Monday, February 24, 2014

Can Footwear be Racist?


“I saw Cady Herron wearing army pants and flip flops, so I bought army pants and flip flops.”  Sometimes, that’s all it takes.  And seeing Jourdan Dunn on my Instagram feed wearing Timberlands was almost enough to make me buy a pair.


I’ve been on the fence about the classic yellow boot for as long as I can remember.  Initially seen in the hallways of an elite boarding school otherwise void of urban style symbols, I couldn’t help but think of their wear as anything other than ironic.  J. Crew chinos, a Ralph Lauren button down and Timbs almost seemed like a fuck you to the workmen for whom the boots were initially designed in the same vain that Miley Cyrus’ documented penchant for twerking and Jordans commodify black culture.  Something just felt a little bit off.  If Timbs were the urban shoe, L.L. Bean’s boots represented its classic American (read: white) counterpart.

Nearly seven years later, Timbs are still on my mind because: (1) Californians often don’t know what I’m talking about when I use this abbreviation, which continues to blow my mind. (2) Timberlands have been repurposed as the boot of fashion.  They have found their way into Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue and onto the feet of style icons like Rihanna, Kanye West and Rita Ora.  Rarely can a brand transcend racial and class boundaries as successfully as Timberland but at $180, the Classic Yellow Boot isn’t inherently exclusionary.

It’s not everyday that the creative director of a storied fashion house helps answer my question, “Can footwear really be racially coded?” but Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci continues to surprise me.  Tisci who has amassed a collection of about 125 pairs of the same Nike Air Force 1s, the brand’s most celebrated style and popularized in a Nelly song of the same title, recently collaborated with Nike to design a four-piece collection of reimagined Air Force 1s.  Both Timbs and Air Forces are shoes deeply connected to rap lyrics and hip-hop culture.  Tisci’s appropriation of the shoe, which include a knee-high sneaker-boot hybrid and a more wearable low top sneaker, bring the urban staple to a more high fashion audience in the same way prep school boys appropriated Timbs from urban to preppy.  But Tisci told Vogue in its February 2014 issue that, “he envisages the sneakers as something that his current muses Beyoncé and Rihanna might wear to step a romantic evening look in a new direction.”  Does it mean something that Beyoncé and Rihanna are both black? 

So you tell me, can footwear be racist? 

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