Walking Away from Home in my Weejuns by
100
(121 Stories)

Prompted By Shoes

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Wearing Weejuns without socks was part of my college rebellion that also included discarding my girdle, nylons, pencil skirts, and matching sweater sets. Of all of these wardrobe changes, I think this rebellious act was a bigger affront to my mother than short skirts, jeans, or sweat shirts. After all, she had worked very hard to put shoes on my feet that were sturdy and appropriate for a girl growing up in the 50s. Bare legs, especially in winter, were unthinkable.

Weejuns represented my journey in college to becoming my own person.

As a baby, I know she stuffed my little feet into high top white shoes so I could learn to walk properly. My bronzed baby shoes, featured below, are evidence of her reverence for proper foot wear.

Unfortunately for my brothers and me, my parents’ good friend Lou worked at and later owned a children’s shoe store. The choices at his store consisted of sturdy (translation ugly) shoes. If you remember Buster Brown shoes featuring the logo that included his dog Tige (“I’m Buster Brown. I live in a shoe. That’s my dog Tige. He lives in there too.”), you get the picture of what Mom thought constituted good foot wear.

Perhaps you remember the jingle for these shoes, which was very popular in the early days of television:

“I got shoes. You got shoes. Everybody’s gotta have shoes. But the only kind of shoes for me are good old Buster Brown Shoes!”

Really ugly shoes

Because I was a girl, I could get black patent leather Mary Jane (Buster Brown’s friend) shoes for special occasions.

Checking out how well the shoes fit with the flourescope

For extra fun when we bought our sensible shoes, we used the fluoroscope countless times to x-ray our feet inside of the shoe. This supposedly ensured the shoe was a good fit. Because Lou was a family friend, let us x-ray our feet as much as we wanted. In high school, saddle shoes worn with rolled-down ankle socks were also acceptable for me. My brothers could have sneakers for outdoor play, but I don’t remember having any except for the flimsy white Keds I wore for gym and left at school. It was very important to keep my saddle shoes clean and polished. The ones in the image below would never have passed muster in my house.

The only exception to sensible shoes were dress shoes for special occasions. We bought these at Chandler’s Shoes. They were often dyed to match a dress, along with a purse. Of course, these shoes had to be worn with nylons held up by a girdle or garter belt until panty hose made the scene. So, can you blame me for loving those Weejuns in college?

I wore my Weejuns everywhere. If they were the penny loafer style, I never put pennies in them. I favored the scruffy, unpolished look. I also had some with tassels on them like these:

I remember the pain of breaking in a new pair with bare feet. But it was worth the Band-Aids and blisters to have the sock-less look I loved. Weejuns represented my journey in college to becoming my own person, even if that meant cold legs and sore feet. The more my mother disapproved, the stronger my devotion to these shoes. They were a symbol of my emancipation from my parents’ values, and they helped me step forward into the world as an independent young woman.

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You brought back real memories for me with your story, Laurie. I, too, always wore saddle shoes, which my mother polished every night. I hated them.

    But CHANDLER’S! Yes, of course. Someone recently posted a photo on Facebook from a semi-formal my freshman year of high school. I’d never seen the photo before. I wore a dress that I’d purchased to attend the bat mitzvah party of girl from the neighborhood; white lace with a blue satin ribbon waist band. I got shoes dyed to match at Chandler’s. My wedding shoes were also from there. I still have them, in their original box, brought back from Detroit in one of those boxes of childhood treasures, when my mother sold our Huntington Woods house.

    Thank you for sharing your memories and bringing back such vivid ones for me.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    These pictures of Buster Brown’s and the other old shoes were certainly evocative for me, too. Though, not being a Motowner like you and Betsy, Chandler’s means nothing to me. (Ironically, our kids’ shoe store in New Haven was called Sterling & Sussman and many years later, I was general counsel at the big NY law firm of Shearman & Sterling — no relation.)

    But, beyond the nostalgia, what I really appreciated in your story was telling how your choice of shoes — though hardly rebellious to my way of thinking — symbolized your growing emancipation and independence from your parents. Sometimes, shoes can be much more than just shoes, and thank you for illustrating that.

  3. Girdles and garter belts and fluoroscopes, oh my! In retrospect, I have to wonder if those machines did any harm.

    We had Chandler’s on the west coast, too, and Leeds — they were in direct competition, usually on the same block. Like Judy’s and Contempo Casuals, now that I think about it.

    I love how your story reflects your inner journey as well, Laurie!

  4. Suzy says:

    You brought back memories for me too, Laurie. Buster Brown! I bet that’s what my sensible shoes were, that name definitely rings a bell. And of course the shoe store with the fluoroscope, which we discussed in an earlier prompt. And Keds for gym class, but leaving them at school – thank you for reminding me of that detail. I mentioned Weejuns in my story too, but I abandoned loafers after high school. How fascinating that they were so symbolic for you. I applaud your step forward into the world as an independent young woman. Thanks for another great story!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Suzy, I’m older than you so my college shoe of choice was likely yours in high school. For me, I think it was going bare legged that was making a statement. After I graduated and had to earn a living, I retired my Weejuns but have no memory of what I wore in my early teaching days since we were not allowed to where pants! In the all-female work environment of my preschool, we spent lots of time admiring and sometimes buying the cute but comfortable shoes worn by our fellow educators.

  5. Marian says:

    Buster Brown shoes had little round stickers in them, as I remember from those commercials, Laurie. To this day I don’t understand what the adults were thinking about “growing good feet.” This is a great story about how shoes can represent conformity or rebellion. I guess more girls than I remember wore saddle shoes. Yes, it was very liberating to get rid of stockings and especially the required girdles and garter belts they entailed!

  6. Wonderful Laurie!
    I don’t remember fighting with my mother over shoes, but goodness knows we fought over many other things.

    And I remember her coming home from her teaching job, putting an apron over her school clothes and standing in the kitchen starting dinner – still wearing her girdle, stockings and shoes!

    I stripped all that off once I got home – and girdles, forget it. Do they still even make them?!?

  7. Yep!
    And altho some staunch feminists would say your mom shouldn’t have kept the heels on to just to please the man, I see it as his attraction to her.
    And it’s not for us to say or know how others interact with each other!

  8. Fascinating chronology of changing shoe choices and their interaction with changing notions of femininity or what it meant to be a girl/woman. I’m thankful that boys were never held so strictly to fashion standards in footwear or clothing, although those males who wanted to wear garter belts or girdles might disagree with me.
    I too was “lucky” to get to use the flouroscope a lot when I went to visit my uncle’s shoe store in a small town in Ohio. Let’s hope that’s not the reason I got prostate cancer in my 50s. According to this website, “https://interestingengineering.com/the-era-of-the-shoe-fitting-fluoroscope-and-the-radiation-it-caused “The first scientific examination of the fluoroscopes wasn’t done until 1948, and it showed that not only were the machines ineffective at shoe-fitting, they were also dangerous. “

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Dale, I have always wondered about how the fluoroscope impacted my brothers an me. My feet are a mess now. Ironically, all of my mother’s efforts to ensure our feet were healthy may have been erased by that ridiculous machine. One of my brothers has had chronic issues with his kidneys. I will definitely check our your link. Thanks for sharing.

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