Recently, my son asked for a pair of those toe shoes, sometimes called barefoot running shoes, for Christmas. You may have seen them; they're athletic shoes that wrap round each individual toe.
Supposedly these things are more comfortable and better for you than regular tennis shoes. The ads say you can run like nature intended you to run. Never mind that the Greeks took that idea to mean running naked. And maybe the ads are right. On the track, I can see how these things might work out. The problem is, I'm starting to see them in the mall and even at the office. I saw a guy wearing them with a pair of khakis and an argyle sweater. I wasn't sure which looked more out of place, the toe shoes or the sweater.
Which brings me to the real problem. These shoes look silly-at least to me. To my son, they are the epitome of cool.
I suspect he must be right, because they cost upward of a hundred dollars a pair. Anything that overpriced must be cool. Right?
Now, I make no claim to being cool. I have noticed, however, that whatever is cool this year isn't next. And that whatever is dork this year is bound to be cool next, regardless of the price.
Unfortunately for toe shoes, Fila has already come out with a knockoff that cost $39.95. Which confirms what Andy Warhol didn't say, but should have: "In the future, everything will be cool for 15 minutes."
If we take all the high school angst movies into account - Dazed and Confused, Superbad, American Pie, even Pretty in Pink (but not High School Musical) - the one thing they all agree on is that cool has nothing to do with whether you wear the right clothes, use the right slang, or listen to the right music. If that were the case, Napoleon Dynamite would have never become the youth icon he was - for 15 minutes.
Cool is confidence. Old jazz musicians for instance. They don't care if their music isn't selling as many CDs as rap. Recently when rap music sales went into the basement for to the first time, rap artists who were so far past making six figures they could no longer count their income on their fingers and toes, were the first ones to whine. These were the guys who were wearing "bling" that would make Tammy Faye Bakker blush and rapping about their street tough. Posers? Every one of them.
Starbucks stopped being cool when they stopped selling their bold coffee in the afternoon. It wasn't that customers were disappointed that they couldn't get what they wanted. I'm sure Starbucks conducted serious market research and discovered that there wasn't significant demand for the bold in the afternoon. Where they lost cool, was in substituting attitude with statistics.
And yes, cool is serious, but cool never takes itself seriously. Cool isn't choosing the right shades, the right cap, the right jeans; it's choosing shades or hat or jeans and then saying to the world, this is me, take it, leave it, doesn't matter.
So, my son is right, at least in part. If you're wearing a pair of toe shoes because they look cool, they're not. If you're wearing a pair of toe shoes because you don't care if they're cool or not, they are.