Strapped for love

After many uncomfortable liaisons, she finally finds shoes that are a good fit.

Two years ago I bade goodbye to my faithful sandals. Functional rather than fashionable, they had been resoled so often during their five-year lifespan that nothing remained of their original base. Once the straps frayed, our relationship ended.

Unfortunately, fashion moves ever forward and the manufacturer no longer made that model. I'd have to start fresh with another shoe.

I skipped the trendy stores and headed to a hiking/outdoors store. Not that I'm into camping or sports, but I figured they'd have rugged, well-made sandals. I favor shoes with solid soles and good arch support.

As I strolled through the aisles, a pair of black sandals winked at me. I'd been taken in before by smooth-talking sandals that mangled my feet, so I played hard to get.

I glanced at them, and turned away. A second, longer glance followed. Their thick rubber soles looked durable, but a series of double crisscross straps seemed almost frivolous. On the other hand, a heavy-duty heel strap told me these were not fly-by-night sandals.

Still, that didn't mean they'd turn out to be my Prince Charming of sandals. No Cinderella feet here. My Size 9 Wide put me in the ugly stepsister class. But I wasn't ready to dismiss them. I called over a salesperson and asked if the sandals came in larger widths. He nodded, disappeared, and then soon handed me a large box. I took the sandals out and felt their heft – definitely made for walking.

Before I slipped them on, the salesperson gave me a short lecture on the strap system. "It's one continuous loop," he said, "and it can take a bit getting used to. Pull this one for the toe and that one for the insole and the one over here to tighten the back."

By the time he finished demonstrating how to loosen or tighten each section, my eyes had glazed over. "Don't worry," he said. "The instructions are printed on the side of the box."

After pulling, twisting, and tugging on the straps for five minutes, I saw why they came with instructions.

Once I secured my feet into the sandals, and the salesman loosened the straps so my big toes lost their blue hue, I stood. They felt good. I took a few steps, then a few more. Sturdy and comfortable, the shoes hugged my feet and had great arch support. "I'll take them," I said. I should have asked if the salesperson made house calls.

I wore them home, but like too many love-at-first-sight relationships, the next day proved a disappointment. No matter how many times I read the directions or tugged on the straps, the shoes never again fitted as comfortably as in the store. The straps pinched my toes, I developed calluses on my arches, and the dye ran every time they got wet.

The Prince Charming of sandals had morphed into a frog. At $150, there was no way I'd let them languish in my cupboard. Until this year.

I needed a pair of black dress shoes for a wedding. After trying on 10 different styles, I found one that fitted without requiring an amputation of my baby toe. Emboldened by the experience, I asked the salesperson for comfortable casual shoes. She came up with two more winners.

"Can I help you with anything else?" she asked.

I thought about my two-year-old sandals, my pinched toes and callused arches. I thought about the $150 price tag. The love affair was definitely over. "Do you have sandals that might fit me?"

A moment later she handed me a pair of olive suede sandals. They had rubber soles, padded insoles, and – I could barely believe it – Velcro straps that didn't require an engineering background to adjust them. They slipped on like velvet. I was in love.

Two weeks later I'm still in love. I'm going back to buy them in beige and black, too. As for my old sandals, if anyone wants them, let me know. All you need are big feet and an engineering degree.

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