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Village Idiot: Baby needs a new pair of shoes

Jim Mullen
Jim Mullen

A high-end retail chain is selling what looks like a pair of used tennis shoes that have a large strip of tattered duct tape across the toe – for $530.

Poverty chic.

They’re shabby on purpose, so you’ll look as if you don’t have $530 to your name. I’m pretty sure there are cheaper ways to look as if you don’t have any money. I’m sure your pool boy would be willing to part with some old clothes for a lot less than $530.

Some people think this is outrageous – the most fortunate trying to appear less fortunate – but it smells like an opportunity to me. I’ve got a pair of sweatpants with holes and stains that I’m now thinking of putting on eBay. Only $260! Get your bids in now, kids, they won’t last long!

I’m also listing a large cardboard box that you can carry to the underpass and live in. At $1,200, it’s a steal. Really, it is! I stole it from behind the supermarket.

Wealthy people dressing down is nothing new. If you look at news photos from the late 1960s, you’ll see college kids at Yale and Harvard wearing inexpensive clothes they bought from Army surplus stores. Tuition wasn’t what it is now, but if you think those schools were full of actual poor people then, boy, have I got news for you. Half of them came from families who had campus buildings named after them.

And it’s no different today. The children of the wealthy don’t wear $5,000 suits and couture gowns on campus; they want to look like everyone else. They want to blend in. Ergo, the cruddy-looking $530 tennis shoe.

But even the wealthy aren’t stupid. No one with old money is buying dirty, duct-taped sneakers. And probably no one with new money is, either, because stories like this – and the ones about chicken wings dipped in gold leaf, or pizzas covered in caviar – are all about getting publicity. How many pairs of these $530 tennis shoes are available for sale? Ten? Twenty? Are they selling? It doesn’t matter. The store just got thousands of dollars of free publicity, which is why I’m not mentioning its name. We have bills to pay. If the store wants publicity, it can buy an ad.

But that’s the thing: You will never see these shoes, those chicken wings or those pizzas advertised. Why? Because you would think it was a joke. But as a “news” story ...

The funny thing is, the beat-up-looking tennis shoes truly are a clever fashion idea. The problem is the price. If they sold for $5.30 instead of $530, garage bands around the country would buy them two pairs at a time. Because sometimes the older your clothes appear to be, the more authentic you appear.

Wearing brand-new shiny cowboy boots might brand you as a city slicker in Texas, but in New York City, new boots could be the latest trend.

The cover of an early CD by punk/country singer Hank Williams III was a close-up of a pair of well-worn cowboy boots patched with duct tape. It just screamed, “This is the real deal. I’m not some suburban dude singing about hauling my pontoon boat to the lake with my pickup truck on the weekend.”

There’s a famous scene in the movie “The Philadelphia Story” where old-money Katharine Hepburn’s new-money fiancé shows up for a fox hunt wearing brand-new riding “pinks.” She tosses him on the ground and rolls him in the dirt before any of her friends catch him wearing shiny new clothes. It simply isn’t done, dahling.

Sometimes I see men dressed in camouflage prints shopping in big-box stores, and I wonder if they think that I can’t see them. If the purpose of camouflage is to blend in and be unnoticeable, it’s not working. Camouflage in a big-box store would mean looking like all the other customers: T-shirts, jeans and a confused, yet exhausted, look on your face. I know from experience that those make you completely invisible. At least to the staff.

Wearing taped-up tennis shoes? Most people won’t even look at you. But a whole roll of duct tape only costs about $4. Go crazy!

• Jim Mullen is a syndicated columnist. Email him at

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