December 18, 2018, 21:50

The Life-Changing Magic of Clogs |

The Life-Changing Magic of Clogs |

This past November, when I was informed that my job had been eliminated,
I did not cry. Instead, I was overcome with a throbbing numbness, a dull
sensation of suppressed pain that settled in my bones. That night, I
slept fitfully, and I woke up feeling no less disoriented. I served
myself tequila for breakfast.

In slightly better shape a day later, I felt ready to take the logical
next step. It was with nothing short of mania that I bounded into the
No.6 flagship store,
located on an alley-like street in Little Italy, and announced that I
was ready for my clogs. The shop girls, a jumble of attenuated limbs and
stringy hair, tolerated me with a spirit of resigned professionalism.
One of the helpers informed me that they strongly discourage the wearing
of socks; the other watched me try on a beautiful navy suède boot. “Your
toe should kiss the end of the clog, not bang into it,” she told me.
We determined that I was banging, not kissing, and went one size up.

The clog, comfortable on levels both physical and spiritual, has for me
come to stand for an existence untethered to the corporate grind. Clog
life is not lived off the grid but grid-adjacent. It’s a fuzzy, fancy
realm, littered with alpaca sweaters, Rachel Cusk novels, and trees that
grow indoors, in charmingly primitive ceramic pots. Yotam Ottolenghi
cookbooks have a place in Clog Life. So do St. Vincent albums, school
pickups, and self-care. Eager to assume my rightful place on Planet
Clog, I handed over my credit card to one of the No.6 employees. The
price was more than any freelance writer without a single assignment
should allow herself to spend on a pair of shoes. But I’d worry about
the money later. For now, I needed to step out into my cloggy future.

The clog has long borne witness to human suffering. In the summer of
2011, a team of Dutch archaeologists travelled to the village
of Middenbeemster, a region best known for its medium-hard white cheese
and whose church and adjoining cemetery were being relocated. The group
noticed an unusual pattern in the bones of five hundred skeletons,
mostly belonging to nineteenth-century Dutch dairy farmers: a
preponderance of chips and craters localized in the bones of the feet.
Some of the craters were the size of a jellybean, others as large as a
piece of Hanukkah gelt, or even a plum. “It was as if chunks of bone had
just been chiselled away,” said an astonished-sounding Andrea
Waters-Rist, Ph.D., one of the group’s co-leaders. Her team determined
that the micro-traumas were associated with osteochondritis dissecans,
a rare type of joint disorder that is linked to overuse or sustained
shock. The academics concluded the source to be the rigors of working on
the land, and, more specifically, doing so in klompen, the wooden
clogs common to Dutch farmers of the time.

In the centuries that followed, shoemakers vastly improved on the clog’s
design, and wooden uppers are all but unheard of. Bulbous shoes with
wooden heels have gone from podiatric armor for European field workers
to a signifier of bicoastal creative-class bohemianism, the heirloom
cherry on top of the modest-fashion sundae. Chloë Sevigny, Lena Dunham,
Kim Gordon, and Michelle Williams are all members of the clogerati. Walk
around Venice Beach, or Boerum Hill, or any neighborhood buzzing with
attractive folks who are in the business of making things—often other
people’s tastes—and behold the explosion playing out at ground level.
From platform mules and tasseled sandals in the summer, to
stacked-heeled Doc Martens spinoffs and fleece-lined boots of every
length in the rain and the snow, it’s a clog world.

Defined as any shoe with a wooden sole, a clog is generally wanting in
the sex-appeal department. Its charms, such as they are, likely would
have eluded the Kennedy sisters or Carrie Bradshaw (though Sarah Jessica
Parker’s new shoe line, SJP, features the clog-inspired
“Rigby,” retailing for three hundred and eighty-five dollars). What it lacks in
mainstream beauty it makes up for in emotional charge. Christian
Louboutin, the designer of cult sky-high red-soled stilettos, stands at
the head of the clog-deniers. “I love flats. I’m not speaking of clogs,
all right? No clogs, please,” he said on the Fat Mascara podcast. “When
you hear the sound of someone coming, when you hear high heels, you
imagine something immediately. When you hear clogs, what do you imagine?
A donkey!” Still, at a moment when our First Lady invites ridicule by
showing up to scenes of national disaster in pristine Manolo Blahnik
stilettos, and when the billionaire captains of Silicon Valley industry
are wearing Allbirds—furry-looking merino-wool sneakers—the time seems
ripe for the reconsideration of a shoe that resembles a member of the
squash family.

Much in the way that it has suddenly become fashionable to swaddle our
toddlers in costly burlap-like linens and sepia-hued ensembles befitting
street urchins, adult women are opting to slip into footwear that
gestures at the rough-hewn and the handmade. “It connects to a kind of
boho peasantry; it speaks to this kind of rural past,” Elizabeth
Semmelhack, the senior curator at the Bata Shoe
Museum, in Toronto, says of the clog
phenomenon. “Fashion is always intimately intertwined with the politics
of any given moment. It doesn’t surprise me that we would be leaning
back into a nostalgia for a better time.”

The ancient Romans wore them in their bathhouses, and the
Japanese fashioned Geta shoes—the elevated clog and flip-flop hybrids,
seen in eighteenth-century woodcuts and contemporary
street-style photographs. European farmers, including the Dutch and the
English, favored closed-toe clogs for their protective powers in
difficult working conditions. Wooden shoes were memorialized in the
French painter Jean-François Millet’s “The Gleaners,” from 1857, which depicts a trio of peasants toiling in the fields in their clogs. The
shoe came to prominence in America during the Depression and the Second
World War, when leather was scarce. Boho-chic crowds of the early
nineteen-seventies adopted the clog. The new iteration of the shoe had a
leather upper and, often, an exaggerated heel that paired to marvellous
effect with hot pants.

More recently, Christopher Kane and Balenciaga have featured clogs on
their runways, and newfangled versions from designers like Rachel Comey,
Anya Hindmarch, and Malone Souliers are available on luxury e-commerce
sites. Several American companies, including the Chisago City, Minnesota–based Sven,
as well as Dansko—known for its unapologetic male-nurse aesthetic—are
devoted to the shoe. It is indisputably the New York-based brand No.6,
though, that has conferred high-style status on the clunker. Founded in
2005 by the stylist Karin Bereson and Morgan Yakus (who has since left
the company in order to pursue a career as a past-life regression
coach), the No.6 label is sold at high-end shops, such as Barneys and
Bird, the chain of Brooklyn boutiques where all the au fait moms
purchase their expensive jumpsuits and garbage-bag dresses. A friend who
recently took a spiritual vacation in Mexico City texted to tell me
she’d spotted No.6 merchandise at a chichi boutique near her hotel.

“The clog-wearer is completely changing,” No.6’s Bereson told me in her
speedy, raspy voice. “Our customer used to be the girls who you now see
downtown wearing Crocs ironically and no makeup, and who
are so fashion. Now we’re getting the girl who eight years ago would
have worn Uggs, and the mom who has a pair of clogs in the country and a
pair at home.” I keep but one residence, so my single pair of size-41
dark blue beauties suffices. My husband was not particularly keen on my purchase, pointing out that my new shoes looked like oversized
eggplants. But I find the shape attractive, like a retro kidney swimming
pool in a Slim Aarons photograph. The heel provides a flattering lift
off the ground. When I heed the No.6 employees’ advice and go sockless,
my bare feet sweat against the fuzzy fleece, which wicks the moisture; I
find myself in a bewilderingly pleasant feedback loop, as if in a
perpetual state of après-ski coziness.

Most important, my clogs do for me what they did for the Dutch farmers
of yore: they keep me warm, dry, and protected from the copious manure
underfoot. Hours after making my purchase, I shared the news with my
Instagram followers—an overhead photograph of my navy blue beauties,
tagged #cloglife. Over the following weeks, I documented my new
liberated life, which included an eerily quiet in-box. I joined a gym
that costs fifteen dollars a month. I posted pictures from there, or
glamorous work sessions at Pret a Manger, or Tuesday-afternoon museum
outings—all filed under #cloglife. A literal-minded former colleague
wrote to ask if I had started editing a niche magazine. Several more
thought I had lost my mind along with my job.

But it was in the spirit of giving, not losing—giving up, giving in,
giving others permission to make fun of my new circumstances. “How’s
clog life?” rolls off the tongue quite a bit more easily than “How’s
being laid off?” Acquaintances old and new show up for our lunch dates
and coffee meetings in their own clogs, or tag me in their #cloglife
posts. I am a poorer and less relevant version of my former self, but
never have I felt so understood.


Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 × four =