Before I get into my Birkenstock Mantovas, I need to tell you that I have some pretty jacked up hooves.
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In edition to my duck flipper flat feet, I’m not ashamed to admit that I had my first bunion surgery at age 21. I should’ve probably had my second one a few months later, but let’s be real. It’s hard to get psyched up to have screws put in one foot after you’ve just had it done to the other. So allow me to introduce you to my mates, Larry and Barry.
Larry is the bunion. Barry is the bunionette. They only hurt like 85% of the time.
And yes, before you leave a comment, I know that my toes are weird. They always have been weird. I bet your toes are weird too. All toes are weird. Ain’t nobody got toes that make folks say “wow, nice toes.” You know why? BECAUSE ALL TOES ARE WEIRD. You don’t need to tell me. (And just rest assured that is the last time I will show my feet on this blog. Every other picture in this post has my feet clad in shoes befitting the high priestesses of Avalon — Birkenstock Mantovas.)
I feel it’s important that you know that I’ve never been a ridiculous shoe wearer. (Clearly not. I mean, you’re currently reading a 1700+ word post on Birkenstock Mantovas, the sensible shoe of sensible shoes.) My feet problems are primarily genetic. Sure, I’ve worn heels a time or two, but the majority of my life has been spent in sensible sneakers or sporty sandals. However, when I reached the point in my life where business casual wear was required of me, I struggled to find shoes.
A lot of people are fine with a pair of flats, or heels with extra cushion in the soles. This does not work for me. I’ve tried several pairs of shoes that are supposedly designed for comfort, only to find that apparently a lot of shoe manufacturers don’t know what the word “comfort” means. Any cheap pair of flats from Target or Payless is a guaranteed day of pain and bone-grinding discomfort. Even if there is some extra cushion, or the false promise of memory foam, it’s all garbage. I need a thick, firm-soled shoe that ensures I don’t feel the bones of my feet hitting the ground with every step.
Last semester, I was rocking a pair of Dr. Scholl’s black round toe flats and a pair of B.O.C. brown slip-on loafers. They both felt great when I tried them on in the store, but it only took the 15-minute walk from my car to my office to make me see how terrible they were. And yet, I persevered. I had paid money for the shoes, so I was going to tough it out. I thought perhaps I just had to get used to it. After all, they were flats. They had extra cushioning in the soles. They both allowed for my toesies to wiggle — a balance necessity, according to all yoga instructors. I also spotted some Birkenstock Mantovas around the time I purchased these other shoes, but I did that stupid thing where you purchase the cheap option because you think it will save you money in the long run, only to find that you wind up purchasing the expensive option later because the cheap option felt like a cheese grater on your foot bones.
My feet continued to hurt, not just in my buniony toes, but in the balls of my feet and in my lower ankle region. It got so bad that my left ankle was permanently swollen. And because of all that, my back hurt constantly. And yet, I still wore those stupid shoes, telling myself that the only other option was orthopedic granny shoes, and I was not going down that road.
The day before Thanksgiving, I went to the urgent care. My left ankle was incredibly swollen, and I worried that I might actually have some kind of stress fracture. So I got in there quick, and they took an x-ray. Everything was fine, though the doctor was really impressed by the titanium screws in my left foot. (They’re super bright in the x-ray.) She shrugged her shoulders and told me it was what my life would be like with flat feet and prescribed me some pain pills.
I just kind of accepted that, though I never took any of the pills she prescribed me. (Can we talk about how the best way to treat pain is not with medicine, but with preventative action? I mean, sure. If you’ve had all your bones crunched in a trash compactor, you should take some opioids. But if it’s something that is going to be a constant for my life, can we PLEASE treat the cause and not the symptoms?)
Then, over Christmas break, my ankle stopped swelling so much. I wasn’t on my feet nearly as much, and if I was, I was either barefoot or wearing comfy sneakers. So I thought all would be okay when school started in January. It was not. The minute I slipped on my regular business casual shoes, my feet immediately started to hurt. That’s when I took to Twitter.
(Side note: I hate when you ask a question on Twitter, and then people just respond with links to Google searches or with things they are guessing. That’s not okay. I can Google and I can guess. If I ask a question on Twitter, it’s because I want some insight from someone who knows what’s up. If you don’t know what’s up, DON’T ANSWER.)
I got plenty of good shoe advice from all manner of professional ladies. And we all tended to agree that it’s hard to find shoes that are comfortable, that you can stand in for hours on end, and that don’t look like they belong in the closet of a troll.
So, if you’re in a similar situation, the main brands that were mentioned were Sofft, B.O.C., and Naturalizer. I had tried both B.O.C. and Naturalizer before, but due to the specific nature of my ridiculously high-maintenance feet, I didn’t have much luck with them. Sofft looked promising, but there was only one store in the metro area that sold them, and they didn’t have any styles I was interested in purchasing.
Ultimately, I didn’t go with any of the suggested brands. It wasn’t that they were bad suggestions, because they weren’t. Most of them were awesome. But the main issue is that I needed to be able to try on the shoes before purchasing them. See, when you’ve had one bunionectomy on one foot, and the other foot is a pointy, swollen mass of tarsals, your feet don’t wear the same size shoe. But you try on multiple shoes to see which pair gives you the best feeling overall. (If you visualize it in your mind palace, you can average together the feelings your feet have while in a pair of shoes. It’s some next-level meditation, you guys.)
I set out one Friday with a thought in mind: The last time my ankle wasn’t swollen was during the summer. The only shoes I wore during the summer were my Chaco sandals and my Birkenstock sandals. And I had been eyeing the Birkenstock Mantovas for a while, but I thought I didn’t need them.
I ran up to the local Metro Shoe Warehouse (that’s an Oklahoma chain, for out-of-staters) and tried on a pair of Birkenstock Mantovas. My inner 90’s indie goddess (the one that is still sad her mom never let her order from Delia’s back in the day) was immediately in love. Unfortunately, they only had my size in black, and I needed both brown and black shoes to make a wardrobe whole. I asked the sales guy who was helping me if they happened to have the brown shoes in stock at another location, but they didn’t. (The guy was hella helpful though and I can’t recommend the store enough to local folks.) So I took my black shoes and went home.
Then, I made a call to Lynda’s Birkenstock in Oklahoma City. That’s the store where I purchased my Birkenstock Gizeh sandals (pictured in the Larry and Barry photo), and even though it’s not close, I wouldn’t mind driving up there to get my second pair of Birkenstock Mantovas. I was informed that they did not have them, but only because they are part of the fall line, and all the stores were currently stocking sandals instead. (IT WAS JANUARY. IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN EASIER TO BUY SOME DAMN CLOSED-TOE SHOES.) The woman on the phone was awesome though, and basically told me to look online at Zappos or Amazon.
Which is what I did. And I only relate this all here so everyone knows that I really tried to buy local. And sure, I could’ve waited until next fall, but the whole swollen ankle thing was kind of an issue. Plus, if you’re local to Oklahoma and don’t wear an 8.5, then they may have a pair of left over Birkenstock Mantovas at Metro Shoe Warehouse for you!
Overall, I am so incredibly satisfied with the purchase. I wear my Birkenstock Mantovas a lot, and not just on days that I work. The structure of the shoe prevents them from being too flimsy, and the firmness of the sole also ensures that my feet are formed in the shape they are meant to be in, which was always a problem with well-intentioned, over-cushioned flats. My ankle is no longer swollen, and I love how easy they are to slip on and off. And an added bonus is that my back pain has migrated from my lower back, to the middle of my spine, which means that the pain is no longer coming from my foot problems, but from my absolutely terrible posture!
I won’t lie to you though. A pair of Birkenstocks Mantovas is an investment, especially if you are the type to regularly purchase $20 flats. The price (depending upon where you buy them) is between $150-$175. So, if your feet are fine with cheaper options, by all means, have at it. But my feet are not. Also, know that your shoes will last a really long time. These shoes are sturdy and durable. And the $90 Gizeh sandals I bought three years ago still look as good as new.
An awesome side effect of all this is that my closet is full of Birkenstocks and Doc Martens, an outward manifestation of the babydoll dress-clad manic pixie 90’s princess that I was always meant to be.