Slippers Stress Me Out

The existential burden of plush footwear.

Author by Kat Kinsman
Art credit: Megan Schaller

There’s a gorgeous pair of slippers sitting on my dining room table. I put a lot of time and energy into finding them, and they cost, easily, four times as much as any other slippers I’ve owned. They are handmade, satisfy all my structural preferences for slippers, and look cozy as all get out. I say they look cozy because I don’t know from experience that they actually are cozy. Because I haven’t put them on. Because I don’t want to sully them with my gross, mortal body.

I fear that these slippers, with their un-scuffed soles and cunning little slipper case, are better than me. And the fact that I harbor such a fear is a little bit humiliating. Slippers are supposed to be an easy vehicle for everyday comfort. But that’s not the case for me, and it never has been. For as long as I can remember, I’ve imbued the mindless act of wearing slippers with undue emotion and meaning.

I don’t know who is supposed to teach children the rites of self-cozying, but my education in this discipline fell short. I’d like to place some of the blame on the nuns at my elementary school, as I often do. If one splinter of their teachings managed to lodge itself deep in my tender young Catholic soul, it was this: The most Godly way to live is in a state of slight discomfort. It keeps you humble and on your chilly, callused toes, so that Satan won’t catch you napping, infiltrate your heart, and turn you into his servant for all of eternity. I think the nuns believed this without question. I also assume they were jealous of the priests in the rectory next door, who received unsolicited deliveries of casseroles and cookies. I know I would be, but maybe that’s why I’m not a nun.

My mother, I’ve been told, did consider going the convent route at one point, if that explains the absence of any counterweight to the nuns’ philosophy at home. It wasn’t that my house was un-comfy by design, exactly, or that it was marked by the deliberate and devout itchiness that the Sisters’ order espoused. There just wasn’t any particular emphasis on softness or plushness.

I didn’t notice this quality about my house growing up. You don’t detect an absence of something until you experience an abundance, or even a minimal amount, of it. But when I went home for winter break during my first year of college, it was all baby-chick bathrobes and foam mules sliding, slowly, across the kitchen linoleum for my mom. She’d broken. A friend, darkly attempting to soothe me, introduced me to the “Thorazine shuffle,” a term for the glacial pace of an overmedicated person in hospital-issue garb — usually after a psychiatric episode.

I didn’t want to go down the same path, which wasn’t a completely baseless fear, given that I had my own diagnoses. So for the next few decades, I stomped through life hastily, on bare feet or hard soles, thinking that slight discomfort would magically prevent me from turning her dance into a duet. 

But I’ve made strides toward softening that pace in recent years. I’ve also been trying to do this wacky thing — and this is new — in which I believe that I’m worthy of comfort and care.

It’s been a struggle. It’s hard for me to invest effort or money in my own personal snugness after a lifetime of believing that doing so is either a borderline sin or a telltale sign of a stint in the ward (not that there’s any shame in it; we all have challenges). So, time after time, I cheaped out and bought discount slippers whose insides quickly roiled and crusted into fetid sponges.

I began to wonder if I’m possessed of particularly dank soles, or if other people are just happily squelching around in their foul-smelling foot sweaters. Maybe a bit of the former (even though I swear I wash my feet before putting on slippers or going to bed). But cheap slippers are also made of synthetic materials that trap odor and moisture, turning the whole enterprise into a nasty little stink-show. Ok, fine, I decided, I’ll bite the bullet and buy a pair of boiled-wool booties. And they cost what?!

Do most rational adult humans just accept that they have to spend somewhere between a Grant and a Benjamin to keep their feet warm and un-reeking? (Yes, I know you can wash slippers, but that never seems to work. In theory, I could solve this issue by getting my slippers dry-cleaned. But in theory, I could also raise sheep in my backyard, harvest their wool, and felt it into slippers. In practice, this is just as likely to happen as me schlepping to the dry cleaners.) I just can’t let myself. Not yet, at least.

So I recently shelled out a little more than I usually would for slippers — not quite boiled-wool level, but better than the just-a-notch-above-hotel-freebies that I’m used to.

These middle-of-the-pack slippers are made of silk and bear a lovely bronze, pink, and black floral pattern. They’re bedecked with a pink silk  flower, black lace details, and a stretchy black velvet heel. The insoles are a lightly ribbed, green microfiber with delicate deep-pink roses. They are perfect objects that I’m absolutely, without question, going to befoul with my personal disgustingness in the very near future, so I’m just going to let them sit here on my dining-room table for a little while. When you don’t have a lot of practice, being kind to yourself is a steep climb, but I may have finally found my footing.

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About Woolly

A curious exploration of comfort, wellness, and modern life — emotionally supported by Casper. It’s a beautiful magazine published by a mattress. Come on, you know it’s not the weirdest thing to happen this year. The first issue includes a love letter to comfort pants, a skeptic's guide to crystals, and an adulting coloring book.