Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Poll: Keen Sandals?

I enjoyed this email, and thought others might like to cast their vote and opinion.

Hey, Muffy. I actually thought of you on vacation while I was pondering some footwear.

My father is a pretty well dressed gent. Not in your father's class, of course (who is?), but very sort of old school Ivy League. That's why it alarmed me a couple of years ago when he and his lady friend (who is also very stylish, not to mention wealthy) each bought a pair of Keen sandals. I have since kidded my father about them as mercilessly as my conscience will allow given his 83 years of age, for they are doubtless the ugliest things ever introduced onto the planet since their godforsaken progenitor, the Teva.

That said, over the summer, including this past week, I've happened upon at least half a dozen instances when these things would have come in damn handy, all involving water and the crossing thereof, where Top-Siders simply won't do. I have a dog who likes to swim and I want to wade into the stream with him; I like to take my young son out kayaking but sometimes I need to jump out of my boat and help him with his; things like that.

What's your opinion? Should I go over to the dark side or hold fast?


Final Poll:

41 comments:

Mom on the Run said...

In my opinion, having the appropriate gear for the situation is how the whole "preppy" look originated. Keen sandals are ugly IMO, but appropriate in many situations where function definitely overrides fashion. I have a red pair that I use quite often, but then I'm not trying to BE "preppy". If you're trying to be preppy, you probably aren't.

Anonymous said...

Mom on the Run got it right, ALL of it. Practicality rules.

Kaitlin Torp said...

I second Mom on the Run. The enjoyment of kayaking and dog walking in appropriate footwear far outweighs any embarrassment about said footwear. I've often had the same debate with water shoes while swimming in the Cape Cod bay. The bay is FULL of crabs just waiting for unsuspecting feet, and the day I got over my distaste for how water shoes look on me was the day I finally got to enjoy my swim time without getting pinched!

...just another preppy shopaholic said...

If you are going to be boating, hiking, kayaking, cycling, waking, etc. these sandals are fabulous not to mention extremely comfortable. Regardless if they aren't considered 'preppy' I love mine and so does my husband! ;)

suburban prep said...

My family swears by Keens. Ok I do not have a pair but my husband and sister and brother -in-law and a few other members have them and they love them as well. They are all classic dressers as well but for reason of comfort and practicality (as stated above) they are necessary.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. Mom on the Run said it perfectly.

And Muffy, I might be wrong, but didn't you once mention wearing Lands' End water shoes? I'll have to do a search - it might have been another blog. Those aren't all that attractive, either, but they're functional.

In the behavioral sciences and some humanities fields in which people are the object of study, the very act of examination changes that which is being examined. I have often wondered about how that relates to writing a blog (and reading blogs) about preppiness, or any other lifestyle. We strive for authenticity, but how does being so very self-conscious affect authenticity? Maybe Muffy can write a post on that topic at some point. From what I can tell, she's very authentically living the lifestyle about which she writes so well, and I liken her almost to an anthropologist. Yet, rather than studying some culture outside of her own, she is focused on one in which she is entrenched.

Muffy seems to be eyeing the preppy culture with a scholar's eye, and I don't see her self-consciously making sure that she adheres to the rules at all times. (I think she just DOES, because that is who she is.) Yet, casting an eye, however scholarly, on one's lifestyle must change things in some way. When it gets down to it, this thought it similar to one I have about Facebook... I sometimes joke to my friends, "if you didn't post a picture on Facebook, did it really happen?" in recognition of the fact that so many people can no longer just live life... they document it (usually just the best parts) for their friends. We take Muffy's photos for granted, but then, as when viewing Facebook vacation photos, I think to the act of the photo being taken. Does it interfere with living an authentic life?

None of this is to criticize Muffy. I've just been knocking these ideas around for awhile, and I think it would make a fascinating blog post. But - to relate all this to the question about Keen sandals - the person asking the question seems to be in conflict between the fact that the sandals are functional and can do things preppy attire cannot, and the fact that they are not Preppy (capital P) attire. This, to me, has some relation to the idea of so closely examining one's attire, rather than just wearing what you like and what works well in a given activity.

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Annonymous,

Great comment.

First, no, I never had Lands' End water shoes.

I certainly agree that the process of studying a system changes it (the viewer becomes part of the system he or she is studying). This is as true of anthropologists (such as dramatized in the fictional Ender Wiggins books) to industrial psychology (such as the classic studies of supermarket check-out people) to quantum physics.

A different model might also be drawn from the author John Gardner, who suggests that writers over time behave better (in a moral sense), as they are constantly their own super-ego (i.e. an "above self") that narrates their own actions.

I believe there is an even bigger issue, however, which is, must a person be unconsciously competent in the area of Prep clothes to be Preppy? As I have noted here previously, a) James Bond wouldn't carry a James Bond Lunchbox, and b) Some things understood intrinsically sound silly if made extrinsic.

I believe we are at a time when we must make more clear things that generations took for granted. Perhaps akin to the Firefox books, there are a set of skills and perspectives that should be articulated. This hopefully is useful for subsequent generations.

On a parallel note, I have known far too many people who, claiming they are so classic in their tastes that they don't even have to think about it, have over time dressed increasingly poorly by their own initial standards and benchmark.

Finally, this really is my lifestyle. There is none of the fan-fiction or "dressing up" here that seems to be popular on blogs in general. I like to draw from older pictures, which I hope reinforce the important point that what is shown here can be worn on a daily basis (that is the real 'daily' in 'The Daily Prep') if one so desires. These are pictures that were never intended for broadcasting. Similarly, the best pictures, in my opinion, on this blog are the slice of life shots were people forget about the camera.

Anonymous said...

Yay for Keens!! Awesome shoes - pair them with some walking shorts and a plain polo and you're good to go! Can you tell I love my Keens? Much better walking support than Sperry or other "prep" brands!

Anonymous said...

Just returned from a week long canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. I wore keen sandals the entire week and loved them. The sandals allow the water to drain out and the covered toes are protected from all the rocks. They're supportive enough to wear while portaging a full pack and canoe over a rough and rocky portage. after ten years I've finally found a suitable shoe for my canoe trips.

Anonymous said...

They're hideous, of course. I mean, truly, truly ugly. Like, crocs-level-ugly.

But they serve a purpose. I, for example, go for runs in ancient tee shirts and unattractive but comfortable sneakers because that is a situation demanding function well before form. So you won't hear complaints from me if you wear these sartorial abominations while crossing a rocky brook, or something.

HOWEVER: I very often see people wearing these things (I didn't know their name until today!) in situations that do not demand a high-performance-outdoor-ventilated-water shoe-sandal (or whatever they are). Personally, seeing these walking down Main Street is the equivalent to me wearing my stinky, ugly, old running getup, and that is where I draw the line.

Matt said...

I just looked up Keen sandals on Zappos. There are no imaginable circumstances that would impel me to wear them.

As for alternatives, it's certainly possible to wear Top-Siders into sand and water with no problem. Just set them in the sun afterward, and when they are dry bang them together to clean them.

If that's a problem for some reason, many companies like Sperry, Keds, SeaVees, and Ralph Lauren make light canvas sneakers (slip-on or lace-up) that are great for water, sand, and other obstacles. Plus, they look good.

Sartre said...

As long as we're veering off into the behavioral sciences, it's equally interesting is that several of the commenters have read a lot into the original question. The questioner does not appear to have expressed any qualms about Keens being "preppy," rather he/she expressed concerns about them being ugly.

Kionon said...

Under the right circumstances, sure. I can see wearing these. I sometimes wear reef shoes in the water during snorkeling, as in Guam or Amanohashidate, Japan. It's all about activities and location appropriateness.

However, usually I wear topsiders because they're dressy enough in most club or restaurant settings. At CYCA, if you're just learning to sail, the club won't frown on sneakers, but they will definitely frown on open toe sandals!

I concur with Muffy on the issue with many "outfit of the day" type fashion or personal style blogs. It does indeed appear people play "dress-up." While, especially in summer, my outfits can be very go to hell, they are not inauthentic. They are what I teach in, what I grocery shop in, etc. I don't wear a suit to the beach, I don't wear bass weejuns sailing, and I don't typically wear sneakers outside of exercise. Again, appropriateness. Muffy has now seen my closet and I don't think she saw anything other that everyday staples! However, unlike Muffy, I don't have an archive of "photos not meant for broadcasting." Yet I attempt to capture that which happens even if the camera or blog did not exist. The whole thing started because some friends in Japan said "you should post pictures to Facebook" and the Facebook people said "you should start a blog." I didn't even read blogs until I started my own!

Great discussion.

Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

Water/sport: Yes.

City/town: No.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous (August 16, 2011 10:39 AM). Ugly. Truly and horribly. If I was going on a rafting/kayaking trip I would consider them, but would try to find something as functional that was less hideous. But once I was out of the water the Sperrys would be put on. They should never be worn in town. And I don't just mean by "preppies", I mean by anyone.

Leslie said...

Practicality is key, otherwise you're trying too hard. They work for certain activities when Sperry's just won't do, so either wear them or let life pass you by. That's a pretty easy decision for me.

Ultimately, they're not attractive, but they're darned well made, they protect your feet when you need it, and they will wear for years. What's not preppy about that?

Patsy said...

I'm not sure you can compare Keens to Top Siders. Unless you do the kind of outdoor activities that don't result in your shoes actually ever getting wet.

Just wear them as suggested by Yankee-Whisky-Papa.

Brohammas said...

So is it logical to move the next step from "are they OK to wear", to "Wear them for specific activity", to the question of when is a costume change most appropriate instead of attempting to choose kit that transcends all possible events.
I get "gear" that lets one at a country club go from one activity within the club to another, but really... there are some things that are and should be specialized.
If I just went whitewater rafting and intend to step from the boat into a five start dining establishment... I am in my own universe entirely.

Anonymous said...

Are there better looking alternatives to Keen Sandals with similar functionality?

Anonymous said...

Appropriateness, quality, frugality, functionality- that is the Keen Sandal. One would expect the Preppy wardrobe to evolve somewhat over time. These last well. I suggest only wearing for the activity- as gear.
On a different subject, LLBean has chamois shirts for women this year! In extra small! Yay!

Anonymous said...

My, what an interesting comment section! I am on team "function over form" and even Keens have their use, although not as street shoes, of course. I loved your input, Muffy-and you really got me with your Foxfire reference!
Madeline
Aka Muffy

Anonymous said...

Oooooh - question to Anonymous about the LLBean women's chamois shirt: Do you know if the material is the same weight as the mens (I love the mens - I have two)? Or are they a whispy thin "light" version. I've been burned by this before! Please, if you order one, return and report!

Anonymous said...

For me, it depends on the actual style of Keen sandal for women. The outdoor sandals that are made for water sports are great though not so great to look at so "function over fashion" definitely comes into play for those styles.

There are a couple of styles that I would have no problem wearing casually like the Emerald City sandal.

William said...

Anonymous at 2:35 (and frankly any Keen wearers out there), Chacos sandals are a nicer alternative to Keens. They look better and aren't as clunky and big. They've caught on with college sorority girls because of how comfortable and functional they are. These girls have been known to make them look half decent if their clothing choices are appropriate. They kind of resemble "Jesus sandles," but if they're strictly for water play then that's not the end of the world.

Anonymous said...

Frustration... I wrote a whole comment and then lost it, but I will try to recreate it.

Sartre - I am the Anonymous who posted the long comment this morning. After posting, I actually questioned whether I had jumped to conclusions about the reader's inquiry, so I went back and read it. I think it is a bit ambiguous, though you may be right. In any case, I was happy to have the opportunity to raise an issue which had been rattling around in my head for awhile, as I think it is an interesting and important one. If it does not apply to the person who posed the question about Keen sandals, it does apply to many others.

Muffy - you answered well. I certainly believe that your lifestyle is authentic - I think that's apparent from this blog. But, I was just curious what you thought of the issue of how (if at all) examination affects authenticity. I think your question about the importance (or lack of importance) of "unconscious competence" is a good one, as is your point about people who believe their tastes to be so classic that they don't need to think about it. And of course, I agree that the best photos are those in which the subject is unaware of the camera.

Of all the "preppy" blogs, yours rings the most with authenticity and intelligence, which is why I was curious in particular about your opinion on the matter I raised. It's an issue I think about as it relates to me, too, as a reader of "lifestyle" blogs.

Finally - I wonder if you would ever consider writing about the "behind the scenes" work of this blog. Your own photos are wonderful, and I often wonder about the logistics - how many are candid, how are shots set up, do you use a timer, does someone else take the ones of you, etc.. Again, this is not because I question the authenticity, but because I am genuinely interested in that. The blog seems so effortless and then I realize that for the most part you use all your own images, and you're IN many of your images, so I am curious how it is all done.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the L.L. Bean chamois for women (though I am not the Anonymous who mentioned it) - no, it is lighter-weight than the men's version. OF COURSE. It's so frustrating. L.L. Bean seems to think that women don't want classic styles, fabric, and colors. They did away with the women's flannel shirts, only to bring back a VERY cheap version in a more fitted style. I looked at the fabric in the Freeport store, and it was thin and awful. I actually went on a rant to my husband while in the store. Likewise, I can't get classic colors like red, hunter green, or navy anymore in many women's items. L.L. Bean thinks women only want raspberry, light green, light blue, etc..

Roger Stahl said...

Yes to Keens. Like Patagonia, Keen has a company ethic and culture that is (or claims to be) concerned about the environment. Their main product, a waterproof sandal, is excellent, durable and practical, and its my go-to shoe for warm weather sailing (it has a non-marking sole). All of these points seem to me to be consistent with the prep aesthetic and ethic discussed here by Muffy, even if the "are they preppy?" question was not directly raised by the post.

Are Keen's ugly? Beauty (or ugly) is in the eye of the beholder. But one Keen feature, the closed toe, is certainly worth noting. Besides protecting the toes while hiking (I have worn mine hiking the Sonoran desert as well), this feature hides the toes, something that the Birkenstock sandal (which was, by vote on this blog, deemed not preppy in any event), does not. This may not be important for the female wearer, perhaps, but have you ever seen a male who takes enough care about how his feet look to be attractive in birkies?!

Sartre said...

Anon 4:46 pm raises an interesting point about whether self-examination affects authenticity. This is certainly something that comes up often in many of the menswear forums -- a certain unease talking about clothing and self-presentation.

A few thoughts. (1) The preppy style can trick you into thinking that the wearer has just "thrown something on" without self-consciousness. I find this to be the case with many, but certainly not all, who are native to this style. I have known many, many "old preppies" (my uncle's term for my own dad) who were very particular about what they wore and, perhaps even more important, where it was purchased.

(2) Slightly more philosophically is the possibly erroneous assumption that authenticity and self-examination are mutually exclusive. The quest to be congruent and true to yourself is an inward journey that for many can last a lifetime. I understand we're just talking about clothes here, but I wanted to raise the point that being conscious of one's choices in dress, as in everything else, is not incongruous with being authentic.

(3) I completely agree with Muffy's words that "we are at a time when we must make more clear things that generations took for granted," and I think that in a nutshell is what makes this blog a useful thing to do.

Anonymous said...

And another color LLBean thinks women want: OB/GYN-Waiting-Room Rose. I want bright, snappy pink you guys!

Anonymous said...

Hold fast, for sure

HHH said...

Recently bought a new pair of LLB khakis and they are hideous. Per usual, I was too lazy and disorganized to return them. Legs are way, way too wide.
I personally would not wear Keen sandals, but I guess one might wear them for certain water sports. I've found some more attractive water shoes for swimming off our house beach at Block Island. i think they actually were from LLB years ago.
HHH

ms. mindless said...

Keen sandals are not attractive shoes, though beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I find them so functional that I can overlook their horrid appearance when playing in rivers and creeks. I used to wear chacos and tevas for land to water use, but I prefer the toe protection that Keen sandals offer becasue I am rather clumsy and regularly stub my toes when creek crawling. I do not wear them when hanging out in the city, but for my country time, I find them indispensable.

Function and utility overshadow looks at times in my book.

Anonymous said...

I am the original poster regarding the LLBean chamois shirts. I ordered one as a test; am awaiting, but now after reading subsequent posts, I am skeptical. Wish I had a chance to get to the qctual store; have been traveling quite a bit this summer! Will try to report back.I will definitely let Bean know how I feel! In the past I have purchased the boys' chamois shirts as I am very petite!

Greenfield said...

I'm with Yankee-Whisky-Papa on this one; it's a matter of appropriateness. Water sports, camping, the beach--yes. Any place "respectable," such as restaurants not ON the beach, no.
This also covers flip-flops. If you're not going to the beach, don't dress for it. A good old adage that comes to us from the samurai says, "Do nothing unsightly."

Anonymous said...

"And another color LLBean thinks women want: OB/GYN-Waiting-Room Rose. I want bright, snappy pink you guys!"

That comment cracked me up. I hate that color.

Also, sort of echoing some other comments, just use what works for what you are doing. And if Keens put you a little left crunchy of "prep"...who cares? I think it's silly to stick to wearing your topsiders while wading in water because it looks "preppy" if there is a better option out there. Don't overthink it.

Anonymous said...

Keen sandals have qualities which make them worth while. Durability, practicality, purpose. Toe guard protection is important when being active on the trail or in the water. I really don't care how they look. Keens are well made and can be thrown in the washer. Chaco sandals are excellent too, but I use them for different activities than Keen. My boat shoes are used for boating. My Chacos for strolling in hot weather, my Keens are for trails, working in my gardens, or wading in a stream or river.

j.mosby said...

I see the functionality of a pair Keens, but Preppy...ah No! In my youth summering in New England we had two options.. going barefoot or wearing Topsiders! I remember when bought my first pair of Topsiders all my friends would make fun of pristine look of them, then they would proceed to make every effort scuff them up!
I was told the rule to season a new pair of Topsiders was to immerse them in saltwater, once they dried the white salt film would appear and then you had an acceptable pair! As they continued to age duck tape was applied! You just couldn't bare to part with them!

Anonymous said...

May I suggest Chacos? They have a tough Vibram sole with a hiking tread and modest, low profile straps holding them onto your feet.
I use mine for canoeing, camping and walking by the ocean. As we live in Rothesay, NB, this means they get alot of wear.
I bought mine 6 years ago, they were reasonably priced and have worn beautifully. Practical, reasonable and durable - what more could you ask for?

sailormadras said...

Hidious along with Tevas, and while I'm at it those cape back ventilated shirts from columbia made from Micro fiber a great marketing word, to disguise polyester! Was in the Galapagos Islands recently everyone looked they they were there for a casting call for survivior! comicical really.......

Anonymous said...

The conversation is interesting, but how can you compare Top Siders and Keen/Tevas? Their used for different situations. It's like comparing Tennis shoes to flip flops. Just something floating through my head while reading....

Susan R said...

I think the point here is this...It's all in the need and use. Keen is an outstanding company. My son wears the Keen Newport sandals during the summer when he is camping and mucking about the lake. His bungee cord lace broke after catching on a log and Keen replaced them and sent along a couple of extra lace replacements at no charge.
If preppy equals quality and outstanding customer service then Keen has it. However, having said that, in my opinion, Keen is not "preppy looking". Let me put this question on the table...Does it matter if they are preppy or not? If they serve their purpose and are worth every penny you pay for them, shouldn't that be enough? I wouldn't wear them around for everyday, but I would for water type sports...without hesitation.