1987: The Death of Shoe Salesmen
April 7, 2019
The institutional phenomena of measuring a customer’s feet was a gimmick, I would speculate. It was a way to prolong the experience of shoe-buying by making it into a personal and interactive adventure with a professional who cared about you. Some stores even had X-ray machines² with no particular practical use toward fitting shoes in my opinion. Toward repeat customers feeling valued though: Very useful.
By contrast, today’s Warehouse Consumption and Supermarket mentality has a utilitarian outlook to shoe-buying. The margins on sales probably don’t justify this sort of care and attention and speciality on the part of the salesman; What was once their lower end product (bread and butter) is now piled by the hundreds at The Warehouse and Number One Shoes barns.
Dignity Culture New Zealand liked measurement and accuracy in all things, including their shoe salesmen. Back in the day we valued durable goods that would wear well and hold up for years. We might pass our shoes on to our brothers or children, we might even repair or re-sole, and most people even cleaned and polished their shoes. Indeed, there was a shoe-shine profession for which The State required permits. When we became a disposable society our shoes became something to consume and dispose of. The shoe salesman became a pathetic figure, his profession having no place in the modern world.
That is why ‘Married With Children’ (First episode 5 April 1987) made its down-and-out protagonist a shoe salesman. Up to this point the handling of feet was a special, even sacred, act. You can identify this sort of intimacy all the way back to Biblical times where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. If you’ve ever had your feet washed or attended to by someone else you know where Jesus, Al Bundy, et al were coming from.
It’s all out the window now; History.
1 New Zealand’s Krypton Factor Dignity Culture still had some years to run, lagging behind America by 3 years or so as usual. Married With Children and the looser shoe salesman were ahead of our time.
2 Ref. Michael Cain in Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
image ref. Number One Shoes; bestawards.co.nz