Remarkable new technologies in footwear design—and some not–so–new—promise to transform your physique in a number of ways. But are these shoe shape–changers all they are cracked up to be? Or are they simply a shot of cool in your shoe collection? Here’s a short list to help you decide.
Old Shoe Renaissance
Earth Shoes—from Clunky to Chic
Remember Earth Shoes? I had a pair—as a girl—in the 70s. I was so proud of them, despite their clunky, over–built foot bed. I wore them until they cracked in the middle. Did they improve my posture and reshape my butt? Dunno. I was a kid, so probably had good posture and butt shape then anyway. More likely it was the jolie laide factor—the beautiful–ugly thing that made them so appealing to me. Like a squat, drooling English bulldog that makes you just want to tweaks its widdle floppy cheeks, that's how I loved my Earth Shoes. Over the past few years, Earth Shoes—originally designed by a Danish yoga master—have undergone a hip replacement and are now more cute than Herman Munsterish. (A little over $100.)
Birkenstocks—Always in Style
Birkenstocks may have been around forever, but remarkably, they are not just for granola–heads and academics any more. These days, anyone might be seen wearing the shoes affectionately known as Birkeys: surfer dudettes, trustafarians, and grannies included. When I lived in Japan, I special–ordered a pair of the clog–style straight from Germany. 20 years later, I still wear that pair (when the soles wear out, you can have them replaced). Do they tone my feet and act as a "personal trainer"? Not sure. My feet do like them—the lifted arch, the toe–spreading—and they are adorable. Like Earth Shoes, Birkenstocks are enjoying a renaissance, with fun versions like the one pictured. In the $50 to $180 range, Birkeys maintain a fervent following. Once you've worn them, you get hooked—it's hard to explain how a fashionista like me would pass on the more stylish flats and go straight to the Birkeys for a quick trip to pick up my kid at preschool, but this is the case, and it’s not just nostalgia.
The Drop of a New Shoe
If we're open to the jolie laide factor in footwear—as long as there is some promise of a physiological benefit, then here come a mind–altering assortment of odd shoes to reform your derrière, tone your cellulite, smooth your abs, and make you walk like an Egyptian, no, a Masai. Not kidding about this—at least that's some of the hype.
These really ought to be called FiveToes, because they fit live snug gloves around the toes of each foot. Designed for a minimalist feel, especially for those who prefer to go barefoot, but still want protection and a grippy sole. The maker of FiveFingers footwear, Vibram, claims its famous toe–shoe “acts like a second skin to offer a gecko–like grip over a variety of terrain.” Increased strength, balance, better posture, like the other far–out footwear denizens, the list of purported body improvements for wearing FiveFingers is long. Style–wise, they come in cute or plain colors and in either all–open, mary jane, or boot styles (for $80 to $100). Although Vibram does not recommend it, some runners have enthusiastically taken to wearing FiveFingers while training and in races. The company does recommend their shoe for windsurfing, mountain climbing, kayaking, and other low–impact recreation.
Advertised as “UK's hottest new shoe,” and “The FitFlop, with the gym built in." (Someone gets paid to write these slogans? Sheesh—I want that job.) Reputed to tone your thighs, calves, and glutes, and may even help you lose weight. (Do they work? I could ask my sister—she wears them, but she's always been about a size 4, so maybe that’s not a fair question.) Sort of a clunky, athletic–inspired marriage of sneaker and flip–flop, these puppies are a reasonably priced $50 to $60, although they are currently back–ordered, and not easy to find.
Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT)
With the list of benefits the pricey MBT footwear promises, it's tempting to think they are too good to be true. With a uniquely designed lifted, curvy heel that forces your foot to roll forward, MBTs are by far the clunkiest body–improvement shoes out there—and the most costly, at around $250 a pop. Naturally, they are beloved by an increasingly long list of celebs. Despite having the sex appeal of a set of grandpa's false teeth soaking in a glass of water, MBTs are catching on. The idea behind the technology is to simulate the effect that the Masai people (who are known to have fabulous posture) experience as they roll forward while walking on sandy soil, ironically, barefooted.
Toe separators cause an opening and straightening of your toes when you wear the Beech Yoga Sandal—which is supposed to be a good thing. These uncomfortable–at–first–but–you–grow–to–love–them modified flip–flops, are reputed to increase "foot flexibility, balance, and body alignment" and the "gentle spacing of the toes aligns the feet with the ankle, the knee, the hip and posture" I simply thought they looked cool, so I bought a pair for my hubby for about $35. He wears them everywhere but the beach—who'd want to get beach tar on these? Yes, they look weird, but cool–weird.