Pumped Up Kicks


Gentle reader,

I’ve taken the title of this article from my favorite song of the moment by Foster the People.  If you live anywhere but Los Angeles, you probably had it on your iPod all last summer.   Due to the dearth of good radio stations here, we’re a little late on the indie musical uptake, so the fact that I’ve known about it a couple of months makes me an early adopter.

How to make sure your shoes match your outfit.

You’ll see why I chose the title later but, first, I was catching up with a Style Network show that I haven’t seen in a while because I can rarely find the Style Network in the cable lineup.  Unfortunately, Fox News is right there in front of your face when you click on “Guide” and I think that may be one of the biggest problems this country is facing.  If more people were watching the Style Network and fewer people were tuning into Fox News on a regular basis, we’d all be less angry and much better looking.

Chrystie in baggy sweater. Lana Turner she ain't.

This episode of How Do I Look? was certainly one of the more dramatic transformations I’ve seen on one of these makeover shows.  Mousy, messy South Bronx schoolteacher Chrystie, it seems, has a little addiction problem with ugly, oversized hand-me-downs.  I celebrate her desire to reuse and recycle but most of her problem is that she’s too cheap and disinterested to shop for anything new.  She opens the show wearing a big, chunky cardigan over a big, chunky sweater with raggedy ass chinos and ugly pink sneakers rounding out the look.  The fact that she is being filmed for a nationally televised show sans makeup or benefit of a comb attests to her disillusioned perception of the power of one’s appearance.

By far the best thing about How Do I Look? is the fiesty, no-nonsense attitude of the show’s host/hostess Ongina, star of RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag U.  Put a wig on that bitch and she’s an automatic fashion fireball, taking no bullshit from the misguided, defensive frumps she has to beat into some sense of fashion responsibility.  I really never would have predicted this after he showed up week after week on Ru’s show with those silly little hats glued to his bald head, but I like it.

Host Jeannie Mai and star of "RuPaul's Drag Race" Ongina. Funny how they're never in the same room at the same time...

So, anyway, a highly esteemed panel comprised of Chrystie’s mom, her (possibly closeted) younger brother and some lady who doesn’t seem really thrilled to be there assembles to confront this mislead schoolmarm and her fugly clothes.  Pieces of her old wardrobe rise up out of a table for the panel members to rummage through and critique.  The clothes don’t exactly look fresh from the cleaner’s but they are bandied about, oblivious to any germs or bacteria, and then banished piece by piece.   Ongina sticks them in a clear plastic vacuum tube and they are whisked up to, presumably, the floor above.  Who knows?  And why the stupid plastic tube?  Banks and obsolete department stores (I mean you, Neiman Marcus!) have had those tubes for decades, so they’re not impressing us with their space age technology.  Just throw it into a dumpster, already.  We’ll still get the point.

A most interesting part of the episode is the presentation of three new collections that the panelists — Mom, Brother and Strange Lady — have chosen to replace Chrystie’s scary homeless man ensembles.  She really seems to blossom during this segment, shedding her old limiting beliefs and finally realizing that she can feel much better about herself with a little effort.  The final step of lopping off that messy hair and having her makeup done launched her into an entirely different dimension.  The sequined Studio 54 dress that she wore at the reveal was a bit much for a schoolteacher in South Bronx but she could totally work that look at night in Chelsea.  (The brother chose the dress, by the way.  Hmmm.)  At the end, they gave her a plane ticket to teach poor kids in Kenya, so I’m not sure how she’s going to work that disco look into her repertoire anytime soon.

Before and After: From Grandpa Chic to Disco Drag in 60 minutes!

Anyway, remember those pink sneakers she was wearing at the beginning?  Well, get ready to hear some more about shoes.  Cover your dead ears, Oscar Wilde, but in the shoe world, Form usually follows Function.  Deck shoes were designed to wear on yachts and riding boots were made to wear in the saddle.  Trainers are so named because they are for training, or working out.  I don’t know from where the term “sneakers” originated but it’s been around since the 1880s and must be something about being sneaky.  If you think about it, those late Victorians would have had to be pretty sneaky if they were ever going to have any fun.

Designers have managed to adapt deck shoes and riding boots to suit a variety of looks for years but, as much as people may try, sneakers are not as adaptable because they are less aesthetically pleasing.  They’re usually big, clunky and colorful.  Some of you will disagree, certainly, and I know that there are some very fashionable individuals even outside of the rap contingent for whom sneakers work well on a daily basis.  My friend Ron Rangel in New York has hundreds of pairs and, with his ageless look, I couldn’t imagine him in anything else.

In general, though, here’s my rule for trainers/sneakers/tennis shoes:  If you’re not participating in an athletic activity and can wear any other shoe, choose the other shoe.  It might be a loafer, oxford or Chelsea boot for men, a ballet flat or a stiletto for women but it’s nearly always going to be a better, less clichéd choice.

In other shoe news, you might think that the wedges that have been reappearing every spring are becoming a bit silly.  If you think back to the enormous platform chopines that the courtesans of Renaissance Venice wore, requiring attendants to walk either side holding them steady, these espadrille things that show up every year are quite tame.  And you know, of course, that the courtesans were “the T” in Venice during the Renaissance so they must have been on to some shit.

17th C. Venetian courtesan and her chopines. Every era has its Gaga.

Though I never needed someone to help me walk in my shoes and I try to guide you along a practical yet fashion savvy path, I do have my own impractical footwear story.  You see, in an age when cowboy boots could be worn without irony outside the borders of Texas, I had a pair made for me in black and white pony.  When they finally arrived, they were at least a half size too small but I insisted on wearing them for short periods anyway.   During a trip to visit a friend in an upscale part of the Silicon Valley, we went into San Jose to see a punk/ska band.  I ended up in the mosh pit for a while and, on the way to the car, I had to take those fucking boots off and walk several city blocks in my socks.  I carried them around the world with me for years but I never wore them again.  The moral of this story is:  Don’t buy uncomfortable shoes, no matter how fabulous they look.  You will regret it.

In the end, footwear is a challenging business.  Every season there are hundreds of thousands of shoe options from the bland to the sublime.  You should own at least one pair at each end of that spectrum and a few in between.

So, I guess that’s it for this week:  only wear sneakers with your gym clothes; don’t buy uncomfortable shoes; and, 17th century Venetian hookers were awesome.

Oh, have you heard that rat poison is the newest weight loss fad?  On the downside, you’re eating rat poison.

Much love,


Comments: 15

  • robert john taylor June 8, 20119:54 pm

    hey james,great article and very interested to read ur thoughts because I never understand how life,people work.So thankyou.hope to meet u someday.takecare,godbless u with love,hugs,prayers for ur success.ur fan,friend,

  • James Tuttle June 8, 201110:07 pm

    Thanks, RJT! I don’t think any of us fully understand how life or people work so we’re in the same boat there. They’re just my opinions I offer here but you’re welcome to them and to share yours, too.
    All the best to you!

  • Hanson Anderson June 9, 20117:07 am

    I am guilty of buying running shoes.I do not run. Except from the fashion police.

    • James Tuttle June 10, 20118:16 pm

      Hi Hanson! Why would you need running shoes if you’re not going to run in them. And is there a reason the fashion police should be chasing you? I’m very curious now.

  • Stacie June 9, 20118:52 am

    Hi James…..loved your article…the picture of the 17th Century courtesan with the reference to Lady Gaga was brilliant…..and “Grampa Chic” to “Disco Drag”……very funny…..another good laugh to start the day. Yay! XX

    • James Tuttle June 9, 20117:53 pm

      Hi, Stacie! Thanks for continuing along with us! I’m glad I could bring you a laugh and start your day off right.
      Big kiss!

  • oldancestor June 9, 20119:55 am

    Regarding the vacuum tube contraption, perhaps Nickelodeon was selling these off at a steep discount. They’ve moved on to shoving children down foamy chutes.

    I’m still struggle with the sneaker issue (which I didn’t know was an issue until I started reading your advice). Today I’m wearing a lovely pair of black dress shoes, but sneakers are comfortable day in and day out. I only buy the low-key New Balance ones without all the colorful stripes and weird soles.

    Thank the god of your choice that the people’s sneaker aesthetic does not extend to cars. Can you imagine?

  • James Tuttle June 9, 20118:05 pm

    Hi, Eric!
    DId Nickelodeon stick kids in those tube things? I think that’s a punishable offense, depending on how you feel about kids.
    I agree that sneakers can be very comfortable. That’s why we use them for exercise, even the low-key ones. We also have very comfortable shoes of many other types–Oxfords, Chelsea boots, etc.–that we can wear when we’re not exercising. Get my drift?
    I’m not sure about the car thing. I think that maybe in L.A., they do pick them the way they pick their shoes. Yikes.

    • oldancestor June 9, 20118:36 pm

      Over here in the colonies we like our cars in three colors: Light gray, medium gray, and dark gray. Not wanting to be a conformist, one of my cars is medium/dark gray.

      I did see a bright green corvette this morning, though. It stood out like a green corvette.

      I am good at getting drifts and seeing the hidden meaning. But I have reasons for asking what I ask.

      What about New Balance walking shoes (they look like brown dress shoes from any distance greater than 3 feet, but close inspection reveals them to be sneakers in disguise)? Pertinent facts:

      1. I have 4EEEE feet. Do you know how many companies make that size? 1. New Balance. I think sketchers does too, but I don’t wear sketchers. Not that you thought I did (I hope). I have tried on scores of good looking Oxford-type shoes without finding one that doesn’t crush my feet. To get the right width, I must go up two or three sizes and then there’s an inch and a half of empty space in the front. If someone decided to make weird-shaped-foot-fetish porn, I’d be the Jenna Jamison of the genre.

      2. Comfortable sneakers can be had for $50. Comfortable other shoes can be had for $150 +

      Please be patient with my while I come around to your way of thinking. I don’t doubt your expertise, but I have decades of middle class, protestant austerity to overcome.

  • James Tuttle June 9, 20119:49 pm

    Where do you find shoes for $150?! Send me the address!

    And I know what you mean about wide feet. Mine are wide, as well, even though not 4EEEE, whatever the hell that is. Definitely steer clear of pointy-ish shoes and go for rounded or even square, though they’re not really “in” right now. When I wear narrow Armani shoes, I have to go up so many sizes they look like fucking clown shoes. Prada makes shoes just for the U.S. market so check them out. They won’t be $150 but they’ll change your life.

    Or you can move to Tahiti. It’s up to you.

    • Pure Film Creative June 9, 201110:09 pm


      • oldancestor June 10, 20114:01 am

        Tahiti. I have romantic notions of it from Paul Gauguin paintings. I’ll hook up with a couple of local girls, create some art, give everyone syphilis.

  • Angela June 10, 20119:42 am

    Fabulous read as always James. We have a similar programme over here called How To Look Good Naked with a chap called Gok Wan. He puts women (and sometimes men)right from tip to toe then has them photographed naked (photos of which he projects onto buildings for all to see) and sends them down a catwalk in only their lingerie at the end of the show. He’s rather good. He also goes to their house in secret and has a good look through their clothes and underwear before putting them back on track. Most of the women claim not to enjoy clothes shopping which baffles me, though not as much as why the ones with the once white now grey underwear don’t just buy black to start with. Keep up the good words Mr :) x

    • James Tuttle June 10, 20118:25 pm

      Hi, my dear! Great to hear from you.
      I’m not familiar with that show but I’m wondering why it’s called How To Look Good Naked if it’s about how to wear clothes. It’s too ironic even for me!
      I do remember a UK show where a couple of “style experts” toss out a woman’s entire wardrobe, give her shopping guidelines then watches her on a laptop while she tries desperately to follow their advice. There was a US version, too, but I forget what they were called. They seemed quite sadistic and not much fun but it was nice to see the end result.
      Big kiss, to you!

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