Ode to the Birkenstock, a Shoe I Swore I’d Never Wear

Once upon a time when I was young and foolish, I wore high heels to the San Diego Zoo. This is an example of a poor choice.

I’ve made many poor choices over the years including hiking in Converse sneakers without wearing socks and walking for miles in cheap flip flops. I’ve also had to buy new shoes during vacations because my feet hurt. Once in New York City, my feet hurt so bad that I stopped in a very expensive store willing to pay any price for shoes that would comfort and cradle my screaming feet and back.

I used to walk to school in the dead of winter wearing not faux fur lined boots or something sensible but flimsy ballet flats which bit at the backs of my heels like a piranha. I’ve fallen prey to buying pretty shoes with absolutely no arch support or stuffing my foot into a shoe a shade too small because they were a great deal. Who cares about blisters!

Years passed, I got older and slightly wiser. I couldn’t wear a flat shoe with no support. No more heels to the zoo. No more miles in my two dollar Old Navy flip flops. No more strolls through New York City in cheap loafers.

After two pregnancies, something happened and my lower back and hips grew easily disturbed. During my second pregnancy, I had to buy orthopedic shoes and wore support pantyhose. Ever since, if I’m going to be walking or standing for a long time I must have good reinforcement for this body because my own bones aren’t up to the task.

This brings me to the Birkenstock.

God awful and ugly in every way, I never in million years imagined I’d own a pair, much less grow to love them. Have you seen them? They are hideous.

Several years ago I met up with a friend and her husband. I hadn’t seen them in years. She wore an LL Bean fleece top with a floaty scarf and carried a monogrammed PBS tote bag. My eyes traveled to the shoes she and her husband wore: matching Birkenstocks.

The clog ones.

With socks.

I masked my distaste and ignored the shoes. Birkenstocks reminded me of something a German tourist or a professor at a liberal arts college might wear.

A little later, the same friend and I traveled to San Francisco where I wore super cute shoes but suffered from sore feet, achy hips, and blisters while she was perfectly comfortable and happy wearing her unwieldy Birkenstocks. I thought they looked like Jesus sandals but my smirk melted when I was the one pain.

My lower back and hips needed something besides Icy Hot. I finally admitted that I needed good shoes, decent, well-made shoes. When my very butch, motorcycle riding male neighbor began wearing Birkenstocks after suffering from intense back pain, I threw up my hands and figured I’d try them. I happened upon a pair at Famous Footwear on clearance for $45.

Who would pay more than that for these things? But forty-five dollars I was willing to dole out. I wore them around the house like slippers. They were indeed very comfortable. Hmmm. I was beginning to understand the appeal.

When I traveled to New York City, I brought them along and wore them while I strolled around Manhattan. They seemed to offer more support than my favorite pair of sneakers.

How could this be?

How could such an awful looking shoe be so… amazing?

There are all kinds of technology involved in these things but the breakdown is that they have support in key areas. First created in the 1700s by a German cobbler, these bad boys are made from cork, leather and /or suede.

“Birks” have contoured insoles and curved foot beds; body weight is distributed throughout the whole foot.

They work like magic.

My back and hips are rarely sore when I wear them. And though they are the ugliest things I’ve put on my feet, their comfort more than makes up for their aesthetic.

This past summer I was looking for a new pair of shoes with good arch support for traveling when I typically walk a lot. I wanted to find something new rather than another pair of Birkenstocks, but though I searched high and low, I was pulled back to the Birk. The support and comfort cannot be beat.

There’s a reason why older people (you know, those over thirty) wear unattractive shoes, it’s because they’re comfortable. As you get older, you care more about not being in pain than looking cute. That being said, while I do love the Birkenstock and have multiple pairs of them, you probably won’t ever find me wearing a Croc. Or a Dansko clog.

I mean, have you seen those things? They’re hideous! Famous last words. No doubt I’ll be sliding into a pair next year.