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expat shoes what do they say about us?

Sean M. Leahy 2012


Lauren C. (USA) These boots from Chicago IL are made for the daily wear and tear of harsh northern European weather. With the constant rain, wind, and cobblestones the climate and walking surfaces had claimed their toll on several other pairs of boots. Lauren bought these boots in Chicago on a return trip back to the State over the summer. When asked what these boots say about Lauren, she replied “these are my big girl boots - they state fashion, adventure, and a readiness for any wind or rain Holland has to offer�.


Amy B. (USA) Sporting a new pair of Geox shoes Amy is always ready to handle the rough streets of Holland. Amy saw these shoes in a small shop in Italy and could not pass them up. As only one of 20 other pairs of shoes, these ones are worn almost every day. These Geox turned out to be as comfortable as was recommended by other teachers who are on their feet all day long. When asked what these shoes say about Amy, they say; “Amy looks for shoes to have the same qualities as that of a good man: reliable, sturdy, supportive, and a great investment�.


Gail G. (USA) A marathon runner currently in the final stages of a training program, Gail purchased these New Balance Minimist shoes with Vibram soles to help provide her feet more natural support. Starting to adapt the benefits of “barefoot running” these shoes provide a great platform to go to a more natural foot support system than the conventional running shoe. Comfort and form over style was the driving force behind these shoes. When asked what they would say to the world Gail responded, “get on the trail!”


Kayla H. (USA) Sporting some Camper shoes from Spain, Kayla combines the comfort of shoes that were designed for walking with a neutral style that make them versatile choice all year long. When asked what these shoes would say about Kayla, they would simply say “practical�.


Jim A. (USA) Walking around Florence Italy two years back Jim found himself in desperate need of a new pair of shoes to provide comfort for his feet for all of the long days walking around the ancient streets. Trusting that the Italians know their shoes, Jim picked up this pair for their comfort and their general style that allows him to wear them at the office or casually around town. These unknown Italian brand shoes say “Jim has style as well as comfort on his feet�.


Sarah M. (USA) Medical reasons for foot support are what drove the purchase decision to buy these unknown brand boots from the large footwear retailer DSW. Sarah bought these recently in the states. A lucky find that were both comfortable on her feet yet also a little bit sassy. These shoes are a go to staple wardrobe item for Sarah as they go with just about anything during the colder seasons in Holland. When asked what the shoes would say, Sarah responded, “I don’t wear these shoes, they wear me!”


Marie T. (ENG) Working in the office demands a shoe that not only looks great, but feels comfortable on the feet. For Marie, these Vandalen boots are the perfect match. Practicality and style were the driving forces behind purchasing these “gowith-anything” black boots. When asked what the shoes would say about Marie she said, “this person is wearing some style, even while running for the train”.


Islam Q. (USA) The BOSS. These shoes are the quintessential work-style shoes for Islam. Purchased in Holland within the last year these shoes provide the sharp style and comfort he was looking for in a business dress shoe. Although not intentionally looking for them, when he passed them by in the shop window he knew he had to have them. If these shoes could talk, they would say that “who ever wears these shoes knows their style and is ready to take on the day�.


Art D.L (USA) Working in The Netherlands requires one to sacrifice a little bit of their shoe style since not all forms of footwear are weather appropriate says Art. The boots that Art was sporting were an unknown Dutch brand that he picked up a year ago in the pursuit for a warm yet stylish pair of boots to wear around the rainy streets of Holland and in the office. These shoes have a little secret; they are lined with wool to keep out the chilly fall air. When asked what these shoes would say, one word is all that was needed, “practical�.


Vanessa S. (USA) Going with the classic Converse Chuck Taylors was a simple choice for Vanessa. These shoes are perfect for a casual day around the streets of Holland. While Chuck T’s may not be unusual around Europe, these particular pair had quite the journey to Den Haag. Originally purchased in the USA as a gift, they were held in customs in Holland before being released after a €100 customs tax. Together with the shipping from the US, these may very well be some of the most expensive Chuck T’s on the street. When asked what these shoes would say, Vanessa said, “I’m casual, cool, and ready for an adventure”.


The main purpose behind this photo essay was to explore the relationship that individuals have with their shoes. Shoes are a very essential part of our daily wardrobes whether we actively think about them or not. Everyday, we grab a pair of shoes and slip on, pull up, or lace up the pair that best suits us for the day. As somewhat of a shoe enthusiast I know that I personally give a great deal of consideration to which shoes I wear on a daily basis. It is commonly said that you can tell a lot of a person by their shoes, which raises the question; why do people choose to wear the shoes they do? What motivates the choice of a person to choose a pair of sneakers or high-heeled boots? To find out I hit my local streets to interview a few of my fellow expats living and working in The Netherlands. In the book The Meaning of Things by Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) they state that the interaction or transaction between people and things can be boiled down to three modes: the aesthetic quality, attention, and goal. Using these three modes as the framework for understanding why people choose the shoes they did I will go through each modes based on my interviews. After conducting several of my interviews it became rather apparent that one of the main themes or reasons for buying and wearing a particular pair of shoes was based solely on the appearance of the shoes. While comfort was also highly sought, most reported they bought their shoes for style as well as comfort. Speaking from personal experience it is not very likely that a person set out to purposely chooses ugly shoes to wear. So why then would people buy based on how a shoe looks? Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) state that one of the reasons we choose items based on their aesthetic quality is that the very way an item appears can have an impact on our expression of feelings, ideas, and can stimulate new perceptions (Csikszentmihalyi, Rochberg-Halton, p183, 1981). The reasons Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton identify can be seen in the interviews I conducted with other expats living in Holland. The people interviewed said time and time again that they chose shoes that were stylish and said so to the world. The aesthetic mode is not the only reason one chooses to buy and wear their shoes; we also need to consider the attention the person puts towards making that choice.


According to Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) for every transaction between a person and an object there lies a certain amount of “psychic energy” or attention to be allocated to the object. This attention is what allows us to select a particular object from an environment. In relation to why people chose their shoes, we can see that there was a wide array of reasons for selecting the pair they did. Given the fact that all the people interviewed for this photo-essay were working professionals there was again a fairly common theme of choosing shoes that were not only stylish but also practical given their work environments. Many of the individuals interviewed mentioned that their shoes were “practical yet stylish” indicating that they gave thought to selecting the pair to fit their professional needs. While not everyone will share the same morning routine dressing and selecting shoes, we can say that at some point in that process all of us are faced with a decision to make; which pair of shoes do I wear today? Deciding on the pair of shoes we put on we are engaging in an evaluation of how this pair will fit into our foreseen activities for the day. I would argue that most people would choose the pair of shoes that made them feel the best based on what they are about to undertake during the day. While it may be fun to wear casual shoes, and it may be boring to wear the same old dress shoes, there seems to be a psychological reason that we try and find the balance of “stylish yet practical” footwear. “Every conscious experience lies on a continuum ranging from boring sameness at one end to enjoyable diversity at the center and, finally, to anxiety-producing chaos at the further end.” (Csikszentmihalyi, Rochberg-Halton, p185, 1981). I believe this statement holds true to the reason we select the shoes we do; we are looking for that balance of sameness and excitement, stability and adventure, style and comfort. Understanding that we concentrate a varied amount of attention when choosing our shoes, we must also look to understand how those choices align with our goals of using that object. In all the short interviews conducted, the final question was set to inquire about the perceived “voice” of the shoes. I simply asked; what do these shoes say about you? In this line of questioning we can begin to see the intention of choosing which shoes to wear. The choice to wear the shoes on the day I interviewed fellow expats became fairly clear, it resembled what they were doing that day.


Several people were interviewed at their place of work, while others were interviewed on their own time out in the city. What the shoes said about their wearer seemed to echo what they were doing that day. While out and about many people thought their shoes would speak of being “ready for anything”, or “up for an adventure”. While others that were at the office were more reserved, speaking of style and comfort. This pattern seems to be inline with goal mode in The Meaning of Things, “Valued possessions involve outcomes in the sense that these transactions reveal intentions or goal-directed purposes; that is, they tell us what “it all adds up to,” and how these goals are being realized” (Csikszentmihalyi, Rochberg-Halton, p189, 1981). Overall, it was a very interesting experience to talk with different expats and discover the reasons behind their shoes of choice. Not only do shoes say a lot about the person wearing them, their very choice of shoe speaks to their psychic energy alignment in the choice of aesthetic quality, attention, and goal of wearing a particular pair of shoes. The next time you lace up your shoes, ask yourself; “what do these shoes say about me?”. Reference: Csikszentmihalyi, M., Rochberg-Halton, E., (1981) The Meaning of Things. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.


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Profile for Sean Leahy

expat shoes - photo essay  

short photo essay on expat shoes in Holland

expat shoes - photo essay  

short photo essay on expat shoes in Holland

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