A couple of weeks ago here in Paris the weather took a turn. Whereas on Saturday we needed to have several layers on to do a brisk walk, by Tuesday it seemed that the entire city was in search of a patch of grass or a spot along the Seine to sunbathe with temperatures in the upper 60s. My husband and I walked our dog for a long, meandering afternoon along the quais of the river drinking in the sun like all the other Parisians. One could even spy, if they looked hard enough, a brief smile or two from the notoriously grumpy Parisians. It was that kind of glorious warm day.
When walking past the Pont Neuf bridge near the Louvre, my husband pointed to a cluster of shirtless young college students sitting in a group, enjoying their beers and chatting with each other. One particularly cute youth had his legs spread out as he lay back, and my husband said jokingly to me, “Well, hello espadrilles!” in reference to the lightweight summer shoes the lad was wearing.
Indeed, while the shoes were about the last thing I was admiring on the guy, it was true that it had suddenly become an espadrille kind of day. These cotton encased, wedge heeled shoes with a slender rope sole define footwear during the summer months throughout Mediterranean cultures. Typically they are as ubiquitous among the throngs of vacation-bound travelers as backpacks and crying children at Orly, the main “southbound” airport for Paris. Parents craning their necks up to look at the mammoth split-flap announcement boards which will periodically update with a mechanized whirl as they quickly flip with new gate changes, while their kids pout or run around near them — they’re all shod in espadrilles.
The first place I saw espadrilles was back in the United States, however. This was long before I had ever been to Europe, and before I had ever explored my sexuality. I was a “questioning” teenager in South Carolina and had somehow convinced my mother to let me get a copy of International Male while at the Augusta Mall’s Waldenbooks. Now International Male, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this relic from the 1980s, was a men’s “fashion” catalog that featured muscled male models dressed in what could charitably be called “exotic” clothing. Usually the gauze fabric T-shirts were see-through, and the pirate-themed lapel shirts or Australian outback jackets were open to show impossibly defined six-pack abs and perky pectorals. For a questioning teen, International Male was a near-constant companion each evening when I went to bed.
But while carefully poring over the images in each season’s magazine, I came across this unusual looking shoe that several of the models wore as they posed on a tropical veranda sipping an umbrella-garnished fruity cocktail while clad only in olive colored fishnet shorts, or peering through a telescope as they stood on a sand dune with a billowy white bathrobe left tantalizingly open. Es-pa-drilles, I slowly said to myself, practicing in my mind how I would one day inquire at the Davison’s shoe department for a pair to try on (I never dared). It wasn’t much later, however, after becoming aware of this somewhat flamboyant sartorial statement, that I was watching “Miami Vice” and noticed that Don Johnson wore espadrilles. Clearly, if the sexy ladies’ man Sonny Crockett could get away with wearing them while fighting mobsters and driving his Ferrari through the hot nights of Miami, it wasn’t just an International Male who might wear a pair while driving through the Castro in a Miata.
Since moving to France and investing in a pair (they usually last two summers and are cheap, costing only $15–$20), I can attest that they are in fact the perfect summer shoes. Not only can they become a perfect accessory, but they also slip on and off easily so I can keep them by the door to wear when I take the dog out for one of his walks or when I need to dash over to the market for a quick purchase. As for vacations, they take up little space in luggage and are ideal for both the beach and street wear. Unlike flip-flops or open-toed sandals, espadrilles generously hide one’s jacked up toes and dirty feet from the discerning judgmental view of others.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: only wear flip-flops where there is actually sand or water in the immediate proximity. Otherwise, I don’t want to see your feet. Certainly not when you are pushing a grocery cart through Walmart, or pumping gas at the corner convenience store, or (gasp!) at church on Sunday morning. No, no, and gawd no.