“You wore them all the time!” my mom exclaimed in her own frenzy when I asked her if she remembered the shoes. “You had read about them in a magazine and you begged me for them. You had to have them. That was your shoe.”
“I secretly wanted to have a pair too, but you would have been so mad at me,” she added. “Back then in the ’90s it wasn’t cool to be an adult and wear what the kids were wearing.”
Her point is precisely my dilemma. The re-release of the shoe has me indulging in my own walk down tween memory lane, in all its MTV-laden, AOL-chatting, after-school glory. But can Steve Madden’s iconic shoe make a reprise in my life some 20 years later, as a mid-30s adult? Or am I — and all the other older Millennials who wore them the first round — now too old for the shoes?
My own story of the Steve Madden platform slide is not unique, but the fact that the shoe’s heyday coincided with the coming of age of a numerous set of women, myself included, makes them integral to our shared style evolution as well as our sense of pop culture. I was 11 years old in 1995, when I nearly dragged my mom to the mall to get my first pair. When, the next year, she and my stepfather took me to New York for the first time, a stop at the Steve Madden shop in Soho was as essential as seeing a Broadway show. Walking downtown in my Slinkys, we also made our way to the Antique Boutique, a trendy vintage store I had read about in YM magazine, where the just-on-the-scene Spice Girls had reportedly shopped for a cover shoot. There, I bought three stretchy cropped tube tops in lime green, orange and white — relics quite similar in shape and stretch to the neon bands of material on the Urban Outfitters versions of the new Slinky (now dubbed the Scrunchy). For the record, my mom never let me wear those tube tops out of the house.
Back home in Michigan, my Steve Maddens took me through all the agony and ecstasy of early tweendom. My friends and I slipped into them after figure skating practice, taking turns singing the duet of Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy is Mine” or TLC’s “No Scrubs” girl anthem, while our moms ferried us around in minivans. They fwap-fwapped their way down the hallways of our middle school, completing the looks of our ribbed shirts, chenille sweaters and flared jeans from the likes of Contempo Casuals, Limited Too and TommyGirl. I’m certain they were on my feet during my first kiss, while slow dancing to K-Ci and Jojo’s “All My Life.”
Last year, the New York Times released a study with Spotify about music taste through the generations. The study found that across the board, musical taste peaked in the early teenage years, with women’s favorite songs occurring at age 13. Could the same be said of footwear? Upon the reminder of the Slinky, I yearn for the tactile feel of that stretchy material hugging my foot (and that here-I-am announcement of the thwack! of the rubber soles) with the same longing I have to watch Justin Timberlake serenade us on a four-poster bed in an industrial loft when someone sends me a gif of NSYNC’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart” music video. The bell of nostalgia is weird like that, cueing things up with a single object, melody or smell (and oh, wait, the smell of those slides after a day’s wear — yikes). It also often omits the fact that the turn off to a trend can be quick and severe. I wore my Steve Madden slides up through freshman year of high school, when at age 15, they suddenly seemed too juvenile for my Guess outfits and driver’s ed classes. I swapped in Bongo sandals, Dr. Scholl’s, Steve Madden’s platform loafers and, later on, the ubiquitous Ugg.
But today I find myself returning to the slide sandal (not to mention the latest iteration of flatforms, which are suddenly more enticing for someone whose feet are getting older). My slides are decidedly more grown-up, in architectural stacked heels and leather or suede uppers, but the idea of the Slinky’s ease is still there. I have so many of them now that I can’t help but wonder if I’m returning to these silhouettes the same way I hit up Spotify for a dopamine rush of Mariah Carey, Backstreet Boys or Jamiroquai.
There is a meme that has been circulating for the past year or two, showing the original Slinky, with a text overlay that says, “If you owned these shoes, it’s time a for a night serum.” The implication, of course, is that my generation is getting older, but it’s also a subtle dig, a hint that we might be reveling too much in our own nostalgia, reading too many of those Buzzfeed ‘90s listicles — wasting time sharing too many memes. Should we grow up already — or, like the ‘90s musical tastes we are forever stuck with, accept our cycle of nostalgia and slip on a new pair of Steve Madden slides, even at the risk of looking like we’re trying to cling to our youth? I approach a Slinky sequel (the new name is the Scrunchy) with the same hushed enthusiasm I have for crop tops: I wholeheartedly want to wear them — and I inevitably will — but only at a time and place where it feels appropriate to revert. (For many, that time and place is often at a music festival.)
With ‘90s fashion revivals dominating the looks of younger models like Hailey Bieber and Bella Hadid, maybe these new Slinkys aren’t even for first-gen wearers like me. Maybe they’re intended for a whole new generation to adopt into their own teenage pop culture canon, just as I did with my mom’s bell bottoms in 1998. From fanny packs and track pants to sports bras and mom jeans, each ’90s trend has cycled its way through to a new generation, who sees these items with fresh eyes.
But when I asked my 12-year-old niece Aiden if she would wear the new Steve Madden slides, she shrugged them off. “Nah not rly lol but I like the brand a lot,” she texted me. “Most girls wear Vans and Adidas at school,” she added.
I was surprised, but before I could fully process her reaction, a memory of my 1994 obsession with the Adidas Samba hit me; a scene of playing soccer at recess in the 3rd grade, my girl friends and I dressed in Umbros just like the boys.
Cue that nostalgia, again.