You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a person by their shoes. When someone strolls into a room wearing “Birken-socks” (a combination of colorful socks and Birkenstock sandals), you know everything you need to know about this person. You could practically predict the rest of their outfit: layers of Patagonia and North Face, completed with some sort of chunky water-bottle clutched at the hip. On campus, you’d likely find this lover of the outdoors under fluorescent lights, working on labs for their biochem major. Though this “Birken-socked” individual may protest, they do not wear these shoes simply because they’re comfortable. Casual footwear sends a distinct message about any person’s character.
Take, for example, the iconic Chuck Taylor converse sneaker. Anyone who wears these 90’s‑esque lace up shoes is making an attempt to convey the novelty and youthfulness of their personality. You will see every color of Chuck Taylors around the table of students who interrupt Saga to sing an annoying rendition of “Happy birthday” at the top of their lungs, or on the stage with theater majors. Converse-wearers are dragging a piece of their childhood into their adult lives.
The antithesis of Chuck Taylors are none other than Sperrys: a staple in the wardrobe of any preppy college student. Rather than trying to make casual footwear more youthful, these leather shoes make you thirty years older. To keep these elderly-looking shoes from dragging someone into the grave too early, most young people (namely Sigma Chi’s) tend to pair Sperrys with a Vineyard Vines tee or perhaps a solid colored sweater. Either way, Sperrys send the message that a person has spent a good portion of their summer on Grandpa’s yacht.
Sitting in the middle of this spectrum are Vans. These shoes are associated with a very distinct type of person. Someone who wears Vans wants the people around them to know that they are not like everyone else. They have a little quirk to their character that shines through with their alternative music taste and love for obscure cinema. There is a rare occasion wherein a Vans-wearer chose their footwear for the function for which they were created: skateboarding. But the shoe brand that was literally created for skateboarders has been hijacked by hipsters, who wear Vans while working on their slam poetry in Penny’s (because AJ’s is “too basic”).
Slides, the poor man’s flip-flop sandal, are the ultimate form of casual footwear. They require such little effort to wear, and that is exactly the message they want to convey. People who wear slides want to be known for not caring about their fashion. By trying so hard to not try hard, slides-wearers enter a perfect shoe paradox. If you veer too far into the TV lounge, or the long tables near the dishes, you will get swept into this paradox by its main culprits: the athletes.
The shoe does not determine the person, but the person determines the shoe.