Going barefoot at Carleton is not always a statement. If it were, there would probably be a club for it. But for some no-shoers around campus, it’s really just about feeling the surface they’re walking on. For others, it’s something they would do only on Carleton’s campus.
What is so important about shoes that when we see someone without them outdoors we are momentarily thrown? There is certainly the question of weather, which we are all aware can get pretty toe-numbing in Minnesota. Maybe the nerves of barefoot Carls’ feet are deceased, or their foot skin is significantly thicker than their shoe-clad counterparts, or a combination of those.
The shock that comes with seeing bare feet on the walk across campus and inside Sayles (not during a Synchrony performance) could also stem from the association between shoelessness and lack of cleanliness, which may be the reason that barefoot students get kicked out of Northfield grocery stores and even the library. No shirt, no shoes, no service, indeed.
At the same time, it does seem that bare feet work better for some people than for others. For students who don’t give off a barefoot vibe, suddenly wearing no shoes around campus would be very noticeable and is therefore more likely to be interpreted as a statement, a fact that discourages such students from trying their luck without shoes. This limits potential increases in the number of students who choose to walk to class barefoot regularly.
This barefoot vibe could be linked to an increased convenience in the transition from any activity X to rock climbing at the rec (or outside), for which specialized shoes do not require socks. Other outdoor activities such as slacklining also do not require shoes, which could be why barefootedness is associated with enthusiasm for the outdoors, an enthusiasm which, at Carleton, is felt predominantly by white, upper-class students.
In some ways, not wearing shoes could be compared to not wearing a bra for women. Both can receive a range of positive, negative, or neutral reactions, some of encouragement and support, some of disapproval, confusion, or outright judgement. Because shoes were created to help everyone, while bras were developed at least partially in order for women to maintain an image of idealized feminine beauty, the choice to not wear shoes versus choosing not to wear a bra has very different connotations.
It also seems that the choice to go shoeless is gendered; I have yet to see any female presenting Carls walking barefoot regularly from class to class. That could just be a lack of attention on my part, although it does make me curious as to why female-identifying students might be less inclined to go barefoot around campus, if that is indeed the trend. Could barefootedness be a sign of masculinity?
Intentionally going shoeless in daily life is something I’ve only seen at Carleton; perhaps something about this campus allows students to experiment more with questioning the expectations of society regarding clothing choices. Of course it is also likely that Carleton attracts students who are the shoeless type, or who are more adventurous in terms of clothing choice.
Either way, it is interesting to think about what our reactions to seeing barefoot people say about our beliefs and experiences. A consensus on whether being barefoot all the time is trendy or just gross may never be reached, but there are clearly multiple ways to look at it.