I know it’s not politically correct, but I believe in a firm double standard for men and women. True, it has taken a long time for the sexes to gain equal footing, and there are still many cases where both men and women would benefit from a walk in the other’s shoes. However, there remains one arena of life where men and women should celebrate a vital and notable distinction.
The footwear appropriate for women is, in most cases, not appropriate for men. The human form boasts many lovely parts, but it cannot be argued that this aesthetic extends to the male human’s foot. It must be noted that the female foot, as far as feet go, is vastly more attractive than that of the male: smaller, smoother, often cunningly pedicured, and sometimes sporting tiny rings or endearing, evocative little tattoos (matching ones for best friends). These are all reasons that sandals are appropriate, even attractive, on women. This, sadly, is not the case for the male of the species.
As an employee of an outdoor historic site which attracts thousands of vacationing dads each summer, I must take a stand. However, this doesn’t mean that I am unreasonable. I recognize that men’s sandals (or “smandals”), just like other forms of vice, come in various degrees of badness.
I am well prepared to tolerate, for example, knee-length athletic shorts paired with slides or sturdy flip-flops. Even a pair of khaki cargo shorts with a t-shirt and leather-soled flip flops can be acceptable in some circumstances. I must object, however, to full-length jeans (or, even worse, dress pants) paired with a button-down linen shirt and (no, please no!) sandals, even if the flip flops look like they cost $40 at Abercrombie and Fitch. The last thing I want is to see the hem of the man’s pants resting on his hairy toes, like a cowl that sits above a wizened monk’s face. Gentlemen: if you have chosen to wear long pants to a summertime function, you have already selected style over comfort. Put on a pair of shoes.
Last week I saw a very old man with a cane, long sky-blue trousers, a plaid button-down shirt, and Teva sandals. His toes were like the specially adapted fingers of the rare Madagascar Aye-Aye lemur, which uses its fingers to scrape grubs out of deep, narrow holes in trees. The man’s toes were the color of the grubs. With each step, the toes rose laboriously into a united skyward salute, then sank exhausted to press the sandal’s sole. In that moment, all I wanted in the world was for someone to get that old man some shoes.
A thing I call the hiking sandal falls more moderately among the offending varieties of male footwear. In reality, since little of the man’s actual foot is visible between the hearty straps, thick rubber soles and various toggles, I can’t claim the usual issue with this shoe. However, I do have to question a shoe so clearly unsure of its function. Is it a sandal? Is it a boot? Since when do men make this kind of compromise?
Far worse than the hiking sandal, and yet still worse than the pants and flip flops, is the utterly misguided compromise of sandals plus socks. It is almost too much to believe that a man would demean himself by wearing unattractive sandals, and then completely defeat the purpose of said sandals in one fell swoop.
Last week I also saw a leathery, 50-ish gentleman, well-tanned from the golf course and well-rounded from the ensuing beers. In what was perhaps the worst smandal offense of the month, his legs had a comfortable deep russet tan exactly to mid-calf, but his sandals were strapped on large, moist feet as white as snow. But perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to judge this man. As his tan-line clearly showed, he usually chooses shoes and socks over sandals.
I know what you may be wondering. Is there a middle ground? Or must vacationing men lace up those sneakers and hike up their socks? What about the gentleman I saw who wore white sneakers with ribbed gray woolen socks pulled up past his calves on 4th of July weekend? Do I advocate his choice over the old man in trousers and Tevas? It’s a tough call. These are the opposite extremes in the spectrum of poorly chosen male footwear. (Sock-tan smandal man is clearly a rare student of both all-or-nothing schools of footwear: high socks and shoes as well as sandals.) The answer, of course, lies in the middle. Trim, sporty sneakers – a breathable mesh top is fine – with low white socks to the ankle. Or sockless casual loafers, nautical-style.
But it’s discriminatory, you say! All those ladies flip-flop around, feet breezy and free beneath jeans or miniskirts, while the men suffer in shoes. But as long as I shiver into winter functions in a skirt, stockings and heels, the men can take the summer heat. Despite the double standard, it all evens out in the end.