Living Without Shoes

PHOTO Barefoot Hikers of Virginia
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Kyle Vaughn describes his sense of style as "ludicrous." His wardrobe includes a green sequined vest, vibrant purple slacks, a beanie with elephant ears stitched on the sides and an elf costume for the holiday season.

But when people comment on Vaughn's appearance, they rarely mention the neon colors and novelty accessories.

Strangers tend to notice the fact that he's not wearing shoes.

When Vaughn, 21, walks by, some ask where he left his shoes, others scoff in disgust and children ask their parents why he's barefoot.

"I guess you get used to people in ridiculous clothing, between gothic, punk and other eclectic fashions," he said. "But it's much rarer to see someone without shoes."

"It Just Feels Better"

Vaughn, from Katy, Texas, is one of a growing number of individuals who prefer to live their lives without shoes.

He's lived barefoot for as long as he can remember. As an elementary school student, his teachers scolded him for kicking his shoes off under his desk. Today, while there are times when Vaughn is forced to wear shoes –- like when he's working as a food prep –- he estimates that 90 percent of his life is spent barefoot.

"It just feels better," he said. "It sounds corny, but there's something nice about feeling the earth you're walking on. You're just more connected to the world."

Those living barefoot cite health reasons, practicality and general comfort as reasons for losing their shoes.

The trend can be attributed to an increased awareness of natural living, said Michael Buttgen, founder and president of the Primal Foot Alliance, an online network of barefooters.

"As a society, we have this desire to go back to what's pure and natural," he said. "People don't want to eat processed food anymore. They don't want to release harmful toxins into the air. Going barefoot is a logical next step."

Al Gauthier, host of Living Barefoot, a bi-monthly podcast with an audience of 25,000, says the movement picks up steam as more people learn about it.

Shoes as Mere "Tools"

"I think that most people really like being barefoot," he said. "When someone goes home, the first thing they probably do is kick off their shoes. The more people that hear about it, the more people want to give it a shot."

Recent media attention given to barefoot runners has also increased awareness of the living barefoot movement, Buttgen said.

"People see that you can run barefoot, and the logical question to ask is, 'Well, can I walk barefoot too?'" he said.

Buttgen, who has been living barefoot for the past six years, believes shoes are meant to be "tools" for specific purposes, not an everyday necessity.

He equates the use of shoes to that of gloves.

"If it's freezing out, I'll put on gloves," he said. "If I'm taking a cake or a pizza out of the oven, I'll put on gloves. But when I'm done, I put them away and don't put them back on until I have a reason to."

And Then There's Snow

Like gloves, there are times when barefooters don shoes. Buttgen says walking through snow, on black-top asphalt in the middle of summer and near construction sites or other potentially hazardous places are all reasons to use shoes.

Mindi Young, of Holden, Mo., has about 20 pairs of shoes in her closet, from fancy high heels, to rubber flip-flops. She began living barefoot about 18 months ago, but says she keeps the shoes she used to wear for when "being barefoot is unacceptable."

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