Let’s go back to around 1990, when I was in the midst grade school. Michael Jordan and the Bulls were rocking. Girls were wearing stirrup pants. Jean jackets were in. Hair metal was petering out but Grunge hadn’t hit yet. I was living in Milford, Ohio, which was a suburb where upper-middle-class urban professionals and lower-class workers mingled.
It was a ripe area for what sociologists call “signaling” behaviors. Remember, the yuppie parents were baby boomers. There were a lot of kids I met growing up who’s parents were overcompensating for their fairly humble upbringing.
And then there’s me. Because of interesting genetics, I developed and grew much faster than everybody else. I was at the top of the growth chart. When all of the girls hit their growth spurt before the boys, they still weren’t taller than everybody else. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I was fairly big by the time I was done growing. And by the time I was in the 5th grade, I was outside of the normal range of shoe sizes. This is not because my feet were incredibly long. It’s because they were wide.
We were all at the age where people started to want to define their own identity, to dress themselves. And some people realized that if they asked their parents for the latest Air Jordans, they’d get them, whereas other kids couldn’t.
Now, my parents weren’t broke, it’s just that there was exactly one store, a long drive away, that made a habit of stocking shoes that would fit me. And Nike just didn’t make shoes that would fit me. So, instead, I’d end up with weird brands that nobody’s heard of like LA Gear or ASICS or New Balance.
Oh, and I couldn’t wear Reeboks either, so no Pump for me.
I had a few conversations with some of the kids when they’d get curious where I’d explain that no, just because THEY could go to any shoe store and get THEIR size, I could not. Even if they had the numerical size, it was never wide enough to fit my funky-shaped feet. It didn’t help the larger problem, which is basically that I didn’t always relate with the kids that well. I couldn’t be the quiet kid in the corner, but I didn’t always respond like everybody else. The shoes were just something easy to latch onto. They also made fun of my socks.
Time passed. Eventually DSW opened up and, even though the service is crap, they were closer and cheaper. Over time, I’ve watched as New Balance and DSW went from bit players to the big forces in shoes they are now. And eventually people stopped being so stupid about my shoes.
This brings us to the modern age. I’m betting at least some of the kids who made fun of me for wearing weird shoes probably own a pair of New Balance shoes.
Also, Nike is still unable to make me shoes. When Mrs. Wirehead was training for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, she dragged me along for one of the training sessions and there was a booth Nike had set up to let people try their latest and greatest running and walking shoes. So I went there and tried to keep a straight face while one of their people tried to fit me into a pair of shoes and totally failed at the task before them because they didn’t have a single pair that would work. If I remember correctly, even their wide shoes weren’t wide enough. The thing is, even though I know it’s nothing I did, I still harbor a little bit of resentment towards Nike.
It used to be that to get any sort of shoe, just for the privilege of having my weird shaped feet fit, there was a sizable markup. This markup has gone away. And I’ve never worn especially high-end shoes. The only observation I’ve had is the mildly-higher-end shoes with more ventilation picked up more curse burrs while walking through the California wilderness.
Because of all of this, I’ve generally stuck to an algorithm. Start with the cheapest pair of 12 wide shoes in the store and move up in brands until I find one that fits. Wear the shoes until they get holes in them. Generally this means that every five years or so, I’ll switch between ASICS and New Balance. Last two pairs have been NB, the two pairs before that were ASICS.