Oh, to be shoe-less in the summer sun

My sister Alison’s family, gathered in New Zealand for Christmas. It’s summer there, that time of year. Note the absence of shoes.

My old black filing cabinet has yielded a treasure: the carbon copy of a 1960s letter to a newspaper editor. Reading it again, I’m struck by how much it reveals about my homesickness for the more casual lifestyle of New Zealand and my resentment of the strictures of English custom. I was reminded of these differences when my sister Alison, who lives on a beach north of Auckland, posted on Facebook a photo of her gathered family, and American friends of the family joked about the lack of shoes. Here’s the 1964 letter:

The Women’s Editor
The Guardian

 Dear Madam,

As a fellow colonial I share [Guardian feature writer] Geoffrey Moorhouse’s feelings about English clothing habits. The conformity begins at an early age. This summer my one-year-old toddler and I have been subjected to cold stares and even sarcastic comments from total strangers. The cause is his shoe-less feet. I am obviously considered a poor mother, for not providing leather for his feet, and looking round, I noticed that even during the hottest days, while my infant sat comfortable in only napkin and sunhat, most of his contemporaries were firmly laced into heavy shoes, and many were even inflicted with neatly buttoned shirt and tie.

I am not against shoes on principle. Now that the weather is turning cold, my son wears shoes and socks with his long trousers. But I do object to this pressure to dress young children according to society’s idea of respectability, disregarding the dictates of the weather.  


I don’t go barefoot in Mendocino. It’s cold here, and there’s burr clover and native blackberry underfoot. But sometimes I miss those carefree New Zealand summers of my youth.

8 Responses to “Oh, to be shoe-less in the summer sun”

  • Judi:

    We went barefoot a lot in Texas. Required foot washing before climbing in bed!

  • After a summer at the beach, I went shoeless out of habit on the street in Los Angeles and cars actually honked at me!! Like there was a dress code?!

  • .Maxine Binning:

    Hi Maureen, Yes we went shoeless also. We wore shoes to school walking,cycling or on horseback but they came off as soon as we entered the school gates. Bare feet for the rest of the day unless the program for the day was going to the beach to learn to swim.Shoes, what shoes?

  • Alice Richards:

    Can’t imagine going barefoot outdoors. Too many obstacles to overcome and step over. Just small customs people grow into and up with.

  • Jewels Marcus:

    New Jersey was much more relaxed especially during hot muggy summers. We ran barefoot as much to honeybee’s chagrin. And through neighbor yards as well. No fences back then.

  • Jenny Woolf:

    My kids used to be shoeless even in England – I think by the time they were born the hippies had been and gone!

  • Josephine:

    There is something unusual about New Zealanders obsession with bare feet.
    I find that in the summer months, even in downtown Auckland , many people will be shoeless, feet often blackened from walking on the pavement. On the beach, or even close to the beach( at Waiheke, or Whangamata), it seems the sensible, relaxed choice. In the city it feels like a much more bold statement!
    Maybe it’s about being carefree, imagining the sand between your toes, when it’s more likely to be warm gum or globules of melted tar!

  • Joan Hansen:

    As part of my life was in Mississippi, I was a shoe-less child. The English do not dress according to the weather. it must be uncomfortable. Merry christmas

Leave a Reply