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Shoe Musings: All About Footwear

See My Bones: From the 1920s through the 1950s, thousands of shoe stores in North American and Europe touted their shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, which produced X-rays of customers’ feet. I remember the machines from my childhood. It was fun to see part of your skeleton using the view scope.

It began with Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-Rays in 1895. A push from the military during World War I helped establish the fluoroscope for shoe fitting.

Allison Marsh wrote, "Before long, two companies emerged as the leading producers of shoe-fitting fluoroscopes: the Pedoscope Co. in England and X-Ray Shoe Fitter, Inc. in the United States. The basic design included a large wooden cabinet with an X-ray tube in its base and a slot where customers would place their shoe-clad feet. When the sales clerk flipped the switch to activate the X-ray stream, the customer could view the image on a fluorescent screen, showing the bones of the feet and the outline of the shoes. The devices usually had three eyepieces so that the clerk, customer, and a third curious onlooker (parent, spouse, sibling) could all view the image simultaneously."

By the early 1950s, an estimated 10,000 machines were operating in the United States, 3,000 in the United Kingdom, and 1,000 in Canada.

Concern about the radiation danger from these machines eventually caused the machines to fall from favor. By the 1960s, you'd be hard-pressed to find any X-Ray Shoe Fitters in U.S. shoe stores. (posted 11/23/20, permalink)

Bowing To Comrade Kaepernick: Nike is yanking a sneaker featuring the 'Betsy Ross flag' after Colin Kaepernick said he and others consider the symbol to be offensive.

Josh Hawley wrote, "Nike is a symbol of everything wrong with the corporate economy. They take advantage of our laws but send jobs overseas for sweatshop wages, partner with repressive regimes, aggressively avoid paying any US taxes, and then tell Americans to shut up and buy their stuff."

My plastic display company refused to do work for Nike 33 years before #WalkAwayFromNike became popular. As the company grew, it became full of arrogant, dishonest mini-managers (eg: 'we're Nike; you're nobody') and we decided their business was more trouble than it was worth.

Meanwhile, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is pulling incentives for Nike's new manufacturing plant in the state. He wrote, "Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation's independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism. It is a shameful retreat for the company. American businesses should be proud of our country's history, not abandoning it.

Nike has made its decision, and now we're making ours. I've ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars under their discretion that the State was providing for the company to locate here. Arizona's economy is doing just fine without Nike. We don't need to suck up to companies that consciously denigrate our nation's history."

Good move, Governor. (posted 7/3/19, permalink)

Hybrid Style: Here's my theory - if Birkenstocks remained as comfortable as they're reported to be (I've never worn a pair) but were styled like a conventional shoe, sales would drop by at least 50%.

Chronic Birkenstock wearers aren't just shodding themselves, they're Making A Statement. In the same way, the Toyota Prius is a big seller because its unique styling makes it look like .. ummm ... a Prius. It lets everyone else on the road know that the driver is Eco-conscious. And Better Than You. (posted 4/3/17, permalink)

Milestone: Last week, I discarded my almost 30 year-old pair of Dexter faux-Topsiders. I never found them to be that comfortable so I kept them by our front door. I only wore my Dexes when I walked to the mailbox at the end of our driveway. The one-piece bottom finally wore down to the point where my socks were getting wet during rainy weather, so off they went into the trash can.

I'm now using a pair of ugly black Bass loafers for my mailbox treks. These shoes are old too, but still have some sole (soul?) left in them. (posted 11/1/16, permalink)

Book Review: 'Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike' by Phil Knight

This autobiography is the story of the man, the company he built, the friends he made, of massive business struggles, the many business relationships he encountered and the great adventures - both personal and business.

Phil Knight, Nike founder and board chairman, began with a fifty dollar loan from his dad (after Phil sold his beloved MGA sports car and traveled the world) and an idea to import high-quality running shoes from Japan. Less than 50 years after this inauspicious start, Nike has grown to a $30+ billion dollar colossus.

I found Knight to be a believable and sympathetic character and ... (more >>>)

Don't Step On My Blue Suede Shoes: Well, they're slippers, actually.

These are my brand-new Suede Flannel-Lined Slippers from L.L. Bean. They replace the tan (a color described in the catalog as 'Driftwood') ones which gave yeoman service and years of great comfort until the bottom of the rubber soles finally wore out. Cost? Under $40, including shipping.

Never underrate the value of a good, comfy pair of slippers. (posted 6/3/15, permalink)

The Truth About Shoes: Jack Baruth has enlightened me about the sad state of Florsheim shoes today. "Florsheim used to be one of the great American shoe makers. In an era where most clothing products were made in this country by people earning some sort of semi-living wage, Florsheim occupied the position of shoemaker to the middle class. ... Today's Florsheims are made in India."

This was surprising news to me and indicates just how much the shoe industry has changed in the last 30 or so years. For the record, Florsheim's top-of-the-line Imperials were once-upon-a-time a very upper-management type of ready-made shoe, almost in a class with Johnston & Murphy. Not as expensive or stylish as Cole Haan - but far more comfortable.

This country was once dotted with Florsheim stores. I haven't seen one in years. The last one I knew of around here (at Lloyd Center in Portland) closed over 10 years ago.

The Middle Class Dress Shoe is indeed history, Jack. Nunn Bush, once a stolid, long-wearing example of basic clerical white-collar footwear is now sold at J. C. Penney. Blue-collar Thom McAn is currently being hawked in Kmart and Sears stores, where EBT cards rule. Hanover once proudly made its sturdy and occasionally stylish footwear in Hanover, PA. Now, if you buy a Hanover shoe product, it might have been made in India, China, Spain, Portugal, Brazil or any number of other foreign countries.

Recently I bought two pairs of casual shoes at a specialty shoe store, When The Shoe Fits. Very few of these kind of stores - specializing in well-made footwear and personal service - are remaining these days. There's always service-oriented Nordstrom, where I purchased my classy black Bostonian wingtips and my tassled cordovan Cole Haans during my business career. Unfortunately, Nordstrom closed both its Vancouver WA store and its much larger 150,000-square-foot store in Portland's Lloyd Center in January 2015, describing the two stores as being "among its lowest performers."

I'm not surprised. Nowadays, most people don't even wear ties in business, much less dressy shoes. Sigh. Times have changed.

Nevertheless, good shoes that fit well are one of the under-appreciated joys of modern life.

I still have my old corporate dress shoes. I wear them to dress-up events like weddings and funerals and they probably get less than a quarter-mile per year of wear. At that rate, they'll last me the rest of my life. (posted 9/10/14, permalink)

Shoe Melt: Talk about sticky situations - I recently discovered that the soles of my expensive Ecco shoes, purchased for our 2001 trip to France and Great Britain are melting. They have stained the cedar shoe rack in our closet. The soles are wet and sticky to the touch, even after being given a chance to dry out outdoors in the fresh air. The Eccos are now in the trash.

Our walk-in closet is temperature controlled and the temperature never rises above 73 degrees. I have other shoes, some over 30 years old, which are holding up just fine. My wife's Eccos, purchased for the same trip, fell apart years ago.

I'll never buy anything from Ecco ever again. (posted 4/23/15, permalink)

Cheap Footwear, Made Elsewhere: In 1969, over one-quarter of our nation's workforce were employed in factories. By 2009, the figure had declined to 9%. Faced with ever increasing labor regulation, upwardly spiraling health care costs and the like, many companies are reducing their workforce by subcontracting - often overseas. Goodbye to high-paying, union jobs. And lower paying furniture-making jobs.

Financial analyst Malcolm Berko wrote, "It wasn't long ago that big employers such as Maytag, Goodyear and General Motors paid Americans the equivalent of $40 to $60 an hour. Today many of America's largest employers - e.g., Wal-Mart and McDonald's - pay workers $8 to $12 an hour."

Sadly, the American public would rather buy on price - purchasing cheap footwear made in some Third World country from a discounter like Wal-Mart and, when a hole appears in the bottom, toss the shoes in the trash. This explains why there are almost no U.S. shoemaking plants anymore and why the number of independent footwear retailers and shoe repair shops is declining.(posted 11/5/14, permalink)

Shoe Story: Gregory Sullivan noted that Sperry Topsiders - aka deck shoes - have a Sperry label inside but "Justin Brands owns it, and Berkshire Hathaway owns that. That's Warren Buffett's bailiwick. Warren Buffett only buys things that have some strategic advantage someone's missing out on. A "Made in Maine" tag seems to be all you need to sell boat shoes in Japan. Who knew? Then again, Berkshire Hathaway used to make shirts when Buffett bought it. If I was working in one of his factories, I wouldn't buy any green bananas."

"Maine used to make a lot of shoes and boots. It was the state's largest industry until very recently, when free trade killed American piecework dead. The state's current largest industry is selling oxycodone you stole from grandma's medicine cabinet, I think."

I bought a pair of faux Topsiders at a Dexter Shoes Factory Outlet in New Hampshire 25 years ago. I never found them to be that comfortable so I kept them by our front door. I only wore my Dexes when I walked to the mailbox at the end of our driveway.

Warren Buffett once owned the Dexter Shoe Co. and called it "his worst deal ever."

"In 1993, Berkshire paid $433 million for the Maine-based company. Rather than use cash, Buffett used Berkshire Class A stock to fund the purchase. That Berkshire stock is worth eight times more now, giving the Omaha, Nebraska-based insurance and investment company a $216 billion market value.

Dexter didn't make it that long. It ended shoe production in the United States and Puerto Rico in 2001, and Berkshire folded what was left into its H.H. Brown Shoe Group unit."

In a 2008 letter to Berkshire Hathaway investors, Buffett wrote, "What I had assessed as durable competitive advantage vanished within a few years. By using Berkshire stock, I compounded this error hugely. That move made the cost to Berkshire shareholders not $400 million, but rather $3.5 billion. In essence, I gave away 1.6% of a wonderful business - one now valued at $220 billion - to buy a worthless business."

I recently noticed that the Vibram soles of my Dex deck shoes had worn down far enough to be translucent. I'm surprised. Although they are many years old, my deck shoes definitely qualify as low-mileage footwear.

I guess I'll have to find some new mailbox shoes. I'm not expecting Dexter to offer a partial refund for premature wear.(posted 5/27/13, permalink)

Big Shoes To Fill: My brother took this picture of a vehicle I've yet to see personally - the new L.L. Bean Bootmobile which was displayed on the Boston Common in April, 2012:

The vehicle, based on a Ford F-250 Super Duty, is seven-feet shorter than the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. If it were a real Bean duck boot, it would fit a 147-foot tall person. The Bootmobile was constructed to celebrate L.L. Bean's 100th anniversary.

It's not the only shoe-based vehicle on the planet.

This awesome red shoe car was parked in front of a shoe repair shop in Santa Monica, California and was spotted during the Great California Adventure in early 2002. (posted 4/17/12, permalink)

Leathery Laments: It's no fun being old if you can't complain about stuff.

Recently I bought two pairs of shoes at a specialty shoe store, When The Shoe Fits. Very few of these kind of stores - specializing in well-made shoes and personal service - are remaining these days.

I bought brown loafers, meaning I needed to buy a belt because I didn't have any brown ones. Black, yes. Cordovan, yes. But cordovan has become an 'out' color in the shoe and belt biz. It's even hard to find cordovan shoe polish anymore. Once upon a time, Florsheim Imperial wingtip shoes in a cordovan color were the preferred choice of top business executives.

Nowadays, most people don't even wear ties in business, much less dressy shoes. Sigh. Times have changed.

I stopped at Nordstrom but decided I didn't want to pay $200-plus for a %!#$@ belt. So I went to that famous French department store, J.C. Penney (pronounce it Chey Zeee Penn-eh and it seems Gallic) and got a nice leather one for $25.

Good shoes that fit well are one of the under-appreciated joys of modern life. (posted 9/4/12, permalink)

Lincoln Doesn't Know Shit: Last week, my wife received a promotional offer in the mail for the new Lincoln MKC, the compact utility vehicle based on the Ford Escape. Since she purchased her last Lincoln 19 years ago, it doesn't reflect well on Lincoln's mailing list management.

Prospective purchasers are being offered a "Lincoln Makers Gift with purchase or lease." It's a Shinola watch.

Shinola was a brand of shoe polish introduced in 1907; it gained popularity during World War I and World War II. Many of my generation are familiar with the old colloquialism, "You don't know shit from Shinola." As Wikipedia delicately puts it, "Shinola was a once-popular brand of shoe polish, which had a color and texture not unlike feces." Not a good tie-in for a luxury car, eh?

The resurrected (2011) Shinola Company specializes in watches, journals, bicycles, and leather goods.

The brochure noted that "your Lincoln Curator" - apparently the firm's novel name for a car salesman - will assist you in selecting the suitable style and type of watch. Perhaps curator is a good term, since Lincolns are becoming such a rarity on the road.

Remember when Lincolns were associated with more elegant things? Think of those Designer Edition Continentals with style touches by Bill Blass or Hubert de Givenchy. (posted 10/28/14, permalink)

Loser Shoes: A study released by Columbia University shows that a vast majority of the people who wear Crocs, the style-challenged plastic clogs, lack enthusiasm, don't look forward to anything, are unimaginative and don't have anything worthwhile to say.

Manalo, the shoe blogger, once described Crocs as an "ungainly, life-sapping, and horrifically unattractive product."

"The study also found that women who wear Crocs shoes routinely disregard shaving their underarms and legs, watch 'Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood' and have a deep disdain for women who are fashionable."

Silly rabbit, Kix are for kids; Crocs are for losers. (posted 5/31/13, permalink)

Small Town Shoe Blues: Many folks have never lived in a small town. I have. Such towns are full of merchants offering aging merchandise at remarkably high prices. Store owners are always whining about "people going out of town to buy stuff" and "not supporting the local guy." I used to hear such complaints when I stood in line with these fellow small business owners at Corvallis' miniscule post office in this little Oregon town.

Little did these folks know that I was one of the traitors who traveled elsewhere to buy stuff.

On one occasion, Nickallan's - a local men's store - advertised a 40% off sale on Florsheim shoes. I arrived when the store opened the first day of the sale; there were exactly two pairs of shoes on sale. Some sale. (I guess the reason the extra pair was on sale was so that the store could use the plural form in the ad: "pairs of shoes.") Neither was my size. The owner of this business was active in the local business association and would loudly and frequently rant about the lack of buyer loyalty to "hometown businesses." Nickallan's Men's Traditional Clothing closed in 2006.

During my 12 years in this little Oregon burg, I never bought a pair of shoes locally. I spent my footwear dollars in Portland, Seattle, New Hampshire and New Jersey - at Terry's Shoe Barn in Rancocas Woods, NJ, a friendly establishment offering great deals on footwear. Terry himself often waited on me. I paid extra to send my purchases home via UPS and still saved money. (posted 4/19/11, permalink)

Cuthroat Shoes: Many people think that targeted, saturation competition - opening a Burger King across from McDonalds, a Starbucks up the street from a local coffee house, etc. - is a new thing.

Three shoe stores - Father & Son Shoes, Flagg Bros. and Thom McAn - are next door to one another in an early 1950s photo taken under the Frankford El tracks at the corner of Frankford Avenue and Orthodox St. in Philadelphia, PA.

Capitalism at its most intense. Battle to the death. Winner take all. (posted 3/19/08, permalink)

Love Letters In The Sand: A website - - offered 'Shoes of the Fisherman sandals' for $19.95 per pair.

Description: "If you plan on walking in the sand, this is a great way to evangelize! As you walk, you will leave an imprint of: JESUS LOVES YOU, for others to see!!!!" The sandals are "hand-finished in Thailand by adult Christian workers."

This raised some questions in my mind - to wit:

1. Are the 'adult Christian workers' former Pagan Babies?
2. Since these products are made of injection-molded vinyl and the adult Christian workers only do the hand-finishing, who is operating the injection molding machine? Atheists? Muslims? Buddhists? Confucians?
3. Since all of us Catholics want to leave a long-lasting impression on Unbelievers, why doesn't the product description mention other, more-permanent things to walk on besides sand? Wet concrete? Hot asphalt? Uncured epoxy?
4. If this were a real Catholic site, it would clearly state: "One size fits all - or else you're excommunicated. Unless you're a Kennedy."

(posted 5/21/04, permalink)

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