“Boston.” Not a popular word around Los Angeles, especially during the NBA playoffs. While the Lakers got sent fishing by the Denver Nuggets, the Boston Celtics have stuck around. Like a mustard stain that no varietal of Oxy Clean can remove. “Boston” is a loaded word around these parts thanks to sports rivalries and heartbreak. But more and more these days, when I think about Boston, I think about shoes. Specifically, the Birkenstock Boston mule — the official shoe of conspicuous comfort.
My Birks have me by the neck and won’t let go. An anytime shoe that conforms to the wearer’s foot more and more over time, making them nearly indispensable. They can and do go with me whenever and wherever. The Venn diagram of comfort and swag is nearly a single circle now and the Bostons have been crucial in that vibe shift.
Whatever juice Uggs had left seems to have run dry. The Boston mule is a TikTok obsession, ripped off by luxury brands on the regular, and always on the verge of selling out. The Celtics’ star/my own personal irritant Jaylen Brown has been rocking Birks for years now. It’s both a beneficiary of the “ugly shoe” wave that started back in the late 2010s and a legitimately perfect design. Casual observers of style might call it a “dad shoe” but the best dressed people you know are photographed in them all the time. I love the Fear of God Los Feliz sandals, but let’s be real. If any shoe should be named after that neighborhood, it should be the Bostons.
Like so many of Birkenstock’s product line, the Boston comes in an array of colors and materials — from oiled leather and suede to a synthetic called EVA. There are versions with shearling in the footbed and on the upper. What every model has in common is the simple construction. The footbed on every pair of Bostons has a way of contouring to your foot to the point that wearing someone else’s mules isn’t just kind of gross, it also feels completely wrong; akin to wearing someone else’s underpants. It’s an intimate relationship, like a kid and their baseball glove. If you forget your glove, you pretty much can’t play. It fits you and only you.
When you see the Bostons out in the wild, they have a dual connotation. They’re both fabulously comfortable shoes with a patina of granola and also a symbol of the upwardly mobile creative class of L.A. It can be an indoor shoe for weekends spent on the couch or it can feel rugged and meant for urban exploration. The Boston is a shoe for 20-something freakniks and creative directors at Apple alike.
But Birkenstocks were once solely the province of the hippie. Flailing around for anything resembling a counterculture, I took to wearing the classic Birkenstock Arizonas (the product name for the open-toed, two-strapped sandal) during high school in the early 2000s. It’s an understatement to say I got my share of confused looks or worse yet, people who assumed I only wore Tom’s natural deodorant. You know, the kind that makes your body odor worse instead of better.
But even back then, elements of the hippie lifestyle were bubbling back to the surface. This was the decade when Whole Foods Market exploded in popularity and things were being made out of hemp again. Medicinal marijuana laws were being passed across the country in the 2000s. Young people got ironically into Phish, and then sincerely into Phish a few years later. In Los Angeles, the smelly legacy of the hippie movement lingers.
Hippies became synonymous with Los Angeles in the 1970s thanks to restaurants like The Source. We didn’t invent crystals, incense, juice cleanses or comfortable footwear. In fact, most of those things were imported from someone else’s culture. But we did find a way to make them trends and run them into the ground. We are the epicenter of the Moon Juice industrial complex, the city where Erewhon had room to flourish (or metastasize, depending on your perspective). The Birkenstock Boston fits right in with the mentality that your body is a temple, both inside and out. Somehow, a shoe can make you feel good.
Maybe that’s why the Boston has become such a prized possession for so many. It isn’t that we all suddenly decided to become hippies. It’s that they molded themselves around us and never left our side.
I realize I sound like I’m describing a pet like a dog or a particularly friendly rabbit, but I think maybe my Bostons do fill a similar role. I didn’t name my shoes. I don’t plan to, though I think my brown oiled leather Bostons would be called “Brad” or something else that’s similarly generic. My shoes don’t curl up next to me during “Succession” (or another Lakers playoff loss) on Sunday nights, but they do signify that I’m home. I mostly wear them for tedious chores when I’m not wearing my house shoes. They trigger a part of my brain that would be activated if I were greeted at the door by a cat’s purring.
Bostons have transcended the trend cycle because they are personal in an era where everything feels either soullessly mass-marketed or hyper-targeted in a way that comes off as disingenuous. They’ll do hyped-out collabs with Dior, Jill Sander, Rick Owens, or Proenza Schouler, but none of that has made the shoes less authentic. In this era, that’s a miracle. Birkenstocks are a relic. A well-made, beautiful relic. It’s a product, but it’s a product that’s just for you.