A Norwegian friend of mine once told me he could always spot an American abroad by their shoes: Americans always wear tennis shoes, everywhere, when they’re traveling. Not Converse Chucks or trendy Nikes, he specified; the big, clunky, white cross-trainer types that are relegated to the gym in most other scenarios.
We swigged beer and laughed at Americans’ horrible taste*, but I put the conversation to memory as a good reminder to never, under any circumstances give in to this traveler’s foible, no matter how much my feet ached from standing in museums and walking on cobblestone streets. Rick Steves knows a hell of a lot more about traveling than I do, but I still object to his sartorial advice when it comes to shoes: “Take a broken-in, light, and cool pair, with Vibram-type soles and good traction. (I like shoes by Ecco). Sturdy, low-profile tennis shoes with a good tread are fine, too.” When in Rome, do not put on a pair of cushioned Asics with arch support.
The problem is, finding a pair of non-ugly comfort shoes isn’t easy. Cushioned soles and roomy toe boxes don’t go with pencil skirts and skinny jeans. But stilettos and pointed-toe boots don’t make a five-hour tour of the Louvre enjoyable, either.
That’s why I’m willing to pay over $300 for a pair of Arche shoes: They’re comfortable, and they’re not ugly. I bought my first pair in Paris, when I probably shouldn’t have spent the cash, but I’ve never regretted it: Six years later, one of my favorite things about Fall is getting that same pair of boots out of the closet. (In fact, I’ve worn them most days this week since the weather became cool enough to wear them.)
Some of their styles look a little grandmotherly at first, but their soles soft without being chunky, the shape feels natural and comfortable without being too clog or Birkenstock-esque, and they have heeled and flat styles that are easy to wear with aforementioned pencil skirts and skinny jeans.
*To set the record straight: It’s not only Americans, and not only tourists, who have a bad tennis shoe habit. Plenty of tourists who hail from abroad succumb to the temptation of ugly trainers when faced with long days at the Met and New York’s endless avenues. And there are plenty of Americans sporting thick-soled shoes that promise to tone your ass and get rid of cellulite (and they’re not traveling).
Arche is a French company, but you can buy their shoes at a few retailers in the U.S., or easily online. Check out their website for more info: arche-shoes.com.