Start-wrong

Now that little Bobbin has finally got the hang of walking, we all toddled off to our local independent shoe shop to buy her some proper shoes: we wanted to support local businesses, we thought we’d have better choice in a non-chain shop, and we wanted to get the shoes properly fitted rather than trying to shop online. The staff were very helpful and friendly, and amazingly patient when Bobbin decided that the foot-measuring gauge was TERRIFYING and OH NOES WHY ARE YOU PUTTING MY FOOT IN A THING; the shop assistant even measured Teddy’s feet first so Bobbin could see that the gauge wasn’t going to cut her feet off or anything (we eventually managed to determine that she was a 3½G). So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the shop in question seems to stock only Start-Rite (at least for ‘first shoes’), who are very much in the pink-for-girls-and-blue-for-boys mould; the shoes we were offered for my daughter (dressed at the time in navy denim trousers and a green flowery top) gave us a choice of pink suedette moccassin-style shoes, purpley-pink mary-janes with pink flowers, or black mary-janes with little pink hearts. All very pretty, and two of the three pairs fit nicely, but… suede? Who gives a toddler suede shoes? And the mary-janes both had buckles which looked frankly flimsy: I didn’t rate their chances in the hands of a marauding monster who can shred the Guardian into ribbons in the time it takes me to drink half a cup of tepid coffee.

“They’re all a bit… pink?” I said, rather awkwardly, not wanting to be fussy after they’d been so helpful. “She doesn’t tend to wear much pink, to be honest.” The shop assistant looked a bit confused.

“Do you think perhaps we could see the boys’ shoes too?” asked my husband. “Oh! Er… yeah,” said the shop assistant, looking even more confused. She went away and came back with a pair of sturdy navy-blue shoes with a bit of red detail, and a pair of sturdy navy blue shoes with a bit of red and lighter-blue detail (ringing the changes there). It seems the boys have just as little choice, but in a different direction. Anyway, we tried them on; Bobbin seemed just as happy in navy-blue as she did in pink (to be fair, she almost certainly doesn’t care either way), clumping cheerfully up and down the shop floor; we established that there wasn’t a significant price difference, and eventually went for the plainer navy-blue pair:

Picture of my daughter's first shoes (bought from Start-Rite's range 'for boys'), sturdy navy-blue shoes with red detail.

Elmer shown for scale.

Do they look like “boys’ shoes”? Yes, but only because we now have such a ridiculously polarised idea of what “girls’ shoes” and “boys’ shoes” can look like. Here’s a selection of Start-Rite’s offerings, from their website. You don’t need me to tell you which set is allocated to which gender:

Screenshot of a grid of shoes 'for boys' from Start-Rite's website; all are brown or blue-and-red.

Shoes will be shoes

Screenshot of grid of shoes 'for girls' from Start-Rite's website. All are pink, red, or black with pink detail.

Shoes and spice and all things nice

Let’s see what they say about their shoes:

Once your little boy starts walking confidently, Start-rite has a wide range of first walking shoes in a choice of styles and colours. Start-rite shoes give protection and support and are available in whole and half sizes with different width fittings for your little boys first steps and beyond.

Our girls’ shoe collection comes in a beautiful choice of styles, colours, sizes and width fittings. All girls footwear is designed to look pretty and feel great, whatever the weather brings, for all kinds of activity. From girls pre-walker shoes to girls school shoes, out-of-school, trainers and wellies, there are Start-rite girls shoes and boots to suit every little princess.

So your boy will walk “confidently” and the shoes will give him “protection and support” (in all those rough-and-tumble things he does), while your girl (sorry, your “little princess”) will “look pretty and feel great”, and the shoes will “suit” her. (Admittedly the girls are allowed to do “all kinds of activity”, so long as they look attractive while they’re doing it.)

My daughter is not a princess. She’s a normal toddler — I would say “a normal little girl”, but her sex and/or gender really doesn’t enter into it. The things that are important in her life at the moment are: mummy; daddy; her grandparents; milk; biscuits; bananas; going on the swings and the slide; and obsessively watching and re-watching Bagpuss and Peppa Pig DVDs. Looking pretty isn’t even on her radar. To be honest, “feeling great” isn’t something she’s consciously pursuing. Owning and wearing clothes that make her look attractive (to whom?) isn’t going to make her feel “great”; as far as I can tell she’s more or less indifferent to clothes unless they’re uncomfortable (e.g. some of her bibs with velcro at the back seem to scratch her neck, and she takes them off as soon as she can) or they have something exciting like LIONS (grr!) or TIGERS (grr!) or DOGS (bow wow wow!) or CATS (meow!) printed on them.

Am I weird for being more concerned about her comfort and happiness than about her looks? If so … well, fortunately, I’m also more concerned about her comfort and happiness than I am about my weirdness. I can live with being weird.

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6 thoughts on “Start-wrong

  1. I have a four year old boy. We always try to give him a choice from all of the shoes that will fit him (which isn’t many styles, like both his parents he has wide feet). But we always end up going with ‘boys’ shoes because we have yet to be presented with a pair of girls shoes that don’t have the stupid holes in the top. *sigh*

  2. I wonder if this helps partially explain why all the female toddlers we know seem to have about five pairs of shoes (because of the impracticality of shoes marketed for girls) whereas Owen and most of the male toddlers just have one pair.

    • I suspect it’s also to do with the perception that fashion is important to girls, so they’ve got to have different shoes to match different outfits (though presumably all their outfits are pink anyway so surely they’d only need one pair of pink shoes… hmm), whereas boys would presumably be considered horribly effeminate if they even noticed what colour their clothes were, so they only need one pair of shoes (and it doesn’t matter what colour it is because it’ll be covered in mud soon anyway as they play their rough-and-tumble games). Sighhh.

  3. Pingback: The pig issue | Two colours in my head

  4. I was narked to find that even the barefoot baby shoe ppl have a very gendered range; and yep, almost all of the “girls” shoes are that style (Mary-Jane?) with the strap & the hole across the middle. (Almost even more narked to find that whilst they stock these fleece over-boot winter things in what I would consider almost entirely gender-neutral colours, even those have been divided into “boys” and “girls” with no overlap.)

    • I don’t mind Mary-Janes per se, and surely it’s possible to make them not-too-flimsy — e.g. all my school shoes when I was a kid were the style with holes in the top, but a) they weren’t pink (usually blue or brown) & b) they were quite clumpy & solid. If the shoe-shop had sold a pair of more solid-looking shoes in that shape, in black or brown or blue or red or green, I might well have gone for those instead — it’s more like the sort of thing I wear, & while I don’t want to make her a ‘mini-me’ it’d be nice in a way if she could have shoes that looked like the shoes she sees the people around her wearing. (Daddy tends to wear trainer-like shoes, but they didn’t have any shoes that looked like trainers for boys or girls in that size, which I guess may be more to do with the difficulty of getting them on and off.)

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