As a kid growing up during World War II new shoes were difficult to come by. So we had our Sunday shoes and everyday shoes. Often the onetime Sunday shoes became the everyday ones. Growing out of the shoes and moving on to a larger size was the primary reason to get new shoes. This made a trip to the shoe store a very big event, indeed.
The brand that was popular for elementary school boys was Buster Brown. His sister’s name was Mary Jane. The logo of Buster Brown and his dog Tige was not only on the store signage, both inside and out; it was inside the shoe as well. Mom picked the most durable shoes for the money, so I didn’t have much to say about style – nor did it really matter. All the kids had the same non-descript shoes, so none of us cared what the other kids were wearing.
The fitting process consisted of several steps. The salesman sat on a slanted stool and removed my right shoe. Why was it always the right shoe? Out came the contraption for measuring the length and width of the foot. Every store had one of these aluminum and black tools called a Brannock Device, named after its creator, Charles Brannock.
The salesman went into the stockroom after giving me a Buster Brown comic book to read. A few minutes later he emerged carrying three or four boxes each containing a pair of shoes. He plopped the boxes next to the stool and used the metal shoehorn he keep in his back pocket to help me put on the shoes after receiving an approving nod from Mom. Then I was instructed to stand up, and she pressed her thumb down firmly on the top of the shoe to see how close the toes were to the edge.
Once the shoes past the first test, I was told to walk up and down the isle. Sliding the slippery new soles on the carpet and looking at my feet in the titled mirrors scattered about the floor distracted me from this awkward task. I was asked how the shoe felt. This was only a formality, because new shoes never felt comfortable. When the selection was narrowed to one, the salesman unlaced the shoe on my left foot and placed the new shoe on it. The neat part was next: the X-ray machine. But first Mom had to press her thumb on the tips of both shoes this time.
X-ray machines in the local shoe store were bulky pieces of technology that we placed our feet in so the salesman could use his electronic pointer to show Mom how well the shoes fit (they stopped using this equipment a long time ago, because of radiation exposure or some other horrible thing caused by this procedure). Satisfied the fit was proper and hoping I wouldn’t grow out of them too fast, Mom paid the man.
Before leaving the store, the shoe box and a plastic shoehorn emblazoned with the Buster Brown logo were stuffed into a Buster Brown bag along with the Buster Brown comic book. The shoe company was a pretty good marketer back then, so good that the brand is still around today. Buster Brown and his dog Tige made friends with kids before this pre-boomer was born. It’s nice to see they’re still doing it.