Laurel Blaske/ Lion Staff
Have you ever had the problem of struggling to find a particular Lovett student in a crowd just because everyone here dresses exactly the same? I mean, sure, there are at least 20 different styles of outerwear with everything from sports team hoodies to zip-up fleeces to this really odd gray peacoat with a lion on the sleeve that magically appeared in my closet one day. Yet with all of these choices, even our warmth has restrictions. That’s usually the point of uniforms. Nothing says community like mandated conformity, right?
But there’s one day in my Lovett career that stands out like a polo on a chapel day: The day in fourth grade when they sat us all down and told us we could wear any color tennis shoes we wanted.
For years we were limited to brown, black, gray, blue, or white shoes, and they couldn’t have “large” logos. It took hours on end to find a pair that was comfortable, not entirely hideous, and just bland enough to stay within the guidelines. I was so thrilled to finally wear any shoes I wanted that the very next Saturday we went shoe shopping. I bought bright purple sneakers with pink and green laces, and with that, self expression became a new element in my life at school.
Every pair of school shoes I’ve ever owned has a story to tell. The purple sneakers with mismatched laces were a celebration of freedom. With every step I drew closer to greater self confidence. I was so proud of those shoes. No one else’s feet looked anything like mine, and I was willing to outwardly express my uniqueness. Just the year before I was so shy and raised my hand in class so rarely that my class recorded my every word on sticky notes with the date and time. (No, I am not kidding.)
The next year, however, I reverted back to plain white shoes with swoopy silver accents. I’ll admit that fifth grade me could not care less about shoes as long as I had my favorite headband, made of braided strands of old, cut up t-shirts. I stood out just fine without a pair of colorful kicks.
Outside of school, however, I fell in love with wearing boots every single weekend. I thought knock-off Uggs were the greatest thing known to man.
In fifth grade, I knew who I was and loved every part of it. I didn’t need a reminder on my feet.
In sixth grade, I got the most hideous shoes you have ever seen. They were neon tie dye New Balances with bright orange trim and practically glowing yellow laces. I’m still surprised those shoes never caused anyone to go blind as my dad complained every time he glanced towards my feet.
As you might be able to guess, the idea of middle school scared me. All of the confidence of the year before was completely exterminated. I was convinced I would suddenly have the urge to conform the first time I walked through those doors. The neon tennis shoes were less of a social statement and more of a desperate act of self affirmation.
Thankfully, sixth grade was not the end of my free spirit. Within just a few weeks, I found a whole new group of friends and with them my sense of self blossomed. By October, the neon shoes became nothing more than a sight for my sore yet content eyes.
The summer before seventh grade, my aunt moved to an apartment in Alabama just a few miles from an outlet mall. It was already late July, and I was still without a fresh pair of school shoes. Luckily for me, there just happened to be a Skechers store with a buy one, get one sale! My new running shoes were mediocre, sure, but at least they didn’t have holes in the toes like the neon ones now did.
Seventh grade, however, was still a shift for me. My interests, passions, and dreams were swapped for new ones. Practically overnight, I felt like a stranger magically appeared in my mirror, and I wasn’t doing her any justice with boring navy shoes with memory foam inserts.
I had no idea how to be the person I wanted to be, let alone select the right pair of shoes, so I turned to my closest friend at the time, who happened to already be everything I aspired to be. With a glance at her large collection of Vans shoes, I began my search for the right pair.
When I selected a pair of galaxies for my feet, I bought my first pair of non-athletic school shoes in three years. I also was not in the loop with what was cool with the kids those days. Unbeknownst to 13 year old me, Daniel and his white Vans were spreading like wildfire. Sure, my Vans were different, but that didn’t stop the endless references.
To this day, I still wear the black slip-on Vans from eighth grade. My collection has grown to seven pairs, but I still stick with the shoes with the sole falling out beneath my right heel. Nowadays I choose my shoes based on convenience and color coordination.
For four years, I chose who I wanted to be from the ground up. My statement was my shoes whether it was freedom, self-confidence, false confidence, or reinvention. Every time I walk through Lovett’s halls, I catch glimpses of small acts of expression. Patterned socks with dinosaurs. Groups of seniors with matching backpacks. Earrings shaped like screws. Sticker-covered water bottles. Oh, and that one crazy girl with the pants. We may be herded in to a corral with a dress code, but every one of us is our own black sheep. So don your neon laced Nikes, your khaki Timberlands, or your white high top Converses. If the shoe fits, you are living your life right.