I remember my first day of kindergarten when my Japanese stepmother brought me to school. The gym teacher, Miss Baker, told her that I was wearing the wrong shoes. They were slip-ons with Japanese cartoon characters on them. “She needs to wear sneakers with shoelaces,” she gently pointed to my small sockless feet. My mother, bent over to look at my feet to politely observe what Miss Baker was pointing to, nodded her head and made a mental note of it, making sure to tell my father, who held the purse strings.
After we got approval from my father, we went to Kmart where we went to the sneaker bin in which my mother had me try on several different sizes. They were made of stiff fake leather, but they at least had laces on them. They were bright white with a big red logo on the side which read Pro with a tiny man in a running stance underneath it. We went to the cashier and plopped them down on the counter to pay for them.
The next day, as I wore my brand new sneakers, I looked around at my classmates’ feet and was immediately embarrassed. They had fancier shoes like Nikes and Adidas and Converse. I went back home and begged my mom for some Nikes, but she said no. I knew that I would never be like everybody else at school, never wearing the right labels like Levi’s or Lacoste or Polo. For me, it was always Kmart or Sears. Oh, how my parents loved Sears!
It wasn’t until high school when I was given a $200 clothing allowance for the new school year in which I could spend on anything I wanted that I finally got my first pair of Nikes. We went to an actual athletic shoe store where a salesperson measured my shoe size with one of those shoe measuring devices and brought out a pair and laced them up right in front of me to try on. They were white in nylon with a soft pink suede swoosh logo. I was so happy. We took them to the counter in the Nike logoed box where the sneakers were wrapped and stuffed in tissue. We weren’t in Kmart anymore.
That was, ahem, a few decades ago, and by the time I went to college, Doc Martens and leather oxfords were the way to go. It was also around the time when Nike was getting bad press for using child labor to make their shoes in their overseas factories, so being the socially conscious college student that I was, I joined the boycott of Nike and made it a point to not buy their sneakers. Fast forward a couple more decades, and sneakers, or, athletic shoes as they are now called, are back in and Nike is all the rage again. I bought a pair yesterday, a black pair that I can run in, but also wear as street shoes, and as I put them on today, I couldn’t help but admire how good they looked with my skinny jeans.
I have never been a trendsetter, and I got to this trend of an old classic a little late as usual, but at least it was a nice trip down memory lane.