Today’s guest post is written by fellow blogger Elaine Kehoe. Elaine is a freelance copyeditor and a writer whose work has appeared or will appear in the journals Rosebud, Word Riot, The Quotable, and Relief, as well as at 12Most.com. She blogs at Tea Leaves.
On Being a Misfit
I am an outcast, an outlier, different. A member of a minority group.
Yes, there are actually stores I can’t get served in.
I happen to have extremely narrow feet. If you belong to this rare group, you’ll understand what I mean.
Remember when shoe store clerks used to measure your feet when you went to buy shoes? While I was growing up and even for years afterward, I didn’t have major problems. I was able to shop in most shoe stores and even department stores. Many major shoe manufacturers (such as Naturalizer) made shoes in various narrow widths, and most stores had a selection in stock for me to choose from. The narrowest shoes I ever remember buying were a width of 4A with a 6A heel, and they fit me perfectly.
Such is no longer the case.
Over the years I began to notice the gradual disappearance of narrow-width shoes from both shoe stores and department stores. In some cases I would need to select a style I liked and the store would order it in the correct width.
Nowadays, it seems that manufacturers are no longer willing to make anything that they can’t sell a gazillion of. There’s no room in the bottom line for items that appeal to less than the majority. And even the few that are made rarely find shelf space in retail stores. They just can’t afford to keep stock that won’t sell quickly.
I am reduced to two brands that I can shop for: New Balance and Easy Spirit. I wear New Balance running shoes, and when I need a new pair, I have to go to a store that carries the brand and have them order a pair from the manufacturer, which may take a few weeks. Easy Spirit used to maintain a retail store in a mall near us. Now that store is closed, and the only one available is in an outlet mall in Massachusetts. Even when I can get there, the stock is limited; these styles can’t be ordered, and I have to scour the shelves looking for anything in 9 ½ N in a style I like and can wear, and sometimes I need to compromise on style. Failing that, I need to order online, which means I can’t try them on, which means I can’t be sure they’ll fit right or feel comfortable – which can lead to frustration and either going to the trouble (and expense) to return them or throwing them in the back of the closet and trying again to find another pair.
Naturally, I also cannot shop in Payless or other discount shoe stores; thus I need to pay more than I might want to just to have something to put on my feet.
And suppose these two brands decide it’s no longer profitable to make shoes in uncommon widths? Will I need to find a cobbler who can make them to order? Wrap my feet in rags? Have surgery to graft more flesh onto my feet?
This seems to me emblematic of a paradox: that is, a lack of choice in a society that purports to offer so many choices in everything. You can walk into a shoe store today and see ten thousand pairs of shoes in ten thousand styles and colors – all in B widths. Yet no one can make or sell even a small number of shoes in other widths. It seems that the only real choices are those that make the most money for manufacturers and retailers.
I wish that those of us who are hard to fit in any way and find their choices increasingly limited could join up in a movement. There must be a lot of us. Maybe together we could force manufacturers and retailers to listen to and consider our needs.
And yet I fear that those of us who don’t fit the norms are destined to be voices in the wilderness.
~ Elaine Kehoe, Tea Leaves
Thank you for sharing, Elaine!