In Which I Try Out Those Creepy ‘Five Fingers’ Shoes

Undeterred, I decided to try on some of the Milly for Sperry shoes for contrast. I asked a woman working at the party how I might do so, making sure to gesture down towards my feet. “Did you just come from a run?” she asked. “No, I just think they’re really comfortable,” I replied with a straight face, and part of me died inside. “These have a platform, so they’re really comfortable, too,” she said, pointing at her Sperrys. “We have them in navy, if you like that.” “Sure!” I said.

A saleswoman came over to ask me what size I was. “Nine,” I said, pointing down at my feet once again. Upon glancing at them, her eyes opened wide, but she didn’t say anything. A consummate professional.

I tried on the shoes she brought me and studied them in the mirror, carefully weighing these new “real shoes” against my barefoot Earth shoes.

“What do you think? Would you like to try on the other one?” she asked. I replied that they were too narrow for my wide feet (true) and I’d rather stick with something more comfortable.

I occasionally caught people looking at my shoes, but everyone was too polite to say anything. One fashionista in particular was giving me serious side eye:

Before I left, a friendly woman came up to me and said that she loved my shoes. “Do you like them?” she asked. I said yes. “I totally need some, I’m always running after my daughter.” I wanted badly to counsel her against them, but did not.

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    • Mike Noble

      For the toe averse, New Balance makes a line of shoes that use Vibram’s sole material. They still look like overly hideous athletic shoes though.

      I don’t know if any women’s shoe makers will do this, but for guys Allen Edmonds will let you custom order a shoe with Vibram flexible sole material instead of leather or rubber.

      The barefoot shoes may look awful, but they’re so much kinder to your posture!

    • Meghan Keane

      Counterintuitively, this post turned into a pretty convincing ad for Sperry Topsider. I did not think I would like a Topsider platform shoe. But they look so nice next to those atrocities!

    • porkchop

      I love your “serious side-eye” picture.

      Also, platform heel sperry makes no sense.

    • Kj

      My Vibram shoes are awesome for working out!

      …but I would never wear them in a non-athletic setting. Or on city streets. Dear God.

      Also, is “your friend Jessica” Jessica Valenti (Of feministing?) or are my eyes just playing tricks on me.

    • Carrie

      If you go to any 5-k or marathon, you will see that tons, (I want to say almost half) of the people there are wearing those shoes. They are extremely good for your feet if you are an athlete or in training. It’s not so much a fashion statement–no matter who tries to make it that way.

    • Jamie K

      aw, i used to live up the street & around the corner from daddy’s (on withers). say hello for me. man, i miss new york.

    • Smee

      It’s counsel, not “council.” And only the posh British counsel people against things. We Americans just don’t recommend things.

      Your feet hurt because they are messed up from being in “normal” shoes. The pain is your feet readjusting.

      I’ve been barefoot or in shoes with thin flexible soles for nearly two years now and all the back problems that I attributed to my large tatas have disappeared.

      I wonder how many women have needlessly had breast reduction surgery when the culprit was actually their shoes? A story on *that* issue would be true journalism.

      • Kyle Duske

        If you are going to get on some one for their word usage you may want to review your own use of structure. I don’t know why people seem to think they can write in point form on the internet and call it prose. If you intend to make a list introduce it as such.

        You may also want to reconsider slagging the posh British and how they use the English language. Review some of the literature on American Literacy rates and the ever declining vocabulary of the average American. I will admit Americans have restructured English in ways that are highly logical however it is a little sad that if you want readership in America most people will advise you to write as if your audience has little more than an eighth grade education.

        Any ways that is enough slagging the spelling Nazi for today. On a side note I am happy to hear your five fingers have helped with your back problems. I would love to see some good research on the potential benefits of minimal foot wear for woman with large breasts. It could save a lot of people from unnecessary breast reduction surgery. Do you keep a blog or have you found a forum to share your experiences publicly?

    • PROz@k

      well i have aproblem i have webbed toes……… i guess i missed out.

    • Ella

      I read an article about these at The Huffington Post and left a comment like “wow, these are pretty ugly” and the backlash I endured for hours and days afterwards was astounding. “They’re healthy! They’re comfortable! They connect you with Mother Earth! How DARE you criticise my footwear of choice. Not all us care to wear 6 inch stiletto platforms. Don’t you care about your body? I bet you eat veal and don’t give a damn about deforestation. Stop imposing your unattainable beauty standards on us you fascist beeyotch”.

      I still think they’re ugly.

    • Eileen

      They’re definitely ugly, but I’ve thought about wearing them for running (after all, I don’t wear sneakers for fashion, either). The only thing is that I like to run outside, not just on a treadmill, and somehow I don’t trust them to protect my feet from the uncomfortable feeling of running on poorly paved sidewalk or cobblestones. Your article does not allay my fears.

    • Tamara

      At first I was somewhat skeptical about this barefoot running shoes fad. My whole family have started wearing this ugly shoes for a quite a while now and they’ve been claiming that this shoes have some health benefits to our body. Until one day my brother bought me a pair of Vibram Five Fingers for my birthday and to my amazement, it really feels great. I’m a total convert to wearing barefoot running shoes. Well, I was a bit conscious for the first week of using my new pair of VFF, but eventually I get used to it. Love it! You should try it yourself.

    • William Worford

      Ok, most of the responses that you got from wearing these shoes sums up my whole experience with them and the public. I have had a woman look at me as if she wanted to kick my A**. She looked at me as if I was going to hell with gasoline drawls on and a tabasco sauce lollypop in my mouth for good measure. I don’t wear mine near as regularly because I am a librarian. They draw too much attention. Anyway, I like VFFs a lot. My posture improves when I wear them. Also, I like weird shoes. People use to say Birkenstock clogs were ugly. However, when they made a comeback during the early 90’s, a large post hippie pop culture sprung up. As such, I liked your article and tell your boyfriend he should allow you to where them in bed for traction. lol

    • chris

      It’s funny. I find the shoes 10 times more attractive than that hidious tattoo you have on your arm. You have no room to critisize anyone on their footwear choices. You can take off ugly shoes, but you’re stuck with that disgusting blob of in for the rest of your life.

    • Kyle Duske

      Cute article but rather useless when it comes to really considering if you should invest in five fingers or not. I my self have currently invested in a pair and I doubt I will ever regret it. But there are a few rules.

      1. Never wear them with jeans.

      2. These are athletic shoes wear them to do athletic things (Just as people who don’t do yoga shouldn’t wear yoga pants.)

      3. Don’t wear them to social events that don’t involve hiking and rock climbing.

      Before I bought the shoes my partner was relatively disgusted with the idea. Despite her disgust she had to bear through me talking about them for over a month before I finally purchased them. Just before I did buy a pair we went down to a local distributor for sizing and a strange thing happened.

      She stared at the shoes for a moment until I asked do you want to try them on. She looked at me, almost ashamed, and said maybe. Once she navigated the socks the store keeps on hand for trials she instantly changed her mind and next thing I knew I was buying two pares of shoes not only one.

      So what it comes down to is five figures are tech shoes and should be worn as such. If you want to be scoffed at feel free to wear them to your next big dinner party but I would advise against it. If you are really begging for the bear foot feel there are an area of other minimalist shoes which are much less obtrusive.

      Check out birthday shoes for a rather extensive list of your minimalist options:

      PS: The vibrams with the laces are by far the ugliest pair.

    • RagingCalm

      I’ve been wearing five-toed shoes for almost three years now and didn’t hear my first negative suggestions about them until only a couple weeks ago when I went on a date and she told me they were “fashion disasters”. I found that odd to be seriously distressed over what I was wearing on my feet. Especially since I’ve gone on dates with them before with no negative results.

      The responses I’ve received from dozens of people in Pennsylvania (Pennsyltucky region) have been overwhelmingly positive and curious. I wear them with jeans or khakis to the grocery store, the gym, running, riding my bike, to church, the mall, social dances, or just walking about the city at a festival. I usually get stopped and asked by people if the shoes are comfortable, what it’s like to wear them, can you wear socks with them (this is when I usually whip off my shoes and show them the five-toed socks), and various other questions. The only time I don’t wear them is to work (at a fabrication shop that slings around a lot of steel), in deep water or snow, or to an event where a suit is required.

      I originally got into five-toed shoes because I was having foot issues. Tendons in the underside of my feet felt like they were on fire if I jumped rope and I would have to stop after five minutes because of the pain. My family also has a history of foot problems and a friend of mine told me about the shoes and how they strengthen your feet. So I figured that by spending money on these shoes, I hoped to avoid thousands of dollars worth of foot surgery later in my life.

      Based on what I’ve read and heard, the problem with “normal shoes” is that they don’t allow the foot utilize various muscles and tendons. If you do this long enough, eventually the negative side of Wolff’s law kicks in which means “if you don’t use it, you lose it” when referring to muscles, tendons, or bones. I wanted the positive side of Wolff’s law to kick in, meaning if use the muscles, tendons, and bones more than I do, they’ll grow stronger.

      So I picked up a pair at a local mall and for that first day, I simply walked around the mall a bit checking out various shops. I didn’t go for a run or go to the gym that day, but at night, I felt the strangest sensation. While lying in my bed, the tendons in my feet that would feel like they were ablaze when I jumped rope, were undergoing involuntary spasms. It didn’t hurt but it was weird to feel them contracting and retracting so quickly. Each day afterwards, I would wear the shoes a bit more and have to sit down because my feet got too sore. But I noticed after a couple weeks, I could leave the shoes on without pain.

      That’s when the real test began and I started going to the gym wearing the shoes for weightlifting, yoga, boxing, or whatnot. The real test though was jumping rope and I noticed that the length of time that my feet could endure increased dramatically. After a few weeks, jump roping actually became an effective means of cardio, meaning that I now stopped because I was tired and not because my feet were killing me.

      So given the dramatic, positive change that my feet underwent, I have a very positive view regarding them. More of a fashion and practical boost than a “fashion disaster”. I only wish the ones I got were waterproof.

    • AssHat900

      It’s my body. Stop being so intolerant.