Like many older siblings, I’m accustomed to the occasional eye roll from my baby sister — a cool 21-year-old who lives in the East Village and wears maxi skirts. It’s a well-worn dynamic of ours. Younger sister scoffs at my outfit. I wear it for a year. She offers to take it off my hands on her way to Goodwill. It’s the circle of life.
So when I unpacked my Rothy’s The Square Mary Janes in the room we were sharing in Florence over her spring break, I braced myself for an inevitable “You’re wearing those?” Her side of the closet was all matching sets and leather boots. Mine was sensible cashmere and some versatile stripes.
Frankly, I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had said something. I, too, had been a Rothy’s skeptic. Before I bought a pair, here’s what I knew about the brand: It loved a podcast ad, made shoes from recycled water bottles, and moms loved the shoes for long days at Disneyland. At pre-vacation jury duty, I noticed two other women in variations of the machine-washable shoes — all of us awaiting our fate. The signature blue dash on the heel of the shoe marked a club I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in.
But when I saw these Mary Janes in the Instagram stories of one of my most stylish Instagram follows, Harling Ross Anton, I was surprised that they were the water-bottle shoes. They looked charming and vaguely vintage — and I was willing to give them a chance, because I hate uncomfortable shoes. Living in a city for the past decade has me always hedging my bets that dinner just might turn into drinks, and that bar could be ten blocks in the opposite direction from my apartment. My footwear choices skew orthopedic, and the result is usually less than stylish and far from romantic. These Mary Janes presented an opportunity to have it all.
On a risky bet, I slipped on the shoes for their maiden voyage on a 15,000-step day in Florence. We trekked through a tour of my best friend’s study-abroad highlight reel, hauled to Santo Spirito, and dodged the building crowds outside the Duomo. What I wanted was the approximation of a Mary Jane with a comfort sole. What I ended up with was a shoe that wore like a slipper, forming to my foot in the least Birkenstock way possible. They were comfortable enough to forget — high praise for days you’d rather spend focusing on negotiating at the leather market or admiring Michelangelo’s David than on your feet.
Unlike leather, Rothy’s soft, flexible back requires no break-in period, so I came back to the hotel without a single blister — and not one glare from any well-dressed Italians as far as I could tell. I wore them with black jeans; with a long, tiered black dress; and, in a moment of desperation, with sweats and sunglasses for a pastry run. And when I paired them with fashion brands like Batsheva or Merlette, they felt as natural as when I wore them with old Levi’s and a massive button-up. Some nights, I rinsed off areas of the shoe that were particularly dusty. Other times, I just slipped them off, grateful to be blister-free.
Fancier than sneakers and more flattering than clogs, these Mary Janes have nestled into my compact Brooklyn closet for good. I laid them out to dry under my kitchen window, fresh from their Italian jaunt and a spin on the cold cycle, and I thought back to how needless my nervousness about these shoes turned out to be. In the photograph featured, my little sister stood behind the iPhone camera, capturing my outfit before we switched places for me to photograph hers. “Cute,” she said, just above the shutter sound. And honestly, I’ll take it.
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