My wife, Suzana, and I, live in one of four small condos in an 1888 apartment building that was originally the corner of a neighborhood grocery store. To say that this space is tight for two people is an understatement. I would compare it to living in a sardine can, but that would be an insult to sardine canners, who at least left a little room to pick through the contents to find the tastiest morsels. At Casa Barton, I have to step outside just to change my mind.
It’s a good thing that we both collect and value experiences over things. Our room for material possessions is extremely limited and reserved for a few precious items: A family heirloom grandfather clock, a vintage Underwood manual typewriter that I can still use in a pinch when my laptop dies and favorite toys for our dog Valentino, a tiny mutt who lives large with more chew toys than you can shake a Milkbone at. Closets and storage space for clothing are tighter than grandma’s old girdle. But that doesn’t mean we cut back on fashion. Instead, we have learned how to dress smart and share. As in we select jackets and shirts that look good and fit both of us.
Except for socks. I still don’t like to wear them, especially during the warmer months.
I choose not to wear socks in the summer because they are hot, itchy and uncomfortable. Socks also get lost in the laundry, which costs me money and leaves me with a drawer of mismatched socks I will never wear. To paraphrase that great fashionista Brooke Shields, nothing gets between me and my loafers when hot weather rolls around.
Toes should be free. There’s nothing like the sweet sensation of toes digging into soft, wet sand or the ooze of cool mud. Walking in sand or mud in socks is plain yucky.
But I’m not an uncouth barbarian. As I wrote in my Savannah Morning News column late last year, I agree with those who argue that if a man is going for a formal professional look, bare ankles aren’t going to cut it. I wouldn’t go sockless to a funeral, for example. My daughter, who lives in Nashville got married in September. I wore socks to the ceremony. I was worried that if I didn’t, I might be mistaken for one of her Tennessee friends who don’t wear shoes, but instead opt to wear ball caps with orange T’s to formal occasions.
I do, however, draw the line on bowling shoes. You don’t know where those things have been, like used toothbrushes on a rest area restroom sink. You have to be nuts to put your naked tootsies into a pair of rented bowling shoes. But I believe a guy doesn’t need a pair of socks to look put together. Au contraire, I think the sockless look creates an impression of ease and confidence and that a guy is relaxed and not uptight or straight-jacketed by tradition and stuffy rules. People who look down on the sockless should walk a mile in my hot shoes on a steamy Savannah sidewalk in August. If they still choose to berate me for a perceived lack of professionalism or fashion sense, I have only one thing to say: Put a sock in it.
My wife, who is as opinionated as she is lovely, takes great issue with me when it comes to wearing shoes sans socks. Indeed, being a good writer herself, she fired off her own letter to the editor of the local newspaper in response to my no-socks column, which the editor gleefully printed because he needed to reach his quota of fake news for the day. But what the editor didn’t know was that my wife still had it in for me for wearing mismatched socks t0 our wedding.
But she does have a way with words. It’s a way that makes her charming, irresistible and at times flat-out unreasonable: “I am married to Barton and madly in love with the man,” she wrote the newspaper. “I will, however, deposit any stinky loafers he wears without socks on our back porch every time I get wind of them.” I don’t doubt her when she gets into her dark moods and becomes highly irritated with me. At various times, our back porch has been the repository of my exiled golf clubs, golf shoes, my old Chicago Cubs baseball cap, my Masters golf umbrella (which has since disappeared) and any number of half-read books.
She’s wrong, however, about the stinky loafers, as I’m smart enough to stay upwind of her during the spring and summer. And if the wind is swirling, there’s always Gold Bond foot powder, the original odor eater that was good enough for grandma and is good enough for me.
But it’s a smart man who knows his limitations, especially if he wants to play golf again. And when it comes to fashion scents, my lovely wife is a Magnolia blossom. When she says wearing socks will make me look more dapper, I’ve learned to listen and follow her recommendations most of the time, like during a recent trip to New Orleans to celebrate her birthday. “Socks? you say. “Of course, my love. I’ll wear two.”
But just to be safe, I still stood upwind.
Tommy Barton blogs about travel and food and is the retired editorial page editor of the Savannah Morning News.