. You already look malnourished and not curvy - why accentuate your skeleton shape with tight pants and formless shoes? I remember when my girlfriend dared to try the look. With a large, knee-length gray sweater on, wrapped around her waist with a belt, she looked stunning from head to hips, but everything below that was a disaster. Just at her knees, where bare (or nylon-covered, if it was cold out) legs should have emerged from the dress, there was nothing but black legging fabric instead. These leggings ended above her ankles, and below them, horrible and shapeless black flats wrapped around her feet. She looked an odd mixture of far too young and far too old, what with the tights of a six-year old and the shoes of a seventy-year old. It was terrible, and she wasn't even making a fashion taboo; the sad part is, she was wearing the textbook trendy attire of the season. With a pair of tall boots on instead - even had they been Uggs - instead of the leggings-flats combo, she would have been dressed to kill. Instead, she looked ready to play in a sandbox.
I hate to come of like a fetishist here, but really, why the lack of love for the age-old classy and sexy standard for women's shoes, the high heel? I'm not buying the "uncomfortable" aspect as anything more than a partial excuse. My girlfriend, after buying her first pair of flats, told me that they were excruciatingly painful to wear. I'm also not feeling the "too formal" excuse. Sure, I don't think women should necessarily be wearing heels around the house or dorm, or going to class or the grocery store, or anything like that. But I've been to plenty of more-than-casual events and settings - such as offices, weddings, parties, and award ceremonies - where heel-wearing women are largely the minority. And the greatest shame of all is that instead, by and large, women are wearing the worst shoes imaginable - flip-flops.
The flip-flop is tacky and crude. It's literally nothing more than a foam or plastic sole secured on the foot by means of two straps that wrap around the front of the foot. They should be used as summertime slippers, and nothing more. And don't mistake me for being some sort of sexist; these rules apply to guys and flip-flops too. Going to the beach? Gotta run to the store real fast? Need something to wear on your feet while using a public shower? Fine. These are all valid reasons to wear flip-flops. In almost every other imaginable case, if you leave your house in flip-flops, you're underdressed. I mentioned that these rules apply to men as well as women, but the thing is, you hardly ever see a guy wearing flip-flops to his job, in the winter, or to an award ceremony or wedding. When you do, you judge him for the lazy slob that he is. And you should do the same to women. To do anything less would be to discriminate.
I have seen hundreds of girls wear flip-flops to class while there is still snow on the ground. I have seen scores of women wearing them while walking near or through the woods. A friend of mine even recently told me that he had hiked up an entire mountain with a group of people once, and that one of them was a girl in flip-flops. I see girls in flip-flops all over cities, zoos, and other areas that require heavy amounts of walking. Why is this? They're not even real shoes! There's a reason they can cost as little as $2 a pair. And pardon me for being pretentious, but even moderately-used flip-flops are absolutely disgusting. Ladies, nobody wants to see your blackened footprint forever embedded in your shoe. Given some of the tiny and simple bodily function related things that girls seem to get stressed and embarrassed about from time to time, I'm shocked that so few of them seem to find their blackened, sweaty, dirty footprints revolting in the least. Flip-flops don't even prevent your feet from getting dirty, and all too often I've seen a girl kick of a pair only to have completely brown, dirty soles.
Perhaps the worst part about young women and their obsession with flip-flops is that so few seem to realize how truly sloppy and unclassy it is to wear them. I work a desk job in a building where my fellow males and I are supposed to wear khakis, polos, and brown or black shoes. Some even go with a button-up shirt and a tie. Jeans and sneakers are on the lower end of permissible, but few wear them. Can you imagine how foolish I would look if I showed up to work one day in flip-flops? Yet all around me, female co-workers adorn these "shoes" with their otherwise appropriate skirts and shawls. It's absurd. It's just the height of non-professionalism. Now, I'm not saying they should suffer in discomfort and wear high heels or boots. But at the very least, would it really inconvenience them that much to put on, well, anything else at all? There are plenty of shoes that still slip on and off without looking and sounding so sloppy and tacky. Dare I say it - even grandma flats and Mary Janes are fine.
I've talked about women's footwear in the last several paragraphs more than any man should in an entire year, and yet, I'm still not done venting and ranting - we haven't even touched on gladiator sandals yet. Fortunately, there are plenty of other shoe stores in the mall, and I can easily come back to this tirade someday. For now, though, I think it's time to wrap up the Aldo entry as such: the only interesting thing about Aldo, aside from walking in and out of it several times for a lack of anything better to do, was the shoe selection on display. It was almost like a museum of sorts in that it and other stores are the only places you see high heels anymore. I suppose the easiest way for Aldo to make a sale for every seven customers would be to start selling cheap and crappy flip-flops. But they don't. And for that, I respect them. Just not enough not to fuck up their customer count every now and again.