“And you’re probably going to want to wear heels… every day. Or at least to every audition.”
This was advice from a casting director during a master class. I nodded earnestly in agreement and compliance, while making a mental note: yeah, that’s not gonna happen.
My feet have always been weird. They’re long, bony, and slender. I have what many people refer to as “finger toes.” If I wear shoes that are especially pointy, I can go down a size, because my toes will actually fill up the part that is ornamental for most other people.
People look in horror at the bulges that protrude from the base of my insteps. “Oh my God, those bunions, it must be from working on your feet all the time…” I’ve actually had them since I was nine or so, around the time I started wearing shoes in adult sizes. And I didn’t just hit a size eight at age ten and stay there— I’m now definitively a size nine and a half. For the record, I’m five foot six. Most of my friends who I can borrow shoes from are closer to five foot ten, or taller.
They first started hurting when I was kid— a stabbing pain in my heels running up and down the hill on our elementary school playground. The issue was that my feet were completely flat, and we were told that I should wear primarily Nikes or Birkenstocks (it was the nineties, this was OK) as well as arch supports when possible. I’ve basically had old person feet since I was in single digits.
As a teenager I became unbearably self conscious, thinking my feet were so ugly. I refused to wear sandals, and often opted for men’s Vans sneakers. One of my boyfriends and I could share shoes.
But I always loved socks. None were too weird. Striped knee socks, argyle, little frogs, glitter, you name it. And if you could see them, all the better. I’m embarrassed to admit that there is photo evidence of a habit I had of rolling up my pants in order to showcase my prized accessories (I was in middle school, there was a lot of weird fashion stuff going on).
They continued to be a part of my “look” in various ways throughout the years— mid-calf poking out the tops of boots, brightly patterned wool to brighten up the winters, thigh-highs that somehow made any outfit more racy. But when I moved to New York things began to change.
Maybe it started when the chef at my first restaurant job took up a “collection” to buy me new tights— he didn’t think the sexy ripped thing was working. It was his way of making fun of me, but also flirting. It worked, and we started dating.
I spent the next year and a half trying to please this guy— who knows why, maybe because I was twenty-three, maybe because I was in love, maybe some combination of perfectionism and masochism. He hated all my clothes, with some derisive comment about every garment I owned. I tried new looks, always met with the same critical voice: “Too flashy. Too grandma. Too sexy— why do you want people to look at you that way? Too weird— you’re so strange, Annika.”
This is why I was forced to retire my visible socks. That was one thing I was positive he didn’t like— “Why do you dress like a little kid?” Eventually I wound up looking like a female version of him most of the time. My cool socks stayed crammed in the back of a drawer for the better part of two years.
Now I know that these attacks on my clothes— as well as my ears, which apparently stick out, and my body, in the form of pinching any flesh that could be isolated between two fingers— was just a form of control. But what he didn’t know he’d taken away from me was a method of control I’d devised for myself. My socks were a way to celebrate a part of my body that I was otherwise uncomfortable with— metaphorically and physically. They helped me manage the pain that resulted from having almost no padding on the balls of my feet, they protected me from blisters that were quick to develop on all my boney angles, and goddammit, they were cute.
When we broke up, it took awhile. His comments and ways were still banging around in my brain, and I had to let his over-arching judgment work its way out of my system like a protracted hang-over. The first socks to re-emerge were black knee socks. It was fall and I figured why not. But the crazy colors, as well as the ankle-high white socks I thought were so nice with loafers, stayed in the drawer.
It wasn’t until a year later that I was ready to take the next step. I had spent some serious time as a single person, which had allowed me to finally do a lot of the life examining and arranging I had put off by getting into another relationship right after the sock-shamer.
Many things had changed— I was making art that I thought was pretty good, and I’d started performing music I was writing. I had a lot of terrific friends, two of whom were getting married to each other, and figuring out what to wear to their wedding was how I got my socks back.
After finding a great dress, I realized I already owned the perfect shoes— a pair of heels I’d bought during that early phase in my New York life where I was trying to pretend that beauty was more important than pain. Now I was dreading the deep red indentations I knew I would suffer when my bunions pushed my skinny toes through the peekaboo at the front, or the throbbing sensation I was likely to experience in the balls of my feet after standing for any measure of time, let alone dancing. It was too hot to wear tights, and I would surely shred a pair of pantyhose.
Then the answer came to me: socks. I could wear a white ankle sock with a ruffle. It would even match the trim on the dress. The only issue was that the socks would be, well, a statement. I mean people were going to notice them. If I was going to pull this off, I would have to own it. That said, I’d been seeing a lot of sock/sandal combinations around Williamsburg and SoHo. If “normcore” said it was OK to wear black socks with Tevas, surely I could get away what I had planned.
I asked my new guy what he thought: “Would that be pretty cute or totally weird?” He kind of looked at me like he wasn’t sure why I was asking him in the first place— “I think it will be great.”
My look was a hit. No one said anything but “You look amazing.” I managed to gracefully transition into my loafers for the after party, and I kept the little white ruffles.
It was on. The bright patterned wool socks came out for the cold weather. Spring was all knee socks, all the time. The white anklets came in with the skirts and even stayed for the shorts. “Girl,” a coworker remarked to me, “your sock game is always so on point.” Another exclaimed when she saw my outfit one day— “So cute! But wait, let me see the socks.” I pointed out a foot so that she could see, and she closed her eyes and nodded, as if I’d just spouted an inspirational bit of philosophy.
Recently I opted to re-don the heel/sock combo from the wedding, and on the street I got hollered at: “Lookin’ good girl, but you gotta lose the socks!”
Never again, I thought.