LIFE: The Shoe Compliment

When it comes to strangers and compliments, most just say thanks and keep it moving. But more or less these comments are made on a whim. The lack of initial reaction could come as surprising depending on what one is complimenting. Take shoes for example, complimenting someone’s shoes is like complimenting their taste, style and saying “I like your lifestyle.” Shoes say a lot about not just the person, but their lifestyle. Shoes are important. When I was a girl, shoes were a symbol. Patent leather shoes meant it was a special occasion. High heels were reserved for grown women and I could never wear them- though I desired to. Shoes were the most important thing when it came to back to school shopping, especially since I wore a uniform in school. It was the only way we could express ourselves. But the thing about shoes, they are easy to notice when they are great, and when they are not so great they just blend. Same goes for the opposite end of the spectrum, when shoes are terrible, they stand out, perhaps even more harshly. But I notice all shoes, my shoe senses are extra sensitive. And for a week I acknowledged all shoes, good and bad just screaming to be noticed, by four little words—I like your shoes.

On my way to New York from Indiana, I came across a lot of shoes. Navigating an airport in Indianapolis I came across the first screaming pair, on the security line— a pair of chocolate brown loafers on a tall man.

“I like your shoes,” I said forcefully and sincerely.

“Thanks,” he said without missing a beat. I noticed a little gleam in his eye but nothing more.

I hoped to get more of a reaction from the next person. As I waited to get food at Johnny Rockets there weren’t very many people near me. I turned around and noticed a guy who didn’t look like he was very into fashion or cared much about what he wore. He had on a white collared button up shirt, black slacks and a jacket that did not quite match the aesthetic of his outfit. But he had on a pair of vintage classic shoes, brown, hard shoes.

I turned around and quickly said “I like your shoes.” He was surprisingly delighted at this compliment and cheerful when he said thank you. I could tell he did not expect anyone to say that to him and he welcomed it.

Some people put on shoes with the anticipation that they’ll receive some sort of comment and when they do it’s simply a validation of what they already know. While others put on shoes just to walk on the pavement and keep their feet warm, never expecting anyone to notice them enough to comment.

It looked as if the brown hard shoe man wanted to say more to me but he didn’t. Moments later I ran into the same hard shoe guy. He happened to be waiting in the same terminal as I was. We exchanged glances, but no words were spoken. He seemed to be in a good mood and it made me feel good. He probably had a story behind those shoes, and in the moment I complimented him, he maybe considered sharing it but at the last second took it back. Yet, the memory was enough to make his day. Or, maybe, it was something else.

The thing with compliments—even the same one over and over—can mean different things to different people. There’s no way to tell. A Google search of the phrase “I like your shoes” turns up a definition on Apparently, the hidden meaning of the phrase “I like your shoes” means, to some, “I want to have sex with you.” Shockingly I was oblivious to this as I dished my compliment out to almost anyone not intending for it to be a turn on.

Meaning and sincerity come to the forefront in this scenario. I was especially careful to make sure I did not repeat my compliment in the proximity of the last person I complimented. It would more than likely make my compliment get dismissed and ruin the value of my words.

As I stood on line to board the plane I noticed a young woman sitting next to her mom. She had on running sneakers. I said to her as I stood on the line, “I like your shoes.” She looked down at them, then looked up at me, waited for what seemed an eternity then awkwardly responded with a dull “thanks.” She was caught of guard, and I could tell she thought it was a bit strange for me to have said that about her sneakers. And then, to top off the awkwardness of the moment, the line I was on didn’t move.

I felt like a liar. I am picky about shoes, rather knowledgeable about fashion and appreciative of personal style. They are reflective of where you are and where you are going. Some of the people I encountered just didn’t have the appropriate shoe for where they were going, sort of like when I see people with flip flops on in the winter. I had to tell people I liked their shoes, even if I really didn’t. It was the most difficult thing. It was like telling a 400 pound person they look slim. Some people know that they are not wearing shoes worthy of a compliment and my compliment then feels a bit like an insult.

I sat down on the plane, and peered over to the person next to me. I didn’t even bother to comment on her shoes. She looked like a prude librarian type, and I felt she would see right through my lie. I had a connecting flight and hurried off the plane. As I maneuvered further in the airport, late and practically missing my flight I noticed I was coming upon a girl with boots on. I had to try to catch up with her a bit and when I did I said to her “I like your shoes.” She told me “thanks” but in a dismissive and unfocused manner. She was one of those that expected to hear things like that and rattled off thank yous automatically without thinking.

I felt almost silly for even trying to compliment her, but I really did like her shoes.
People have an unlimited supply of socks, but only a certain number of shoes. You can buy shirts, socks, underwear and such by the bundle. But shoes, are bought carefully, selected from a display, like an award you take down from a mantle piece. But these strangers just didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand their lack of enthusiasm and interest at my effort to acknowledge their prized possessions. But I thought for sure my friends would have a better response.

My friend rang my bell. I hugged her and took a look at her and the first comment I made was, “I like your shoes.”

“Oh thanks! I had these since last year, you don’t remember them? I don’t wear them that much though.”

She had tall black riding boots with gold accents and clasps. They looked brand new and I figured the reason she hardly wore them was because she had so many boots that were similar. “I just threw these on to shake up the rotation a bit.” I laughed at her reply since I knew precisely what she was speaking of. With my friends and I (and any true fashion enthusiast) we have a rotation of shoes that we wear frequently in a particular season. This rotation is more than likely comprised of some new additions with a few oldie but goodies added in just to throw people off a bit. The words—I like your shoes— meant more coming from me since I know her rotation of shoes and I was still impacted by the change in her rotation that manifested through my compliment of her shoes.

But sometimes, when a friend compliments shoes, it leads to embarrassment. I went to visit my cousin at Parsons The New School For Design. I commented on her shoes and she thought I was making fun of her. They were suede short Pocahontas boots. She said she bought them as part of a shoe deal where she could buy one pair of shoes and get another pair half off and she just needed a pair of “knock around” boots.

When it came to compliments, embarrassment I found, would lead to explanation, or a need to share the wealth. Many of the compliments I gave to my female friends resulted in them telling a story about how and where they got the shoes, or the reason they chose to wear them.

The dishing of the phrase— “I like your shoes”— took me on quite a journey. The place the compliment is said and to whom it is said to creates the ultimate meaning of the exchange. Each person has their interpretation based on their experience and their expectations. Whether our meanings come from Google, or each other, is up for debate but the only way to figure it out is to get out there and test it out. So get up, and get out, put on your best shoes and your best smile, because you never know when someone might just “like your shoes.”

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