Thank Us Later: Birkenstocks Are The Truth

I had a pair of Birkenstocks when I was younger, purchased at a sensible footwear store when I was visiting New York City on my way back to California. They were the Gizeh model, the style favored by the Olsen Twins and Pilates aficionados, but in a flashy silver. They seemed both fun and sensible, two qualities I aspire for in life, and perfect for a day of walking around NYC, a city that I did not yet live in. Something about them was hideously stylish. I wore them out of the store because it was 88 degrees and humid, and I had been living out West for long enough to forget what it felt like when the air is so thick you feel like you should move very, very slowly. Within three blocks, I had blisters. They made it back to San Francisco with me, and I let them linger in my closet, because the fog that rolls in past Sutro Tower at night is so cold as to require real shoes, no matter what the daytime temperature might be.

Birkenstocks are now cool. Like, decidedly cool, not just art student who paints hyper-realistic portraits of soda cans cool. Sure, the Olsens have worn them for a while, but so did a wide variety of other people. They have transcended from fringe fashion to mainstream, part of the Williamsburg basic bitch uniform of tattered denim, a boxy crop top and a stroller or tattoo. But last summer, I had a revelation and got on board — too late to be fashionable or cutting edge, really, but a revelation just the same. Birkenstocks are the fucking truth.

There’s no way around it. They’re hideous. What they do to the line of the leg is immoral, like a full stop at the end of a sentence. They are not attractive. But they are the most comfortable shoe I have ever put on my feet. When a foot slides into the wide, soft embrace of a cork sole and an adjustable leather strap, it splays. It’s finally allowed to be the foot it wants to be. It takes a breather, throws its out-of-office on for the whole summer and kicks back on a beach with no wi-fi and a stack of hardcover books, packing its bags only when it’s time to come back to reality.

Comfort is underrated. We eschew it in our everyday rituals, wrangling our feet, our bodies, our hair into submission, resisting their natural boundaries in favor of something aligned with an ideal that is, more often than not, unrealistic and uncomfortable. The body does not want to be forcefully constrained. Embracing comfort is not about laziness, either. Giving up on wearing things that make you feel bad — like, literally in pain — doesn’t mean you’ve given up on life, resigned to the shadowy hinterlands of women who Just Don’t Care, clad in leggings and soft tunics, talking about bunion removal best practices and kitty litter. It means that you’ve made the choice to be comfortable in the face of a world where comfort is not prioritized. You’re choosing yourself and your own happiness, dammit.

I have two pairs of Birkenstocks right now. The Madrids are a simple slip on, in bright white patent leather. My other pair, the black, strappy Rio, look like larger versions of what you’d put on your tow-headed child before sending him off to daycare. I am very close to buying another pair of Birks, something simple, timeless. I am one sack dress away from being the proprietor of a Yaddo-esque writing workshop in the woods, sans bra, deodorant-free. I don’t care. I’m comfortable.

Image via Flickr/Andrea Joseph