Thursday, 23 September 2010

in which i have my shoes polished and muse on consumerism

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The other day I had my shoes polished. I actually brought these shoes to Mexico with the idea of having them polished (I had them here for six months last year and consistently forgot). You don't see shoe polishers around much in Canada, though I'm sure you can get it done somewhere, but here it's very common to see the little portable booths, and a man sitting on a wooden stool waiting for business. It takes about ten minutes and costs less than $2. He washes them with a soapy mixture, brushes them, and then adds the polish.

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I contemplated my shoes while the man worked. I hardly wear these shoes any more. I had bought them in Barcelona in 2007 and, not having many alternatives, wore them all the time. Back then, people used to come up to me on the street and tell me how cute they were; once someone even took a picture of them. But fashion turns over so rapidly that no one says anything any more, and I got a bit sick of them.

However, I remember interviewing my grandfather earlier this year to preserve the family history, and while we were talking about his childhood I said, "you guys must have had so much less stuff..."
"You can't even believe it," he replied. "People these days have so much stuff... we never had any of that."

My grandfather certainly wasn't rich, but he wasn't terribly poor either. He just lived at a time when people took care of their belongings. If you bought a pair of shoes that cost you money, you looked after them, you had them cleaned or you cleaned them yourself, and you wore them until they wore out or didn't fit you any more. (For the rich, this was obviously not the case, but there weren't too many rich people in Canada in the 1930s).

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As the man cleaned and polished, I felt a rekindling of pride in my old shoes. They looked so much better, they were starting to gleam. And I wondered why I'd felt they were inadequate for the last year and a half. There's something wrong with an industry that makes us buy, buy, buy all the time, that makes us feel out of the loop if we're wearing round-toed shoes in a pointy-toed year, or flats in a heels year. And there's something satisfying, at the end of the day, about owning something long enough to have a host of memories associated with it.

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So here they are, looking well-loved again instead of just well-worn. What do you guys think about the consumerist culture and the need to always have something new? I know a lot of people buy vintage or thrifted items, and while that is of course more ecological, I don't think it addresses the main issues of consumption that affect us these days... I'd be interested to know what you think!

Now, me and my paypal account have a date with Etsy... I know I know! But the dress in question will go really well with these shoes!

33 comments:

Closet Fashionista said...

How fun!!1 :D :D
And yea...I don't know what it is about buying stuff...but its just so fun, isnt it? Having new things, at least new to you...thats my problem at least, haha
http://aclosetfashionista.blogspot.com/

A said...

It is the same in India. We took care of things that purchased..spoiled in the USA. But I don't like small boys or men polishing the shoes while we sit on chair. I never got them polished ...always did myself but don't do anymore.

But it is common aspect of developing countries.

Very nice pictures especially b/w.

SG said...

They are really cute looking shoes.

With the great depression, for a decade, starting from 1929,(stock market crash) not many people were rich in North America.

Emily, Ruby Slipper Traveller said...

@ A: interesting. I didn't think that I might be exploiting someone by having them polish my shoes; if anything I liked to think of it as bringing them business, because they never seem to have much these days. But hmmm. Don't know what to think now.
@SG: Indeed. My mom likes to say "I grew up in the Great Depression," which is nonsense, she wasn't even born. But her mom did grow up in the great depression, and you can feel the effects even in my family today. Coupons, buying things on sale, going to the Salvation Army, and an absolute horror of debt...

Raez said...

there's actually a shoe polisher in the T.O airport! it was really cool, i wouldve gotten my combat boots done if i wasn't running late!

xx raez

A said...

@Emily, you are absolutely right about helping. But I just feel very uncomfortable with this concept. Also I feel real uncomfortable with house maid in India serving you food...I know we help them directly with employment but it is just me.

Amber Rose said...

How cute-- it's a blast from the past. I haven't seen shoe shiners... anywhere!

We were actually talking (in class today) about how our generation is the instant generation. We want something, like an answer, and we go to the internet. Instantly, we have our answer. It's the same for items. We want a new blouse, we get it now and leave the old one in the back of the closet.

Then again, I'm self-proclaimed shopaholic, so I'm merely feeding the problem..

Emily, Resplendent Tranquility said...

CAUTION: Another mammoth sized comment follows below.

Terrific post, Emily. While I like buying new things as much as most anybody, I do tend to hang on to things until they aren't serviceable anymore (or until I feel it's time to donate). My mom thinks I'm crazy, but I'm super cautious and perhaps overly concerned about staining my clothes. If I suspect that anything splattered me, I'll inspect what I'm wearing until I find the spot and treat it right away. Whether I paid full retail price or bought an item second hand, it was still with my hard earned money and I want to make the most out of it. I'm the same way with shoes. If I can repair a problem myself, I will. I don't like the mindset of ''oh, whatever, this is ripped/stained/flawed somehow, I'll just buy a new one.'' I think many would benefit from taking a step back and being happy/thankful for what they do have.

On another note, ideally I would like my wardrobe to operate cyclically. If I bring x amount of new items in, x amount would need to be donated. I don't always follow through with this, but I try (which counts for something, right?).

As for your shoes, I think it's great you brought them out to be polished! They are adorable and that's so funny someone asked to photograph them.

P.S. If you made it this far, your last comment has sparked an idea for a blog post. While I do like the traditional black and white saddle shoes, I have a hard time separating them from poodle skirts and whatnot ;) So, I'm working on a little something to help dismiss this notion!

NRIGirl said...

I admit! I am guilty of consumerism from time to time... I also donate a LOT from time to time which almost empties the closet that I am out shopping again...

I know something is terribly wrong here - unless we consciously make an effort to say "Enough is enough" no shoe can save us...

Black & White picture is lovely. Shoe shines!

Rio said...

I can be quite the consumer, and I have grown to actually enjoy the act of shopping lately, but I also have a good deal of stuff that I've had for years and years. If it's not a compulsive buy, I don't feel as bad, but sometimes I get stuff just to get stuff... not good when you're living off of a waitress's salary! Anyhoo, your shoes are adorable and look lovely all polished!

Shallow Mallow said...

*stands up* Hi. I am an etsy-holic.
And worse yet: I m a UK based Etsy-holic so I do feel quite guilty getting my treasure so far afield. But then I stubbornly tell myself "You don't even drive, you're allowed to pollute the world by means of the postal service" but really I know that 's not quite right either. *sigh*

I try to ask myself "do you really need this?" and make sure it 's not just a fleeting "WANT WANT WANT" feeling I'll regret soon enough. But even when I really want something BAD that 's not saying I actually need it.
Thank goodness I live in a tiny place so that keeps my consumerism in check. It also helps that I can't let go of things easy so I do look after my clothes and mend or recycle where possible.

One thing that works for me is reminding myself that it 's better to keep active and make memories than collect trinkets. Mind you, those dresses... they keep thwaring my good intentions. :)

Shallow Mallow said...

Completely forgot:

Love your shoes :)

And thanks for your sweet comment over my end. Who knows how long it would have been until I found your lovely blog otherwise?

SMASH said...

Those shoes look really comfortable and really adorable, you should wear them more often! I've always wanted to get my shoes polished but I really don't think I even have shoes worth polishing...

I think about how back in the day people really could only afford to have x amount of shoes and like you said, they took really good care of them! When I think of the consumerism in today's society and how a person can easily have around 20 pairs of shoes but not bother to wear them regularly or take care of them...I don't know, it's bizarre and makes me really consider everything I buy. People just buy just to buy a lot of times and they need to be more mindful of this behavior!

Carys said...

I love these shoes, they are so cute!! I totally agree, so many people wear things for one season then throw them away these days, but in the past people were so much more creative!
From Carys of La Ville Inconnue

Krystal said...

I think you make such a good point - there is definitely something wrong with buying all the time. I loved this story :)

Diana said...

i love those shoes! i must admit too that i am guilty of being a consumer - but theres nothing better than discovering an old piece of clothing (or shoes) that you loved and loving them again! you are so right though we need to stop buying so much and love what we have :) plus that shoe polishing looks so fun!!

http://dressedupallligators.blogspot.com/

Erin Cathleen said...

Great post, very thought-provoking! I am often annoyed and puzzled by our consumerist culture. Of course, I love shopping as much as the next fashion blogger, but I try to get as much use as possible out of what I already own. I tend to be a bit of a shoe and dress addict, so I do try to follow the "out with the old, in with the new" principal and donate or consign items I'm no longer wearing (though that's hard to do, sometimes; I can always think of a way to "remix" an old garment or accessory to make it look new!). Still... there's nothing wrong with boosting the economy, is there? :P Or so I tell myself...

At least by shopping on Etsy, you're supporting indie designers! Way to go. :)

Gorgeous Clara said...

thanks!

nice pics!

Daniella said...

nice pics!! love those your shoes!!!
http://danicameo.blogspot.com/

CAITLIN said...

emily, this was a great post. my thoughts were provoked :) first of all, i totally agree that our consumer culture is completely out of control. we have so so so many things that we don't need and we always want more more more--it's depressing, but our capitalist system is designed to keep us wanting and buying. i like to think i lead a pretty simple life. i don't get my panties in a twist about many new toys, and clothes are the one thing that i really try to treat myself to (and books). i really struggle with my own overconsumption, but really, clothes are kind of a necessity, and i want to be able to have fun with them. i could go on and on about this and never get anywhere, but i just wanted to say that it's on my mind. always. and i am really annoyed when the people in my life can't seem to talk about anything but what they want to buy next and why. that sort of thing is an indication to me that something is seriously wrong here.

and for what it's worth, i think your shoes are adorable.

Ashley said...

I've thought about this a lot, actually.

My opinion is this: that it's ok to love Shopping as long as it doesn't become your identity...which it does for some people.

The problem is that fashion, along with money, is insatiable. You can ALWAYS have more. And this is where credit card debt has been a BIG problem with our generation. There is something to be said for your Grandpa's era, and appreciating more of the little things in life, and not always what you can get.

Of course, shopping is fine. But there should always be a balance, as with everything in life.

Vicky K. said...

lovely pictures!!

Vicky
(new post: Photographypassion & follow me)

20 York Street said...

Oh boy, I suppose I should re-think my shopping plans tonight? =)

I remember those sapateros growing up!

besos,

ML
20 YORK STREET

Tilly said...

Hi Emily! I loved this post it was so genuine and made me think! (which is good cause I've been working a 12 hour shift! And I need brain stimulation he he!)

I think growing up in quite a poor household makes me really appreciate everything we have. It's weird because my boyfriend is from a very wealthy part of London and I'm from the poor north ha ha so we have differing views on how much to spend on things! Love you blog :) xxxx

Narda Rafaela said...

Hahaha so cute! :D

Karol Duarte said...

very nice.
i love the shoes.

xx

Anything but Bland said...

i like your style! i loooot!

lahti shirley said...

hahahhahaha que legall! ja fazia um tempo que não via ninguém limpar os sapatos assim!

beijos

Ayse said...

WOOOW, what a nice blog :) I follow you now. Come and visit my Blog =)

XX

Molly said...

I'm on your wavelength. I'm constantly wanting more, more, more to fill my closet and bloat my wardrobe... it's a constant battle to feel thankful for the excess that I have and really care for and use it! CONSTANT. BATTLE.

Your paypal comment at the end made me giggle.

v a m p i r e said...

honestly this is a moving post , my grandma told me the same thing too

people nowadays esp youngsters have so much luxurious stuff which i think they have forgotten the value of cherishing what we have..living in the city even me myself sometimes felt not content and wanted more of everything ..

somehow your post reminds me of my grandparents , god knows how much i miss them

my grandma when she was a young girl , my great grandmother work as a seamstress to raise them , so of course they don't get to buy all the fancy things that we have now..getting a new pair of shoes or just a dress that has been passed down by her older sister meant the world to them back them

i just wish everyone can be grateful with what we have

dimi said...

This is one of your best posts I've read so far! You seem like a really nice person and I share a lot of your views for the world, including this one.
Consumerism is catastrophic for many societies and I think that "recession" proved just that. Unfortunately we're all victims more or less since it's forced upon us so fiercely...
Being Greek, we still suffer strongly the consequenses of a faulty bank system that is directly connected to "consumerism"...
On to lighter subjects - love the shoes!

Braden said...

The other day I had my shoes polished. I actually brought these shoes to Mexico with the idea of having them polished (I had them here for six ... ejourneysshoes.blogspot.com