Earlier today I was doing a round of housecleaning-- sweeping, vacuuming, etc. I have to wear lace-up shoes while doing this -- not only for the psychological benefits of taking your housecleaning seriously, but mostly because I used to live in a part of the US in which the brown recluse spider was common. They are poisonous to nearly everyone, but some individuals are especially allergic to their venom. One year while I was in graduate school there was a horrible case in the news -- a woman had been vacuuming her home while barefoot and disturbed the spider, which bit her. She was really allergic and fell into a coma. By the time she woke up (I think several months later) all of her arms and legs had been amputated to save her life. So, ever since, I vacuum only while well-shod.

Anyway. My running shoes were caked with mud from taking the dogs to the park yesterday, so for some reason I pulled out my old hi-top Converse sneakers, which I haven't really worn in ages. They're splattered with paint from when we moved into this house -- but even long before that they weren't in my regular rotation. But wearing them as I cleaned made me feel pretty happy -- it's hard not to feel cool in Chucks. They were one of the few seriously symbolic pieces of clothing I've ever owned.

I got my first pair -- black, of course -- sometime during high school. I was mostly wearing boots all the time (a kind of elfen pair and a punkier suede with those fireman jacket buckles all the way up the side), but Chucks were cool for summer.

By the time I went to university, I had my old black pair and new yellow ones. This was the early/mid-80s, so they were perfect with mini-skirts, with brightly colored leggings, and the enormous wrinkly satin shirts that were really hip my freshman year. I went to school on the East Coast, at a place full of preppies -- serious old-money preppies, not the wanna-bes who just shopped JCrew. So the Converse were a kind of signal for those of us in the soon-to-be underground. All the freshmen were housed in dorms in one part of campus, and so I soon knew that there was a girl with red ones 2 buildings over. Somebody came up to me a few weeks into the term and said, "hey, you're the girl with the yellow Chucks, right?"

There were other signals we were all busy sending -- our haircuts, our t-shirts, our music -- but the Chucks were a big part of resisting the dominant style of the place (which tended towards khakis, perfect white t-shirts, those preppy jute(?) woven totebags, and loafers). They were a recognizable symbol of the margin -- a shared vocabulary that even the prepsters could read. (This was a seriously preppy place -- which made it really easy for us to be the cutting edge of alterna-fashion, 80s style. . . I was once stopped in the library by a guy who took a look at me and said "you like the Cure, right?" All of those signals were so important for us back then.)

Over the years since college I gradually stopped wearing Chucks -- partly because I was trying to look older, I guess -- and partly because my feet were finally protesting years of mistreatment. (Anybody else remember high-impact aerobics classes in the 80s?) I wore them sometimes in the summer, since summer clothes and shoes have always been so puzzling and problematic for me. (To this day, I wind up looking like a 12-year old boy or a camp counselor on the hottest days, if I'm not in my work clothes.) But the Chucks have been sitting in the corner of the closet for a long time.

Too long, I think. My best friend recently bought herself her first pair of Converse -- pink ones -- at the age of 40. She says it's one of the most happiness-generating purchases she's ever made. Wearing Chucks makes people respond to you differently, too, even if you are a nearing-middle-aged mom of 3. (her, not me.)

I might have to get a new pair -- not because of the paint, but because my aging feet seem to have spread out a bit. But I'm thinking it's time to regain some attitude for my feet.