The Simple Sneaker I’ll Wear for the Rest of My Life

timeless in discovery era keds man repeller

I’ve long bristled at dressing in a way that reveals my membership to a specific decade. Much like uniform dressing, there’s a certain power I feel in dressing myself in a manner I deem “time-agnostic.”

My feelings are not unlike John Mayer’s, who recently shared his in a GQ video: “People are always trying to do the switcheroo on the latest, greatest shoe. I wish more people, myself included, would just wear one thing into the ground. I want to see repeats,” he said. There’s a thing that you won’t know unless you live in something for so long to the point where anything else just feels wrong, he concludes.

I’m similarly drawn to this Velveteen Rabbit style of perpetual use—the habitual love and wear that simultaneously animates a thing and renders it shabby. It’s the tangibility of this natural process that I find most comforting, as it offers a palpable counterpoint to my hypothetical “shopping cart in the clouds.”

I’ve been charting the decrepitude of my own repeats all summer. And for me, the item I most cherish as timeless is neither investment piece nor precious heirloom, but rather, a pair of ordinary, low-stakes, Keds sneakers.

Much like the congenial “Hello My Name is” sticker at a networking event, the rounded blue outline around their name announces them. Out of the box, these white shoes of rubber and canvas are the wearer’s tabula rasa—the first building block for one’s own Bob Ross-esque expressions.

On their inaugural wear, I imagined myself tied to the long lineage of on-screen icons who had worn them.

I had, after all, grown up cheering from the sidelines as Kelly Kapowski punched up her peppy leggings and attitude with a wholesome order of milkshakes and a Trapper Keeper held over her anxious heart.

When I witnessed Frances “Baby” Houseman ascend the stairs and famously proclaim she “carried a watermelon,” in Dirty Dancing, I noticed the shoes first. They are, I realized, the ballet flats of the Outdoor Kids. Their functionality confers their glamour.

More recently, I pored over photos of Yoko Ono on the day she wed John Lennon at the Rock of Gibralter. Her pristine Keds are styled with all-white, mod knee-high socks, mini-skirt, and sunhat, and are juxtaposed by oversized black sunglasses and the undone effortless style of her hair.

Keds have about three lives, and each wash will cost you one of them.

All of these instances of Keds feel deeply rooted in their era, and yet the shoes themselves remain timeless. I asked Martina Rocca, editor at trend forecaster WGSN, how she defines timelessness in 2019, to figure out why. “Minimalism has reduced fashion to its essence,” she explained. “Through a process of ‘decorative purification,’ an item is left with almost zero style-marks.”

Fittingly, Keds look like the most rudimentary diagram of a shoe. Created by the U.S. Rubber company in 1916, it’s said that in the manufacturer’s earliest production runs, the lefts and rights were identically constructed. And they were built to literally withstand the passing of time (and the wear that comes with it), too. In early years, Keds marketed their Kedettes innovation as the “washable shoe.” While this is still true today, each wash will cause the fabric to slightly fade and the rubber to peel. Keds have about three lives, and each wash will cost you one of them.

Summer will accelerate things: a top-speed run across a lawn; a blackish scuff from a foot skimmed across a bicycle wheel; the slow-motion descent of a condiment.

As any savvy brand would, Keds has more recently released a whole range of co-branded designs, from Kate Spade to the stationery Rifle Paper Co. But I’m still most interested in that particular collaboration between my Keds and the drips of red and blue from the firecracker popsicle I hope to enjoy later this afternoon. This particular collaboration is truly a limited release and completely one of a kind.

Do you think about this, too? Do you regard the timeless as those modest pieces that change with you? Or does something timeless, by definition, need to physically withstand the passage of time?

Please meet me in the comments and tell me everything. I’ll be there, too, carrying a watermelon, ready to cut the first, drippy slice.

Photos by Madeline Montoya featuring Ked’s Womens Champion Original sneakers, Repeller shoe lace with Repeller Swimmer’s Ear Bundle and Repeller White Tiger Single Hoop ‘n’ Charm earring

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