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Flip-Flopping On Footwear

Postcard from New York City, New York

By Ramya Parthasarathy

I grew up in a “barefoot” house: At the front door, a shoe rack accompanied the welcome mat where family and guests alike kicked off footwear before entering. Even inside, we rarely wore house slippers; socks wore donned only out of necessity, perhaps in winter when the cold marble of the foyer was especially chilling. To wear shoes in the house was a breach of etiquette, for it crudely dragged in the dirt of the outside world. Nowhere was this more emphasized than in our prayer room: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” Before entering, we had to wash our hands and feet of our footwear’s contagious impurities.

Now three thousand miles away from my California home, I feel particularly distanced from my suburban life when I consider my newly formed footwear habits. Moving into my freshman dorm forced me into fuzzy slippers to combat the Boston winter and into shower flip-flops for the communal bathrooms of Stoughton South. These Cantabridgian customs were not so disturbing: I maintained the indoor-outdoor divide, rarely violating my ingrained sense of hygiene.

But this New York summer has pushed those boundaries into murky waters: I begin each morning stuffing my black (sometimes chocolate brown, occasionally deep red) pointy-toed pumps into my shoulder bag, scurrying over sidewalks and across subway platforms in my well-worn Reefs. The contrast of casual Reefs against the most formal of business attire hardly raises an eyebrow from my subway companions; Fellow female commuters employ similar tactics, some donning socks and sneakers over their pantyhose, others opting for the ballet flat with their flared pant suit. And they do so not just for reasons of orthopedic health, but out of protective affection for their Jimmy Choos—wary of the wear-and-tear of the subway cement, or fearful of a tarnished toe from a rude rider.

I manage a quick wardrobe change for my exhausted paws on the elevator ride to work, frantically stuffing the flip-flops into my shoulder bag. My feet remain thankful for the merciful treatment, but my sense of cleanliness remains profoundly violated; the mere knowledge of soiled soles, sticky from the humidity and summer rains, inching near the contents of my purse unsettles my inner South Indian hygienist.

Beyond these cultural concerns, the high-heeled habits of New York women baffle my Californian comfort-oriented sensibilities. Even in the face of metal grates and cracked sidewalks, the often dress-coded nightlife prompts Manhattanites to slip on sexy stilettos, whose elegant curves reveal well-manicured toes. But unlike the daytime pumps, this evening footwear lasts the duration of the night—from dinner to bar to club—without the respite of commute-time costume changes.

Eight weeks into summer, I must confess that this New York lifestyle is not for the faint of foot, but only for the brave of sole. Each day, my feet yearn for the flat-footed freedom of my west-coast home. But in the meantime, I’m thankful that New York’s shoe obsession is accompanied by nail salons galore: Five pedicurists speckle the six block walk from my subway station to my home—all stocked with massage chairs and bubble baths for the my poor and weary paws.

Ramya Parthasarathy '09, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. She spent $40,000 on shoes and now has no place to live. She will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes. No, wait—that was a different Manhattanite.

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