In total, I own 38 pairs of shoes. This includes six pairs of boots, not including my rain boots, eleven pairs of heels, four pairs of sneakers, five pairs of sandals and five pairs of practical-borderline-ugly-maybe-someday-I-will-get-that-dress-casual-position-and-I-will-most-definitely-need-these shoes.

I think I am making up for all the years I only lived in one pair of shoes; usually generic black sneakers, from the local Payless, modeled after the then-style of Vans skateboard shoes. My dad would buy my brothers and me each one pair of shoes for the school year. Unless I managed to somehow cosmically burn a hole in mine, they would be the ones that would complete my outfit by process of elimination day in and day out.

I remember one summer saving up a good chunk of my summer lawn mowing money to buy a pair of black Airwalks in junior high. When returning home, and wearing them around the house in their shiny and new-suede stage, I managed to spill some bright purple nail polish on them. I was devastated, especially when I could not initially get any of the staining out. Sixty big ones down the drain. I continued wearing them, though some of their magical newness had worn off for me.

For sixty dollars today I could buy almost six pairs of shoes at the thrift store. Last week I found the perfect pair to match a dress I will be wearing to a friend’s wedding. I placed them next to my bed, the way we always did as children when we received a new pair of shoes, something my mom used to do as a child.

My mom is Puerto Rican and my father is Dutch and, though both my parents are college educated and my dad made a good living for our family, they both came from working class families. My maternal grandfather worked on an oil refinery and my paternal grandfather was a vegetable farmer; so neither of my parents were very frivolous or strangers to hard work. If we wanted “fancy” clothes we were encouraged to save and buy one or two things ourselves, but also warned to save as much as we could for more responsible things.

In hindsight, I appreciate it.  My parents were right, and much cooler, for not indulging us in expensive clothes when what was functional was just as good. I feel so much satisfaction now knowing I spend so little money on clothes, mostly at the Goodwill; I’m able to buy brands I never could afford in the past, and it goes to a good cause. I never buy anything that shows a brand and only buy things for quality and for how it fits, not for the style. I wish I could encourage my teenage self to desire to be less of a lemming! Though I guess that’s the nature of being a teenager.

-Ambar de Kok-Mercado, Seattle, WA