I had two goals while growing-up in Santa Fe, New Mexico: get the heck out of Dodge and never turn into a hippie. Well, I succeeded fabulously at the first; the second? I was doing a pretty good job until a few months ago…
That’s when I noticed that some of the edgier Miami fashion bloggers, mainly on South Beach, were featuring thick-soled, white sandals resembling what I lovingly refer to as “Jesus shoes.” At least, that’s what I used to call them when I was growing up in “The Land of Enchantment” (that’s New Mexico’s nickname.) Naturally, I swore I’d never wear them. EVER.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always appreciated and sometimes imitated the granola-wearing ways of some of the women in the Southwest. You know, that whole “long skirt, off the shoulder shirt, accessorized with layers of turquoise jewelry, paired with bedazzled cowboy boots” look. It’s charming, effortless and blends in with the free-spirited ways of the Wild West.
Unfortunately, during the sweltering summer months, the unrelenting desert heat drives western women to trade in their beautiful boots for what my mom used to call “big city Birkenstocks” (insert crying emoji here.) Yes, my mother used to be one of those women. Despite my constant protest against her “Jesus shoes,” she still wore them proudly about town. She would always say to me: “If they’re good enough for Jesus, they’re good enough for me.”
Of course, I argued the case. I informed her that Jesus lived so long ago that it was probably his only fashion option and moreover, if he were to live in this day and age, he would probably go for more of a streamlined look. Like, say, a thin-thonged Havaiana flip flop or something practical to walk around in (so he could spread the word of God faster and more comfortably.) Perhaps, a pair of Nike Airs.
My mother laughed with heartfelt spirit when I brought up the aforementioned valid points, but instead of listening, she’d just smile coyly and slip her feet into her less-than fetching footwear. Then off we’d go to run errands. We’d chat it up in the car, but I’d reluctantly trail behind her in public, so people didn’t know I was with the woman wearing ugly shoes. What can I say, I was young and vain. Mind you, she would mockingly call out over her shoulder in her outdoor voice while we were inside: “Just wait, one day you’ll wear them, too!”
Over the next few decades, I would snarl, snicker and just plain roll my eyes at the sight of any sandal resembling my mother’s “Jesus shoe.” My mom even gifted me my own pair of brushed suede, burgundy colored Birkenstocks for my college graduation. It was the first time in my life I actually wanted a sewing machine instead of a pair of shoes. At least, those shoes.
In all fairness, she’s a painter with a carefree hippie attitude, so she probably thought it to be the perfect gift. For me, though, as an aspiring reporter/writer at the time, open-toed biblical-like footwear was the last thing I needed.
Can you see me showing up to do a celebrity interview or (back in the day) an agriculture report, in my fanciest fashion attire and a pair of earth muffin shoes? Nope; not on your life. (I did indeed do agriculture reports in the beginning of my career and I needed boots for that.) Anyhow, I digress. My Birks sat in the back of my closet for years, collecting a lot of desert dust. Finally, I broke down and gave them away when I moved East for my first entertainment reporting gig.
My master plan seemed to be working. Not only was I was getting further away from Santa Fe, I was also eagerly shedding my hippie paraphernalia. If I had only known at the time that “Birks Are Back” were poised to become an iconic, environmentally-conscious, fashion-forward, liberal-thinking, bucking-the-trend, I-don’t-wanna-wear-heels kind of shoe, I would have kept them.
After all, it’s not everyday you can say a shoe has changed, even revolutionized, the comfort trend in our country without ever changing itself, but “Birks Are Back” have. I mean, how could they not? They’ve been around almost as long as the Second Coming itself. Okay, maybe not quite that long, but they do have a rich history.
“Jesus shoes” were originally made in Germany in 1964. They were designed by a guy named Karl Birkenstock. It wasn’t originally his idea, though. One of his ancestors started it all. His name was Johann Adam Birkenstock. He began building the family’s shoe empire back in 1774.
Through the years, the Birkenstock family would design the first contoured insole for custom made footwear and then they’d make the first-ever flexible arch support. Karl would one-up everyone in the family, though, by using what I’m assuming were all the tricks of the family trade, to create the ultimate comfort shoe: The Birkenstock.
It would take an American, though, to bring them stateside. In the late 60’s, a woman by the name of Margot was on holiday in Germany when her feet started hurting. She allegedly had a foot condition or, perhaps, she was just wearing impractical shoes.
Whatever the reason, she finessed her way into the less-than fabulous looking footwear to find comfort and viola – Margot was a happy camper. Actually, she was so satisfied that she trademarked the shoe and started importing them to America. She eventually set up shop in Arizona.
The shoe exploded with popularity in the 70’s, which explains my mother’s fascination with them. It was when she was at the height of her hippie-slash-artist-slash-feminist mode. After the bra burning era, the “Jesus shoe” heel’d itself up and stayed in trend (as least as far as comfort and practicality were concerned) thru the 80’s, 90’s and the early 2000’s. Now, with societies obsession with all things green and good for you, Birkenstocks have become a bona fide rock star shoe and a household name.
The craziest part: besides super model Heidi Klum jazzing the shoe up a few years ago, they’ve remained, for the most part, untouched, as in their design and fit. That is, until now. I say “Birks Are Back,” because everyone and their brother is knocking off the shoe that started the comfort revolution.
Believe me, I wasn’t an easy convert. Just as I was turning the other, less comfortable, cheek at the bloggers and their Birks on the beach, I got the call. My stylist, Shari, chirped into the phone: “Birks Are Back.” I fell silent. “Hello? Hello, are you there?” I grunted something inaudible in response to which she replied: “Koko is getting them in different colors, funky designs and pretty patterns. You have to have a pair!” Naturally, I told her my apartment was on fire and I’d have to call her back.
My mother used to always say to me: “Shireen, someday, you won’t care what you wear.” I think what she meant to say was at a certain age, one’s priorities change and perhaps, fashion takes on a different meaning. For me, it has and it does. Hence, this blog.
As I jotted down my Summer topics for the “Shireen’s Favorite Things” team (we all discuss and approve them together,) I added “Birks Are Back” to the bottom of the list. I stared at the the title for awhile and thought I should add something quippy, like, “And Better Than Ever,” but the thing is, they’re not. They’re just as good as they’ve always been. It just took me awhile to come to terms with my own vanity and frankly, get over it.
I own two pairs of “Jesus shoes” now (thanks to Shari Bloch.) The first pair are by Ash (pictured in the blog.) They’re a milky beige and white and have star-studded grommets that wrap all the way around the shoe. The two straps feature gold velcro buckles. The earth-tone colors streamline the look of the leg, which is really important when wearing a super flat shoe.
The second pair are designed by Jeffrey Campbell and are more of a flat wedge. I call them my jacked-up “Jesus shoes” because they give a girl a little height. Most South Florida ladies prefer a heel, even if it’s small. My JC’s (yes, pun intended) are black and decorated with a fantastic smattering of bright pink and green flowers. They have funky old school buckles that remind me of something my mother would wear. Best of all, both pairs were very affordable.
The key to wearing “Birks Are Back” is to do whatever your heart desires. There really are no rules when it comes to comfort, besides having a fresh pedicure, which I consider a fashion must. I chose to glam my look up for the blog photo shoot. I wanted to prove to myself that “Jesus shoes” could be just as pretty as they are comfortable and I did and they are. I also think they work well with rompers, sun dresses, long skirts and shorts.
Yes, people do snicker at me for wearing my beautiful Birks, just like I did to my mom all those years ago, but you know what? My feet feel great and well, sometimes instead of beating em’, you gotta join em’. By the way, my mother is now officially obsessed with Crocs and…
Even though I successfully got out of Dodge and side-stepped, for the most part, New Mexico’s grandiose granola-like ways, I find that when I’m truly being my most authentic self, I’m always fashioning my life or my wardrobe in ways that lead me back home, literally and figuratively speaking. I guess it’s where my heart is after all and that’s why “Birks Are Back” is one of my favorite things.
Blog dress: Tiki Boutique, North Miami Beach
Blog jewelry: Josette Redwolf – IG, Twitter & FB
Blog Birks: www.kokopalenki.com
photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Hair & Make-up by Odette Hernandez
Editor: Matthew Auerbach