Birkenstocks: essential shoes

So, given that it’s nearly June and ergo technically summer, and to be fair we did have a week in which it was possible to not wear socks, I think it is time to talk about summer shoes.

In addition to the approach shoes, Birkenstocks are my other ‘go to’ arthritis shoe. I don’t particularly love it when they are the only sandal I can wear as find their ‘utility’ vibe kills quite a number of outfits (call me old-fashioned, but I love a tea-dress and they need ladylike shoes). However, if it is summer and can dress quite casually, and I know I have a bit of walking to do (or I am sore), these tend to be what I’ll be wearing. When I got married, my arthritis was giving me a lot of trouble, and I quite literally could only wear these or trainers, so I bought a silver pair of Birkenstocks to wear on the day. Of course, they looked hideous with my wedding outfit and, the day of my wedding, I bottled it and went barefoot instead, rather than wear any shoes! Barefoot actually kind of worked, and nobody batted an eyelid, but it helps if you’re known for throwing that boho stuff down too.

So, these shoes and I have a history; even my slippers are Birkenstocks! When I was working as a freelance editor, and I worked at home, slippers were the shoes I wore the most so I decided to treat myself to a decent pair and, having worn them, I don’t ever want to go back to regular slippers. My feet love the arch support, and my joints love not being on a cold kitchen floor (I love a bit of wool). Yes, they are more expensive than regular slippers, but if you wear slippers or house shoes a lot, they are really nice, especially if your feet need comfort after a long day.

Best slippers ever… Birkenstock Amsterdam: £37.50. Awesome flamingo pyjamas from Hush

In terms of acquisition, Birkenstocks are pretty ubiquitous but, if you live in London or are just visiting, it’s well worth checking out the Birkenstock shop in Covent Garden. You can try the different footbeds, to get the right fit and width, and also see which style suits you best. Personally, I always go for the single strap Madrid, as I find the versions with more straps to be more restrictive and, as the footbed is rigid, this is not good for me as the flex has to come from my ankle.

Classic white in some classic sunshine

I am always surprised that a shoe with so little support around the ankle can feel OK to wear, especially as flip-flops are so terrible for people with arthritis; If anyone is wearing flip-flops as a shock-absorbing shoe to relieve knee pain, throw them out. The feet have to curl over to keep them on, and the lack of arch support encourages overpronation. There are better shoes for knee pain, such as the Clarks trigenic shoes. With the Birkenstocks, the arch support and shaped footbed seem to keep my ankle aligned, despite there being a bit of toe-curl when I walk, but there are strappier options if this suits you better:

Classic Birkenstock Birkenstock Yara Patent Birko-Flor® White 013931 - WHITE_6092_300x300
Yara: £64.95

And then it’s just a case of finding the colours and material that you like (there is a vegan range, and they are very good). The Birkenstock online store has a good selection, but it’s by no means comprehensive. My current favourite being these with the orange sole (I like orange at the moment):

Classic Birkenstock Birkenstock Madrid Patent Birko-Flor® Ocean Green Sole Orange 439381 - GREEN_6101_300x300
Madrid: £44.95

And it pays to look around to see what colours are out there. I couldn’t find these on the Birkenstock website, but I love these Orange EVA ones at Freepeople (even if they are expensive compared the other colours at the Birkenstock website), Freepeople always know how to style something too…

orange free people
Freepeople EVA Madrid: £26

Birkenstocks are also available at Office and Schuh, and I particularly love this copper pair from J. Crew. Yes, they are ridiculously expensive but they are so shiny! And coppery! This may be as beautiful as Birkenstocks get.

J. Crew Arizona: £135

My only caveat with Birkenstocks (apart from making any attempt to dress elegantly a joke) is that if you have flat feet, you may find the arch support too high for you. I’ve seen them give flat-footed people blisters on their soles (ouch!), but otherwise invest in a pair.



Scar tissue that I wish you saw

Scars are a bit of a sensitive subject to write about for me; arthritis is a condition that I would not often have associated with scars, mainly because, until I had osteoarthritis, when I thought of arthritis I thought of rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are lots of different forms of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, as it happens with old age as the joints wear down, but it’s often associated with trauma. So, you’re likely to have scarring from the trauma and, as it can be treated with surgery, you may also having scarring from arthritis treatment. So, I can’t be the only one with some scar tissue they don’t particularly like, especially as some orthopaedic surgeons seem to disregard the skin when fixing the bone, and I wonder how other people feel about theirs.

The question of what to do with scars is a difficult one; on one hand I do see them as battle scars. They are a result of trauma and corrective surgery, lots and lots of surgery, and they do show me what I have been through, how far I have come, and of this I should be, and am, proud.

On the other hand, they are atrophic, ugly areas of skin that have a weird, unpleasant sensitivity, and although they are not overtly noticeable, being on my legs, I don’t really like people to notice them if I am trying to hide my arthritis (times when I want to feel super-confident for example, I don’t really like people knowing), and sometimes it feels nice to hide it from myself.

Tattooing is the obvious choice then, and there are so many great scar cover-ups. I love tattoos, and my guilty pleasure is watching Channel 4’s Tattoo Fixers! I was gutted when this past series ended, it’s classic so-bad-it’s-good television. 

Alice is fab

However, I don’t think a tattoo would work well on my leg. My main scar is atrophic and wide, and the tissue is not like normal skin being more fibrous and thin. The scar tissue would not take the ink as well as the normal skin beside it. In addition, I don’t really like the feeling of anyone touching the scar, it doesn’t feel ‘right’, so the idea of someone putting a needle into the scar tissue makes me nauseous. In any case, I get bored of things easily, and although I see beautiful tattoos all the time, I can never decide that that is for me, forever, on my leg. I love all of these right now, I really love beautiful design… but picking just one design… forever? Frankly, I can’t even pick my favourite album.

Clockwise from top left: Jan Mraz; Dr Woo; Mo Ganji; Pony ReinhardtKenji Alucky

So, instead I sometimes use temporary tattoos to cover them up. They have come a long way from the free ones you used to get with bubblegum from the corner shop. My favourite designs are by an American company called Mr Kate, and you can get the packs in the UK from here.

Star pattern over the longest scar; you can see scars from drains and keyhole surgery above

You get lots of different designs in a pack, and although I often don’t love all of them, there are loads that I do really like to cover up my scars when I want to. They last really well, up to a week, sometimes only coming off with an oily rub in the shower. 

Black moon, I saw you standing alone

I also really like the jewellery brand Oreila; I really love their city script necklaces, but I have yet to decide whether I am an Edinburgh or London girl… you can see why I can’t decide on a tattoo.

London pendant necklace : £15

They also do temporary tattoos and, although I don’t think they are as unusual as the Mr Kate ones, they’re a bit cheaper:

Aztec starburst strip tattoo : £8

So I would love to hear what other people do with their scars? Cover or make a feature?

Adidas NMD (for the urban nomad): a review

Edit: This is a review of the NMD R1, for the 2017 review of the NMD R2, click here

I am not sure about how anybody else finds it, but the minute I feel I am getting marketed at (rather than to) I immediately get turned off. I am not one of these people who despises advertising in all its forms and lives in an unbranded yurt; everyone is influenced by advertising, the media, social media, friends, and I do want to buy stuff so I am quite glad that someone is shouting, hey! Look over here! We have what you need, and we do it in a way that you like. However, the marketing campaign for the new Adidas NMD has been so rubbish that I didn’t really feel any excitement towards them, which is why I’ve only just got round to trying on these trainers despite being aware of their existence for several months now.

Adidas NMD: £100

When they first came out I noticed the NMDs were being marketed as shoes for ‘Urban Nomads’, I wasn’t even fazed by this choice selection of marketing-speak, everyone needs to push their product, but these seemed to be a trainer designed for people who walk round cities a lot and need cushioning and support but also want to look good. Well, that includes me, and I decided to check them out. I actually went to the Adidas shop near Carnaby Street at the time of their release, but owing to a severe case of really-needing-a-coffee-and-not-being-bothered-to-try-shoes-on (I really needed that coffee) I only had a look at them, noting they were super light and seemed like they could be a good trainer for people with arthritis.

Then, a few days later, I picked up this issue of NME (yes, it’s not what it was, it’s not cool, but I still like it (and it’s free!)), and I just got a bit confused:

Oh no, my music magazine has been hacked by a trainer company

So… Generation Nomad (or, Adidas as its also known) ‘hacked’ NME. As far as I was aware, hacking was gaining unauthorised access to data, whereas the NME–Adidas combo seems to think hacking can be defined as printing on glossy paper with lots of adverts of ‘urban nomads’. It’s just weird to pretend it was some sort of hostile take over. I just don’t understand it, and I wonder how many Apprentice-style marketing executives it took to come up with this, I imagine the conversation went something along the lines of:

“We need to market these NMD trainers as being edgy!”

“You mean Urban”

“Yeah! Urban and edgy, because they’re for Nomads, which are cool”

“NMD sounds like NME… is the NME still cool?”

“Yeah! Must be!”

“Yeah, let’s pay for loads of advert space! They’re desperate, they’ll do anything for money”

“Paper is a bit low quality though, isn’t it, it feels cheap”

“Yeah, cheap is not our brand”

“I know! We can buy loads of advert space and make them print on nice paper, and all the cool kids will start wearing our trainers”

“Is buying advert space cool?”

“Good point, let’s just do it and say we ‘hacked’ it. Hacking is cool.”

“Genius, let’s open the champagne and caviar”

Now, I know I am not the target market, but I hate being treated as if I am stupid (I don’t blame NME, they really are desperate for cash). And, the hacking weirdness aside, to be honest, the adverts didn’t do that much for me. The NME has a young readership, but they also know that there’s an older generation who grew up with it too (like me), and they do try not to alienate these readers too much, and I respect it for that. 

Hmmmm, needs more concrete

I think the NMD adverts missed the mark. I don’t want to look like a kid wearing trainers in an ugly carpark, I’m in my 30s. Going for an aperol spritz at the Southbank Centre is about as ‘hanging round an ugly carpark’ as I can deal with.

Aperol spritz? Brutalist architecture? Jolly good

So, I basically decided I wasn’t in a rush to try these trainers out. In the end, however, I thought it would be a good idea to try them on eventually, as they might well have been revolutionary, so I ordered a pair in purple, which set me back £100. Not overly expensive, I pay that for my approach shoes, but I expect a £100 pair of trainers to be good.

Lovely new shoes feeling

Quick look in the box, and it’s all very nice. Who doesn’t love new shoes? The fabric was a peachy soft suede and looked good. And as I said above they are really light for their size, which is always good as I’m trying to avoid heavy shoes as much as possible at the moment, I’ve noticed it just adds unnecessary strain on my joints, especially if my feet are in a state of semi-rest (for example, when I am driving). However, the praise stops there.

The first thing, they are a massive faff to put on! There is no tongue to the trainers, it is just one solid construction, a bit like the embellished trainers, but it lacks enough stretch to be put on with ease.

Much grunting later, I got them on…

I only have swelling in my ankle, but if you have any foot problems, I think you would find just getting the shoes on very tricky. I had to really use the tab to pull them on my feet. This is just not what you want when you have arthritis: just getting dressed can be enough hassle without adding extra challenge.

I put on some shoes. Um, yay?

When they were on, I did like the way they looked. The laces are pretty superfluous, but I like superfluous things sometimes, so didn’t hold it against them. What I did hold against them was the fact they just weren’t very comfortable. The heel, weirdly, felt too firm underfoot and, also weirdly, there was no support under the arch so my bad ankle wanted to overpronate.

Definitely some overpronation going on with the potato-ankle

I didn’t think that the NMDs were terrible, they were fine. However I didn’t think they were better than many other trainers: they look good, they have an interesting design, but they didn’t feel amazingly better and, for £100, I would want these to do something a little more. It’s not that I particularly dislike Adidas either, I love Gazelles. I had a pair of Gazelles when I was 17 that were made from deep-blue corduroy (that’s how I roll) that I loved beyond all reason, and Gazelles have a special place in my heart. But for £90, you can custom design your own pair of Gazelles, which I think is better value than the basic NMD.

To make sure I was being fair I did a side-by-side try on with a pair of New Balance 420, which are a nice light trainer. I like the retro look that they have. They don’t have much arch support or do much for my overpronation either, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t ever try to do urban nomading in them.

New Balance 420 Baby Blue: £65

To be honest, they didn’t feel that different, the NMDs do have more support in the heel, so perhaps I would notice the benefit if I had been walking for miles, but if I knew I were going to do that sort of distance, I would probably wear approach shoes (or Golden Goose trainers if I wanted to look like I was making an effort). The most notable difference I could see is that the NMDs cost an extra £35…  I sent the NMDs back.

So, basically, if you want a pair of trainers for general use, and you really like the look of the NMDs they are not a bad trainer (provided you can get them on). However if you are buying with walking benefits in mind, I wouldn’t rate them too highly as you would be better off, in my opinion, in something with better support under the arch.

The search for the perfect trainer continues…

Lace-up lace shoes

After a long winter, I think we have entered a ‘difficult’ spring. One minute it looks like it is going to be warm, and suddenly it’s freezing.  Or it’s sunny and not warm. Or it’s wet. Or it’s sleeting. It’s driving me crazy, and I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired in the shoe department. Personally, having been to a lot of 5-year-old birthday parties recently, I think the number of Frozen viewings has hit a critical density and set off an eternal winter.

Thanks kids!

However, the all-knowing BBC weather app is promising it will actually become warm sometime next week so it pays to be prepared (even if the weather app is probably lying).

Something I am really looking forward to wearing in the summer are my lovely lacey shoes. Lace seems to be around a lot at the moment, and I always find it difficult to wear as it tends to be made into flimsy dresses (not for me: see the slip dress fiasco) or Victoriana high necks and ruffles (also no). However, I have noticed shoes being made out of lace this year, and that is definitely something I can get behind.

In an ideal world, in which I had more money, I would purchase these trainers, the practically perfect in every way Valentino Rockrunners.

Valentino Rockrunner in macrame lace: £460

I saw these earlier in the year and fell in love. But I can’t afford these, not even in a sale; however, I can still be inspired, and I am definitely taken with the lovely lace.

Fortunately, I am very fickle, and my love is easily transferable; so when I saw these Superga macrame lace plimsolls, I fell in love all over again:

Superga 2750 in white macrame: £65

Oooh, love! They are also available in several different colours and, if colourful shoes are your thing, Italian brand Superga are the ones to try. I love their canvas shoes, so simple and in EVERY shade you could want. The shoes themselves are typical plimsolls being quite flat, without much roll or arch support (so they may feel a bit like duck-feet if your ankles are stiff). The soles of the 2750 are thick, but flexible, and are very cushioned and bouncy. If you get on with Converse, you will probably like Superga. They market themselves as ‘The people’s shoes of Italy’, in which case I can conclude that the people of Italy must have quite wide feet as I find Superga to be very wide. This is no bad thing, however, as I always wear an insole with them, which makes my feet happier, so if you have to wear orthotics, these shoes can take them. Bear in mind that they run big, so you may need to size down.

Le mie belle scarpe! One day it will stop sleeting, and I will wear lace shoes and floaty chiffon skirts

If you like the look of the lace, but think the £65 is a lot of money to pay for shoes you can only wear when it’s the magical combination of warm and not raining, there are cheaper options available.

My favourite shop Asos has these lace trainers for a mere £18! The soles don’t look particularly cushioning, but they do look flexible (and pretty), so they may be worth a try:

Asos DEDE canvas trainers: £18

There is also a range of canvas trainers in Next at the moment, including these cream lace shoes:

Next slim lace-up trainers: £28

I tried these on in the shop, and while you can’t really complain about £28 shoes, they do feel a bit cheap, and the soles are thin and uncomfortable.

I think the fact you can’t see your feet through the lace ruins the effect

Another (and I think nicer) option from Next are these broderie anglaise pumps. I mostly like them because of the fact they are laceless lace shoes, and who doesn’t love a paradox?

Next Laceless pumps: £18

So, in a few days, in the relatively tropical 18°C, this is the route I will be going down. Summer is, hopefully, just around the corner!