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If the Shoe Fits
    by Dave Reidy

I once heard an actor say that the first thing he determines when creating a character is his shoes. Once you've got the shoes, he said, you know his walk, his posture, what kind of clothes he wears, even his social class. If the shoes do so much in making the man, I wondered what children's shoes might tell us about kids. Though Hush Puppy and Buster Brown are still making shoes for children, options today run far beyond these venerable brands. Trendy Tootsies makes hand-painted shoes for children under four. Designs include the aptly named Flags, which the company website says are "now available in TRUE red, white, and blue!" Perhaps, due to space considerations on shoes for tiny feet, the truth of "TRUE red, white, and blue" is bent: the flag includes only five red stripes, four white stripes, and a mere eight stars. Preschoolians, which Time magazine called one of the coolest inventions of 2003, have a see-through sole made of polyvinyl acetate, the material used to make kickballs. Lines on the sole indicate for parents if a shoe fits, and when it is time for a new pair.

Shoes are not cheap, and the final purchase decision rests with parents. Thus, children's shoes may tell us as much about parents as they do about kids. However, despite the best efforts of Preschoolians, kids are often the final arbiters of whether or not a shoe fits. A child is surely tempted to report a pinch in the toe or a slip in the heel of a dress shoe his parent plucked off the sale rack, and to deny the same discomforts in a full-price sneaker he chose on his own. At St. Joseph's Elementary School, we wore dress shoes, part of our uniform, out to recess. Because I had no desire to send my footwear flying farther than the kickball, I would not abide slip-on shoes. When it came time to buy a new pair, I would audition only lace-ups, and, if I believed they would stay on when I ran as fast as I could, I was likely to say the magic words: "These fit, Mom. They feel great." A few months ago, I purchased a pair of slip-on dress shoes, the first I'd ever owned. They're black leather, and a bit of elastic fabric around the ankle gives them a snugger fit than the loafers of old. But an actor playing the part of me would deduce from my shoes that this twenty-eight year-old character would not tag a fellow pedestrian, say "you're it," and sprint away at top speed. When I was 27, though, I might have.

Jenkins, Henry. Introduction. The Children's Culture Reader. Ed. Henry Jenkins. New York: New York University Press, 1998. 20, 28.
Taylor, Chris. "If The Shoe Fits . . ." Time. 17 Jan. 2006.
Trendy Tootsies. "Welcome! You have entered our new styles section!" Online store. 17 Jan. 2006 .

Copyright 2006 Dave Reidy

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Monday, 28-Aug-2006 14:47:01 EDT

"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."