I haven’t been to Greece in 16 years. I haven’t seen my aunt and uncle, cousins, and extended family in 16 years. Of course, my memories are hazy. But every once in a while, something will trigger a memory that comes back to me so vividly that I’ll get lost in a daydream.
This time it was espadrilles. Every spring, espadrilles reappear on shoe store shelves, and every time I see a pair, I’m twelve again. I’m standing in front of a shoe store window in Patras, my father’s city, looking through the pane of glass that separates me from those shoes. Woven wedges offset with delicate ribbon winding up the mannequin’s ankle. All the shoes in the window are marked with oversized price tags with handwritten red numerals. This pair is marked €40, and I’m furiously trying to crunch the numbers in my head.
Those espadrilles represented something more to me than attire. To my twelve-year-old self, they were a symbol of everything that was chic about Europeans. When we arrived in Greece that summer, my suitcase was stocked with wide-leg Calvin Klein jeans and Vans sneakers—definitely on-point back in the States. But my cousins and their peers were all wearing skinny jeans and Converse sneakers. I remember feeling rather oafish in my American duds. They all looked so polished, and I just looked grunge. Guess that look didn’t make it across the pond.
Those espadrilles were so smart, like the women in the Greek markets that browsed the aisles in dresses and heels on a Tuesday afternoon. These shoes were mature, they were timeless. That’s why I still admire a pair of espadrilles every spring, now twenty years later.
Recently, a sociologist friend introduced me to a term that so perfectly describes how I felt about my identity growing up: “third culture kid.” She explained that because my father is a Greek immigrant (and we spoke the language and ate the food and did the whole cultural thing—hello, my name is Evanthia!), but I was raised in the US, Americans had a tendency to see me as Greek, but in Greece they saw me as American. It’s a strange position of never really feeling like you fit in, and of having to be a chameleon.
There again, I remembered the espadrilles. That moment of fashion consciousness, when I realized being stylish in one locale made me feel foolish in another. That my identity required fluidity.
I’m still waiting for the day when I’ll go back to the shops in Patras. Maybe this time I’ll get the shoes.