There's supposed to be a cool image here
Photo by Travis Essinger on Unsplash

In 1991 Nike put out an advert starring Spike Lee and Michael Jordan. In the ad, Spike Lee is trying to find out what made Jordan the best basketball player in the universe. Spike, starring as Mars Blackmon (a character who was Jordan’s sidekick in the adverts) is convinced that it’s the shoes that make him great. He repeatedly asks Jordan, “Is it the shoes?”, and Jordan has to keep telling him no, it’s not the shoes. Now we know that it wasn’t just the shoes that made Jordan great. In everyday life though, when you wear a pair of Jordans in a fire colourway, and you feel good about yourself, isn’t it the shoes? When you wear a pair of white trainers that you can wear anything with? When you feel and look like the coolest person in the room? When, if you’re a girl, you wear stiletto heels that don’t just make you taller but tone your legs and help to show off your wonderful curves? Isn’t it the shoes?

One of the things we looked forward to most as kids is the prospect of getting new shoes. Some of us didn’t have all that many shoes, nor the means to get them, so a new pair of shoes was a big deal. Even getting a new pair of shoes for school (even though that usually only happened once a year when you’d outgrown the pair you had) was something we looked forward to. Some of us are somewhat far removed from those days and much has changed since then, but we look forward to a new pair of shoes just the same. Even very young, we understood the effect a new pair of shoes had on not just the way we looked, but the way we felt and the way people saw us. Some of us didn’t care too much about what clothes we wore until much later in life. The shoes we wore though? Those we cared about.

Is there anything better than unboxing new pair of shoes? (Photo by Maxwell Nelson on Unsplash)

Shoes can do a lot for a person. They can elevate or deflate a look or outfit. They can be an avenue for self-expression. They can give some attitude, some sultriness and sexiness that makes people wish they were you or wish they were with you. Or they could make you more demure and allow you not to draw attention to yourself. They can make a person look like a boss even if they’re only aspiring to be a boss. They help a person embody a character. They can polarise and they can unify. Even if you were naked, shoes can change your look and the way people see you. The shoes we wear matter, and they begin to matter early on in life.

In Kenya most school-going children wear uniforms to school so there isn’t much to care about as far as what they wear. Even the type of shoes they can wear is restricted (those gorgeous Bata Toughees). But the kids get to choose their shoes and they form part of their identity for the period they wear them. Back in the day (it’s not actually that long ago, but dramatic effect was necessary) Bata Toughees came in different designs, and each design gave you a certain look. Toughees with a thick sole made you look like a miner. Yes, like the person who works in a mine. The ones with the thinner sole and squarer design made you look like a schoolboy. Even if that’s what you were, it wasn’t a good look. So uncool. At least the ones with the in-between sole and the funky design on the midsole made you look a little sporty, a little adventurous.

Lots of people can identify with that, with discovering their love for shoes early on in life. There were the little girls who pretended to be all grown up and walked around in their mothers’ heels. There were the boys who couldn’t wait to show off their new football boots, the same ones Cristiano Ronaldo wore. There were the kids who didn’t have enough money for shoes, who sometimes went barefoot and whose biggest wish was to work hard to get enough money to buy a new pair of shoes.

There were also the shoes that told the stories of our lives. The Bata Toughees we wore to school, for example. Or the pair of shoes we wore to job interviews that saw and heard all the rejections, then carried us to more of them. The new heels we’d worn to turn heads but that ended up in our hands and not on our feet when it turned out that they turn into torture devices after standing in them for a while. The first pair of Jordans we ever got. Or the red-soled Christian Louboutins we wore to our wedding (if you haven’t had a wedding or Louboutins yet, keep praying).

There's supposed to be a cool image here
What does your shoes story look like? (Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash)

So shoes are a big part of our lives. In the past decade, shoes have become an even bigger part of our lives. The variety and availability of them, especially in places you couldn’t get them before like here in Kenya, is insane. There’s something for everyone, and they’ve become a big part of pop culture and even just culture in general thanks to the influence of the fashion world on culture. Shoes are as big as they’ve ever been, and it doesn’t look like they want to get smaller. 

As the shoe world gets bigger, let your appreciation for it grow as well. Pay a little more attention to your footwear. Not just what pair of shoes you choose to buy, but how you wear them, what you wear them with, where you wear them to, and how you take care of them. Shoes could change up your look in a subtle but monumental way that no other item of clothing can. You could wear the exact same clothes two days in a row with different shoes and have two different outfits. Also, do what works for you. Don’t feel compelled to wear Vans if they just aren’t you, or if you don’t like them (in which case you are misguided, but it’s okay). Borrow from the style gods of this world, but add your own flavour to it. Drip is eternal, but it’s also personal. Let’s not just remember you for your great shoes, but for being you AND having great shoes. 

So…is it the shoes?