Confessions of a Thrift Store Whore

The women’s shoe-section, in my neighborhood thrift-shop, is a reason I’m currently attached to a pair of sneakers, for about six-months now; I wear it all the time. I found the right-part of the pair alone in the men’s shoe-rack, after browsing some cds. It was sitting between a pair of size-thirteen black basketball humvees and a pair of leather sandals. The shoe didn’t stand out, because of its color, brown. It blended with the color of the other pairs beside. And because of that, I almost missed it. After looking for its other pair around that shoe-rack, I tried it on anyway, hoping I would finally find the other pair, which could just be sitting on a spot I missed. I was happy it fit my right foot, a perfect fit, in fact, and loved the way it hugged my foot. Now there were other men’s shoes scattered on the floor, where I was standing. I looked carefully, for the other pair there. No luck. I looked again, a number of times. But no luck. Frustrated, I put the shoe back where I took it, and left the area, to spend another twenty minutes at the books section, before wandering to the t-shirts section. I found a couple there, before wandering back to the shoe section, when the store manager announced the store would be closing in fifteen minutes. Again, I looked carefully for that missing shoe, as though I was looking for a thin book that refuses to be found, at my neighborhood public-library. Then, I turned around, because I thought part of the women’s shoe-rack immediately across the men’s shoe-rack displayed men’s shoes. And I was right. There, as I resumed my search, I found what I was looking for. The left-shoe sat beside a pair of high heels that strayed away from the women’s section. Interestingly, the heel of one stood on the insole of the shoe I found, a very high, thick heel; it is an image that inspires theories about dominance of one gender over another.

This pair of shoes I purchased that evening was made by Gola; it’s not a household brand-name, to me. And the last time I checked, brand new Golas are only available in select stores in the Los Angeles area, especially around Melrose, or the Silverlake-Echo Park corridor. But like many things these days, it is available online. Sometime this year, if I cannot control my desire to buy a pair of brand-new Golas anymore, I could end up in a small dilemma trying to decide which style to order from the shoe’s US or UK website, which reveals bits about the shoe’s history.

The European origin of Gola shoes is older than its two biggest North American competitors: Adidas(1948) and Nike(1964). Quite fittingly, the Gola brand was born on the sign of twin-pair -Gemini- more than one-hundred years ago, in 1905, on May 22, in Leicester, England. During World War II, the company made boots for Britain. But perhaps Gola’s landmark contribution to the history of shoes, fashion, and lexicon of fashion is that, in 1977, it was “the first to use word ‘trainer’ as the abbreviation of the training shoe, which has been entered in the English dictionary”, according to its UK website. This claim embeds layers of bragging rights, in terms of the shoe’s quality, especially Gola’s understanding of modern feet, and the kinds of terrains and abuse its products can endure that give their shoes healthy reputation.

Quality is subjective. This is the kind of statement advertisement campaigns can challenge and weaken, to convince consumers that commodity quality is based on the company behind a product. Advertisement, therefore, disables the malleability of subjectivity of quality, and rigorously transforms it into convincing, objective statements. Through advertisement, then, a brand acquires an aura of fact; thusly, Adidas becomes a brand-name of quality, Nike is quality, or Puma is quality. This kind of aura has framed the usual choices of shoes I go for, whenever I go used-store shopping. Adidas, Puma, and Nike often dominate the strength of my choices. They dominate, because the gospel their advertisement campaigns have aggressively disseminated in my lifetime have worked in me as shoe consumer, even though I rarely rush to any department store to buy any brand-new pair from these brands, mainly because I couldn’t easily afford them, and only look for them at used stores. I wear them, not only because they don’t fall apart easily, but also because of something immaterial they possess. These shoes wear certain cultural signifiers, those that give me or my feet a certain aura of hipness, in the urban spaces I tend to walk through or socialize. Curiously though, while I can say Adidas, Puma, and Nike are quality shoes, I cannot say I have easy favorites from this bunch. If I had specific favorite shoes-styles from these brands, I viewed them as favorites, in the vague context of general preference.

Now when I bought that Gola pair last year, my feet somehow stepped into comfort paradise. In my Golas, I stepped into insoles that understood not only the form, curves, and imperfections of my feet, but the motions and terrains their owner subjects them to endure. However, this pair hasn’t created a shift in what my feet now wants to wear. I still look for a pair from the usual triumvirate on my list. But what has shifted is what I can vaguely call ‘the dimension or paradigm that controls my choices for shoes,’ whenever I go to a used store. The usual claustrophobia of my choices may have achieved a peak in its adamant uniformity, a threshold you might say. But luckily, this peak has not shown vague hints of entropy, although that may already be sneaking up on me, highlighting itself with darker lines, with the Gola purchase, the second brand name I now look for on a used store shoe-rack, besides the usual three. Before Gola, my other favorite is a pair of Vans.

The Vans brand-name, as you know, is inseparable with skateboarding culture, dating back to the 1970s, when skaters Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta designed one of the brand’s earliest styles, Vans #95, known these days as Era. But Paul Van Doren and three others first opened shop a decade before, on March 16, 1966, at 704 E. Broadway, in Anaheim, California. It was the 1960s, a restless decade of momentous events that would reshape US history, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, Apollo 11’s landing on the moon, and high-profile assassinations, just to name a few events. And Vans, too, expressed its own brand of restlessness that time, in terms of creating and marketing their products. Vans manufactured their shoes, and avoided a distributor by selling the shoes directly to their costumers.

More From Thought Catalog