Before you read this, please note: If you are happy with girls school shoes, that’s cool. I’m not having a go at anyone for buying their daughter strappy or slip on girls school shoes. I don’t care. There are wars going on. It’s not taken over my life. But I think it needs addressing. It’s the odd difference in what shoe designers seem to think girls and boys do at school. Anyway, it shocked me, so I wrote about it…
My daughter is starting school soon. I thought buying school shoes would be cool. Exciting. Easy. Go to the shop, get measured and get some shoes. I remember getting my feet measured when I was a kid. It was like a trip to Disneyland. Almost.
It’s my first kid, so everything’s pretty new in this school malarkey.
So, I’m thinking:
What do school shoes need to be?
What else? Well, it’s September. In England.
Comfortable – for kids growing feet, for feet that are constantly on the move, playing, running round the playground, climbing, skipping, chasing. And sitting in a classroom.
Waterproof – cos we live in England and it rains. Grass gets wet, dewy, pavements have little puddles, rain falls from the sky and drops land on the shoes. Yes, waterproof.
Warm – cos we live in England and it’s gonna get colder and colder from now till Spring.
Strong – cos kids move a lot more than us lazy older sods
Durable – cos they’re expensive!
So I walk in and look at the shoes. Girls on one side. Boys on the other. I see it with toys and fashion and I know it gets talked about a lot. But the difference in school shoes was amazing.
And before the bloody insults start. No, I’m not against everything ‘stylish’, glitzy, glittery. I know every word to Frozen and my kid can prance round the house as much as she wants in my high heels and sequined dresses. I’ve spent the last 2 months jumping around Summer festivals in glittered face and tutus. But this is not a party. Or a fashion show. I’m buying her shoes for school. It’s school. School. School.
Where kids learn
Where kids have lunch breaks and run outside on dewy grass. Wet dewy grass
Where they climb climbing frames and trees outside the front of classrooms
Jump in puddles
Where it rains and drizzles and sometimes pours
And kids go outdoors
Get wet and get cold and play outside.
Boys and girls, both ‘sides’.
And the fact that every shoe shop seems to think that only boys do this sort of activity is a little odd. Or that girls who do are ‘tomboys’ rather than simply, girls who move about.Girls really do move about.
Looking around, I notice a few things. The girls shoes are not waterproof. They are not warm. And most of them have no grip. And no thick velcro straps, just little straps and buckles, if that. They are open. They are more flimsy, less material in them and still often more bloody expensive.
Perhaps I’m getting it wrong. Maybe, just maybe, and I might be clutching for straws here, the shoe companies actually think that little girls are tough. Really tough. Tough enough to do all this, to climb and play and run and skip in the rain and cold and get soggy cold feet and slip over more often. Or that little girls are much better at climbing trees so don’t actually need the grip that little boys need. Maybe? Perhaps not.
The next thing I’ve been told in all the shops.
‘But girls like these shoes’. Yes. I get it. You are a business and are catering for the market. But if you walk into a shoe shop with a little girl (as I have done many times as a mother) you realise kids aren’t stupid. They know which side is meant for them. And in the last four shops I went into, the ‘girls’ side had not one pair of shoes that was waterproof, warm, grippy and fitted tightly to her foot. Not one. When she asked the shop assistant if she had any outdoor girls shoes ‘without holes in’, the assistant didn’t dare point to the boys side, but pointed to a pair on the girls side. One pair. With laces. And a heel. She’s four. She can’t do bows yet, sorry. I’m not a genius mother. She would not recommend shoes from the boys side.
If you want to get these girls shoes then fine. If you – as people have told me to do – want to give your girl an extra bag for school each day with wellies in in case it rains or she wants to go outside, fine. If you want your kid to be stylish for school, fine. If you can’t be arsed with the hassle when your little girl wants girl shoes and not the boys shoes fine. But I don’t. I want a pair of practical shoes for my daughter starting school, without making her feel like an oddity.
So here’s an idea for the shops. Totally free.
Take a few pairs of ‘boys’ school shoes. You know, the ones with tightfitting easy to do up Velcro, the ones that cover the kids whole foot so the rain can’t get in, the ones that cover the whole foot so they stay warmer, the ones that are less ‘stylish’ and more practical ‘for active little boys’, the ones that have enough grip on the soles of them for a four year old to climb fucking mount Vesuvius. Get another pair of these from the stock room and put a few of those pairs on the ‘girls’ side. The ones with dinosaurs perhaps (cos there were female dinosaurs). Whatever. Just any boys school shoe. No need for a redesign. No need to add ‘style’ or glitter or flowers or fairies. Because these are just school shoes to wear to school. No need to spend any money on a new product you don’t think will sell because little girls (or mums) ‘just want style’. Just take a few pairs of boys shoes and stick them on the girls side and re-label them ‘girls dinosaur school shoes’ or ‘girls outdoor school shoes’. Put a flower on the label if you have to. Or a picture of a dinosaur with a bow in her hair and longer eye lashes in case we all get too confused.
So that when a little girl walks into a shoe shop to get measured for school shoes, she at least has an option to not feel like she is being dragged to the ‘boys area’, or doing something weird by getting bought a pair of practical shoes for school days in a cold, rainy country. Because although some little girls feel fine to do that, others don’t. Some parents don’t. And tantrums in shoe shops are embarrassing. And sometimes really not worth the hassle. And while the marketing companies say ‘it’s just what they want’, if there’s no other option, it’s hard to see where the chicken and egg begins in all this.
As for party shoes. Do what the fuck you want with them. I don’t care. Make them as glittery and bright and colourful as you can. (and maybe some bright ones for the boys, rather than boring beige or brown). Give them bells and flashing lights and cover them in stardust and treacle. But for school shoes? In a cold, rainy, grassy, muddy, slippy country for kids who play? Please, get a grip.
Ps. If you have no kids and want to see what I’m on about. Google – Girls school shoes. Boys school shoes.