Of course I want to look chic; I’m in Europe this month. But I do come down a few notches from Jimmy Choo in favor of comfort. Europeans and East Asians can wear their spiked heels on cobblestones, but not this traveler. And knock me down a few more pegs for subtlety. Americans are identified by their shoes—so I’d rather be inconspicuous than alerting pickpockets.
Here’s the conundrum: how do you find one pair of shoes that ticks all three boxes? I don’t know, so I’m conducting an unscientific survey this week to find sensible footwear.
Prague is a good place to assess travelin’ shoes because the city is overrun with tourists. On day one I looked out my window as the warm sun shone down on sundresses and sandals, so I did my inaugural neighborhood tour in cute, strappy sandals. Chic, yes, but comfortable, no. The soles were so thin my feet felt bruised.
I took a break at a sidewalk café in the Old Town Square, the perfect place for foot-watching. Young female tourists - most of whom got the memo - sported colorful, low-profile Converse All-Stars. Chic and comfortable. Others got by (I hope) without arch support in college flip flops, wafer-thin sandals, or ballerinas.
As I sat, I noticed that women grow practical by their 30s and 40. The locals, as well as my traveling friends, prefer wedges. If you don’t worry about turning an ankle, that’s the way to be chic and cushioned on the uneven pavement—day and night (tick, tick, and tick).
Other women in this age group wore fashionable Sketchers or the new streamlined Birkenstocks. I used to love Birkenstocks - so high on comfort, chic became irrelevant. But one day a DEA guy told me that on a drug bust, agents know they are raiding the right house if the suspects are wearing Birkenstocks. So immediately I said, bye-bye, Birkenstocks—was I too hasty?
Women over 50, from all countries, cling to the big, clunky sneakers—and what’s up with white? Despite their comfort, this is a footwear faux pas. I’ve heard Europeans snicker, "Look what Americans did to fashion." Yet when older women stuff their feet into Bata style sandals, it hurts me to look at them, and I wish they had the courage to go Nike.
I meet the sneaker need for the long hauls with a more subtle Merrell hiking shoe. As I trekked to the Charles Bridge the other day, I saw lots of Merrells - none on locals and many on men. I had hoped these would be the in shoe - they’re expensive enough - but The Survey Says: women prefer wedges.
In the spirit of good sense over ego, I’ll stick with my Merrells—if my feet are happy, I’m happy.
I just won’t look down.