The other day, I found a photo of myself from over a decade ago. In it, I’m wearing American Apparel acid wash denim shorts, a black tank top, a bunch of bracelets all over my arms and a pair of Steve Madden motorcycle boots. I bought the shoes a few weeks before I took that picture after finding them at a DSW for $29.99. They had three buckles on the side and a long flap in the front that you could adjust. There was a small heel, just enough to let me continue on a charade of convincing people I’m 5’7” (allegedly I’m 5’5”). I loved those boots so much.
The photo in question was taken on my first trip to Los Angeles when I was 20. My friend and I had driven a Buick from New York to California so she could start a new life there. She was an actress and I was a mess – so I came along for the ride. My friend had made arrangements to sleep on a friend’s couch during her stay, and so, for the few weeks that I was there, I slept on the floor. We sustained ourselves with boxes of clementines and cheap tacos because no one had a job yet. (I actually missed my flight out of LA later on because the only money I had was a baggy full of change my parents had collected and given to me. TSA didn’t like that for some reason).
It was the freest few weeks of my life, and those Steve Madden boots were there with me, glued to my feet, giving me a confidence that I think would have otherwise faltered given the circumstances. I had no money, no prospects, but I felt fucking great in those boots. They made me a different me — someone who was assertive enough to wear chunky combat boots no matter the circumstances. I wore them so much that the back part of the heel began to wear down, and eventually the shoe was uneven. The more I walked in them, the more I could feel my knees ache. The shoes were not made of supportive material to begin — likely plastic “faux leather.” It was like wearing giant Barbie shoes instead of actual boots.
OK FINE. I'll show you the photo.
I couldn’t get rid of them, though. Every time I felt the twinge of misery that comes with getting stuck in the shitty routine capitalism has us in, I would put them on. Despite the fact that they were almost unwearable, they really meant something to me, and I was desperate to maintain the feeling they once gave me. But then one day, there was a snowstorm on my way to work. I stepped out of the car and almost instantly, the lack of traction on the bottom of the shoe made it so that my feet were in the air and I was on my back. That night, the shoes had met their final resting place in the back of my closet.
You’ll never find me defending cheap, fast fashion clothing makers, but I will defend the buyer from time to time. The young girl who spent the last of her paycheck to giddily purchase those Steve Madden boots did so because of what they felt like emotionally to her. In a moment of chaos, those boots gave her control over the image she was putting out. I think most people aren’t maliciously buying into the worst parts of fashion, I think they are searching for something, like I was. It might not feel that heavy, but I think somewhere in the purchase is someone looking to tell a new story about themselves. Though those shoes were made to do exactly what they did – last solidly for about a year and then end up in the back of a closet or in a dumpster – what I got out of them was so much more than a cute outfit.
A few years ago, I got rid of those boots and ever since, I have collected so many other black boots along the way. Some of them have been much more expensive than the ones I bought a decade ago, but none have felt so meaningful to me. That’s the feeling I think we should chase when we buy new things. Don’t look for the momentary high from swiping your card but instead look for the piece that brings you back so it can move you forward.
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