photo by mona ødegård
As a teenager in the eighties, I claimed to be the world’s—or the state’s, or south Minneapolis’—youngest wearer of galoshes. Never the recipient of academic or athletic honors, I had to look for obscure corners of distinction. The anecdotal evidence was emphatic: Whenever I had occasion—skipping through late-winter muck, twirling ’round lampposts in spring rain—to nod collusively at someone else wearing galoshes, particularly the buckled boot style, it seemed reasonable to guess my fellow traveler had served in the Second World War, could recite chapbooks of Burma-Shave doggerel, and might be thrown into nostalgic reveries at the mention of Fibber McGee or the Katzenjammer Kids. I was the torchbearer.
In this arena, as in few others, my teenage ambitions were fulfilled.
Galoshes, of course, are overshoes worn to protect leather dress shoes from snow, rain, slush, salt, and other street hazards. In some definitions, a galosh is specifically a high overshoe, but most dictionaries approve more general usage, and in any case the word should be favored over rubber, which too often leads to puerile or otherwise ill-advised puns such as the one that will doubtless headline this important essay. I prefer a low-vamp galosh somewhere between a loafer and an opera pump, a style overmatched in blizzards but sufficient for short walks and most commutes. Unless you venture off the beaten path, your shoes and socks will stay dry. In my experience, nothing, except fatigue, hunger, depression, back pain, the internet, and birdsong is more of a bane to productivity than damp socks. Employers would be wise to include a pair of galoshes as a standard signing incentive.
Even in Minnesota, many will see galoshes as outmoded, a holdover from a topsy-turvy era of prophylactic caution and blithe recklessness in which bathing caps were the norm yet babies crawled freely in the front seats of speeding sedans. Perhaps these skeptics have attached garages, indoor parking contracts, or are carried by palanquin to their C-level corner suites. Or they wear boots, then change, like children squealing before school cubbies, into indoor shoes when they get to work. Women, who in recent decades have pushed Wellingtons to unprecedented levels of Stateside popularity, have rarely embraced galoshes. I once saw a pair designed to be worn over stiletto heels, but only in a catalog. The person who oversaw the production of these galoshes, one suspects, is now employed in another field.
Boots have their place, but when formal shoes are appropriate, one should avoid the hassle and humiliation of changing footwear in public. Is this, after all, the cumbersome, potentially malodorous procedure you want to pursue while waiting to be summoned for a job interview, or in a house of worship before the funeral of a loved one? Why not also take the opportunity to inspect your navel for pajama lint? Galoshes, too, will save you from stripping to threadbare stockings when visiting the homes of the fastidiously carpeted, letting you socialize with added height and dignity while others pad around as if settling in for a slumber party or orgy.
Galoshes are sometimes marketed, optimistically, as fashionable or elegant. This, if you’ll forgive a wholesome rubber pun, is a stretch. They’re elegant compared with letting suit trousers bunch into Moon Boots or assembling a makeshift overshoe with Costco bags and rubber bands. But there’s more to style than aesthetic refinement. Elegance has little to do with vanity, much to do with dressing sensibly for the weather and keeping one’s wardrobe in good repair. To subject a handsome pair of calfskin cap-toes to puddles rainbowed with motor oil or snowbanks jaundiced with dog urine is foolish, and nothing, sweatpants inclusive, is less elegant than foolishness.
About eight years ago and after much deliberation, I switched from my long-preferred brand to what can only and absurdly be called a luxury galosh. Overshoes from this brand are decadently expensive and offered in traditional as well as vibrant colors such as orange and red, perfect for the man whose style icons include both the Duke of Windsor and Ronald McDonald. Regret comes easily to me, but I stand behind this purchase. Whereas other brands must be wrestled on and can turn splashily inside out during removal, this connoisseur’s pair squeaks on and off with something approaching grace, and their thick rubber has already lasted twice as long as all their hole-prone predecessors. The velvety lining can be caressed.
I wear them proudly but with my head held low, ever on the lookout for kindred consumers, particularly one as fresh-faced as I once was, someone stepping into the cruel future reasonably certain, at least, of dry feet.