The Functional Gimmick

We walked into our local running store, checking out the new location and browsing the current stock. I haven’t been inside running stores frequently, but the formula had been set awhile ago, so no trends or gimmicks dominated the shelves like recent years past. The trickling offerings of maximalist or minimalist shoes are just that, tricklings, reshaped to conform to the middle ground of cushion and support. The massage sticks are still the same pieces of plastic twisted into a new shape for the neophilias, but are still just about self-flaggelation during Netflix binges. Clothing is still technical and the women’s style is always more diverse and appealing than the men’s (which is bullshit). Even the nutrition bars and powders have pretty much remained the same, because how different can some oats and sugars really be? All the gimmicks have become absorbed and cannibalized by the market, while the tried and true remain tried and true.

But then there are the socks.

The wall of socks was a bit absurd, with something like 30 different offerings, all posing some sort of benefit related to performance or fit. Arch support, heel cushion, aeration, etc. It’s all ridiculous, but suckers love a gimmick. I, however, was actually searching for a gimmick this time, a gimmick of recent days past, hoping someone had pulled it from the box of bad ideas and realized, hey, this actually ISN’T a bad idea.

I was looking for toes. Toe socks. The prince to the king of one time gimmicks – the Vibram five finger shoes that were all a rage when Born To Run hit the market, but became quickly dethroned as the injuries and lawsuits mounted. Suckers gonna suck, but can you believe they got paid for being gullible? Anyways, those shoes (silly socks as we called them) were a damn joke and everyone with a touch of rational thinking in their body knew it, but as it turns out, what wasn’t a joke were the socks that were made to go along with the shoes. The socks with individual toe slots, which at first seemed ridiculous, but necessary, lined the shelves along with all the “shoes” as the jelly to the peanut butter. Good on the retailers who couldn’t sell a pair of shoes without the socks to go with them. Two for the price of two! You have no choice! And woe to the consumer who bought the shoes and went to put them on without thinking about the sock engineering component.

The problem, of course, is when the shoe gimmick disappeared (along with all those stupid injuries people gave themselves), the socks went too. Not enough runners picked up on the value of those socks outside of pairing them with the shoes. Here’s the thing though, those socks are awesome. I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first. Honestly, I don’t even remember why I got them in the first place. It might have been suggested that they prevent blisters, which I was struggling with during chemotherapy treatments, and so I tried them out. Getting them on was definitely a bit more work, having to situate each toe, deformed from countless miles of squishing and pounding and rubbing, into each subsequent hole, but once they got in there…man, it was nice! Like when you pull on a snug fitting glove and you somehow feel protected and badass and want to grab something or punch someone…it kinda felt like that. Like you could grab the ground with each individual toe and just tear forward. Sort of.

Then, yes, they DID help prevent blisters, and that’s the whole point of this story. They WORKED. The sweaty skin of each toe was prevented from rubbing onto it’s neighbor and therefore the blister build up was eliminated, or at least kept to a minimum. After using these a handful of times, it’s all I wanted to use, and I felt vulnerable putting on any other socks.

So imagination my frustration when I went to buy more pairs at the running store, of which I don’t do very often, and I’m told “We don’t sell those anymore, no one really does.” Like, damnit, someone makes a gimmick that turns out not to be a gimmick at all, and y’all don’t sell em? I mean, I guess I can get them online, but I’m not that kind of soulless person…the kind that buys stuff, especially clothing, sight unseen. And on principle, I shouldn’t have to dig into the dark web just to track down some socks when every running store in the city should be carrying products that work. But yeah, I know, capitalism and the market and the fickle interests of the neophilic consumer base who want to buy identity more than functional products. But damnit, I just want some socks that work the best.

Now, I’ll be fine. Socks are just socks. I’ve performed in apparel that is supposed to be sacriligeous. Hell, I won a 10k in racing flats 5 years past their market date and dead to hell from over a thousand miles of wear and tear. So I’ll get by in normal ass socks, but again, on principle, running stores should carry toe socks. If there is any hope for our future, it’s not in socio-economic equality, decentralized eco-villages, or the eradication of all gender standards….it’s in the re-emergence of toe socks in the running community. If running retailers can set aside their method of pushing gimmicks until the wallets run dry, and actually keep what works – getting rid of the baby and keeping the bathwater – then I think rational minds will have won out and we can expect the ills of society to follow.

Or maybe I’ll just be able to buy more toe socks. That’s all I humbly ask. Until then, I’ll make do with regular ass socks and the periodic blister, or just wait another decade until the trend comes full circle and I can rejoice in the comfort of toes snug like pigs in a blanket.

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