In the barefoot and minimalist shoe world, we folks spend an awful lot of time talking about shoes that we wear for running. Running shoes, running sandals, shoes specializing in trail running or road running, and so on. And though most of us are absolutely absorbed in running (and some of us run an insane amount of miles each week) we still all do happen to walk a hell of a lot more than we run.
So what about the perfect minimalist shoe for walking? For wearing with a skirt to work? To a wedding?
I’ve always thought it was a little strange that we spend so much time talking about how and why we all run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, but so little time talking about what we wear the rest of the time. I don’t know about you, but since I started recognizing the benefits of running naturally, I feel guilty if I do anything more than simply stare longingly at (or give away) all my old non-minimalist non-running shoes. All those gorgeous stilettos and espadrilles in my closet that I used to wear and love, and that have become nothing less than torture devices to my newly naturalized feet. I miss them, but I don’t ever want to wear them again.
I mean, all the muscles of our feet and lower legs are still being used when we walk, and we can still mess with our mechanics if we do it wrong, so why aren’t we minimalist runners spending at least as much time shaping the casual shoe industry as we are shaping the running shoe industry?
I don’t typically stand a lot at work, but a few times a year I attend trade shows and stand for 10-12 hours a day. After years of testing every kind of gel-filled, support-laden, memory foam gimmick out there, I finally gave up trying and bought a pair of these cheaply-made synthetic leather flats a few years ago (because every other “flat” in the stores still had a heel on it – so annoying). And even though those flats fell apart almost instantly and retained a rather funky odor, my feet felt better in them at the end of the day than in all the gel-laden shoes I’d tried before. It’s amazing what we can learn when we decide to simplify our lives. But I digress.
In steps the VIVOBAREFOOT Mary Jane. Like their Kali shoe that I reviewed last year, the oh-so-classic Mary Jane is made of ultra-soft Napa leather, with VIVO’s signature hexagon-patterned 4.5mm puncture-proof outsole, and a 3mm removable insole. The Mary Jane fits, wears and feels much like the popular Kali, but with some important differences. The strap is closer to the ankle on the Mary Jane, and it’s made of leather instead of elastic, with an easy velcro closure. Other unique features are the Dri-Lex moisture-wicking inner lining and the soft padded heel. The heel is an excellent feature, because it makes the shoe completely wearable and comfortable from the day you pull your pair out of the box. Unlike the Kali (as well as most shoes made of high-quality leather), I didn’t have to deal with “breaking in” the heel – something that usually involves many wears and many bandaids.
Like all of VIVOBAREFOOT’s shoes, the Mary Jane is extremely flexible from heel to toe, has a wide last, roomy toe box and is structurally sound. After over two months of nearly daily wear, there is not so much as a misplaced thread or significant wear spot anywhere (all photos were taken the day this review was posted). I found this to be impressive, as quality-made shoes are increasingly rare to find these days.
Now let’s talk comfort. Much like the Kali which I also love, the Mary Jane serves as nothing more than a sole protector and a casual fashion item. There are no support structures, arch lifts, no raised heel, no padding, nothing tight, pinching or constricting, nothing at all that would alter your foot from its natural relationship with the ground below it.
And that’s why my feet, my calves and my heels did not hurt at the end of each 12-hour trade show day. Sure, they were tired from walking around for several hours more than I’m used to, but that’s to be expected and will happen in any shoe, regardless of cushioning (or barefoot). This was literally the most comfortable shoe that I have ever worn to a trade show. I felt like the keeper of some dirty little secret that nobody else knew, in their 2 inch-thick cushioned shoes, clutching their lower backs and limping over sore foot pads by 5 p.m. After the show closed, I happily walked 12 New York City blocks back to the hotel while everyone else waited 25 minutes for an empty cab.
It still amazes me when people get to talking about needing more “support” for their sore feet, but again I digress.
As for my personal opinion on the looks and styling of the Mary Jane, I think it is fine but could be better…sexier, maybe? Although I realize each shoe wearer has her own fashion sense, and although I didn’t have much of a problem coordinating this basic black Mary Jane with most of my wardrobe, I am rather picky about shoes. I do wish that VIVO had a larger selection of Women’s casual shoes, one that would aim to please the tastes of a wider and more varied audience.
Other than that, the VIVOBAREFOOT Mary Jane is, without question, the right choice for any woman seeking a comfortable, highly durable and well-crafted shoe for work and play, that embraces the importance of natural walking form and minimalist sensibility. I figure I’ll get at least 2-3 years of heavy wear out of mine, which makes their $110 price point pretty darn reasonable. Way better than those stinky old $40 fall-apart flats that I used to buy. You do the math.
- Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Kali (barefoot-monologues.com)
- Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho Trail (and my first 14 mile run) (barefoot-monologues.com)
- Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra (barefoot-monologues.com)