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The Word on the Feet: A mud-season shoe crew pounds the pavement 

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Mud season finds Burlington pedestrians of divided opinion when it comes to footwear — some are shod for winter, some for spring, and some are simply dressed for mess. Vermonters might tread lightly when it comes to high fashion, but a recent random survey on the Church Street Marketplace suggests that people take their soles seriously…

Two adolescents emerge from Old Navy, their soft plastic lavender flip-flops creating a syncopated sound along the brick walkway. Isabel Ekman of Charlotte and Emily Reindel of Williston, both 14, are merely following their own Easter weekend tradition. “We always buy open-toes and clack ’em down the street,” Ekman confesses. “It’s just something we do. We wear them until they break… in a month or two.”

Perhaps the notorious “terrible twos” are a bit less awful when you’re wearing chartreuse. Little Asiyih Ehsani of Shelburne is decked out almost entirely in this vivid shade of green. A pair of blue rubber galoshes, purchased at Payless, are the toddler’s only point of departure. “Asiyih doesn’t go anywhere unless she’s got those boots on,” explains her mother Kadzo.

Paul Engels of South Burlington has a tale to tell about his khaki and navy Cole Haan country two-tones with tan laces and burnt orange soles: “I was looking everywhere for saddle shoes, which are out of style and hard to find,” recalls the Keleher Samets Volk business development manager, 54. “A few weeks ago, Michael Kehoe’s offered to order some at $155 a pair. So I went to the Cole Haan Web site, where these were on sale for $89.95. I bought ’em on the Internet.”

“I’m known for my shoes,” proclaims Kitty Hodgetts, 50, glancing down at her tan suede high heels with pointy toes and Mary Jane straps. On a Good Friday stroll through the Queen City, the Richmond woman acknowledges that she must have at least 30 different “dress-up” styles at home. That prompts her pal to quip: “My friend, Imelda Marcos.”

A guy who’s partial to shoe trees, John Tucker of Burlington found his black tasseled Johnson & Murphy loafers 10 years ago in New York City, “because you can’t normally get them in places like Vermont.” The Racial Justice and Equity Project director, who prefers to keep his age a secret, doesn’t mess around when it comes to footwear. “Shoes are a particular passion. My dad taught me that’s the only thing you should spend a lot of money on. You don’t want your feet bothered.”

Perched on a boulder, Libby Grise looks somewhat Goth with her numerous facial piercings and knee-high, lace-up, imitation black leather platform boots. But she’s added an all-American patriotic flourish: White socks with red and blue stripes peek out at the top of her calves. “I got the boots in November at Hot Topic in the U-Mall,” says the 22-year-old residential staff employee at Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington. “They haven’t been giving me any problems until today. Now I’ve got gauze on my heel where they’re digging in.”

Leigh Ault stops to do her banking at an automated teller machine in low-slung red suede Gravis shoes with a wide, Velcro-fastened front strap. The 24-year-old Burton Snowboards public relations coordinator from Burlington shrewdly puts in a plug for her employer. “I got my Lolas at the Burton factory showroom,” she confides. “That’s what this style is called, the Lola. They’re really comfortable.”

Although gray skies make a 50-degree day feel more like 40, Hinesburg resident Shawna Mead, 23, is sockless in light brown leather sandals with a chunky wedge heel. All the better to show off the “Raisinette” hue of her toenail polish and the two five-pointed star tattoos on her left foot. “I put these on as soon as there’s no snow left on the ground,” the social worker says of her summery shoes.

Is Lara Heath comfortable in her eye-catching “British tan” boots with four-inch wooden heels and dramatically pointy toes squared off at the tip? “Not really,” admits the 34-year-old owner of the Ecco clothing store in downtown Burlington. “I won’t lie to you. I wear these more for fashion than comfort. They’re sort of a cross between Western and dressy.”

Some shoes make a statement. Stacey Chagnon’s Oxford-like laced Fluevogs are shiny black leather with a red flame-shaped design along the sides. “I got them a year ago at Boomerang in Brattleboro,” says the Connecticut woman, 25, who plans to relocate to Vermont in late June. “They’re very me. Bold. And cool.”

Nyasha Chiundiza couldn’t resist the Spanish-made brown Campers he spotted in a local thrift shop two weeks ago. They remind him of “old football shoes,” he says, referring to the game Americans call soccer. The 24-year-old Burlington College senior from Zimbabwe points out that the pattern of raised circles on the no-slip rubber soles look “like little soccer balls.”

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