How very shoe!

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Fri Feb 11 10:31:26 UTC 2000

Barry's citation of "White Shoe" and Yale reminds me of another
classification based on footgear.

This is from a community in Chiapas, Mexico.  The town-center of the
community includes two groups that self-identify themselves as "Indians"
and "Ladinos".  Both the closed, corporate Indian community and the
non-corporate Ladino community are internally stratified, and people in
the town make fine distinctions about the stratified subgroups within
the two communities.

I found that Indians talked about the social status of both Ladinos and
other Indians with a series of references to what was worn on the feet.
"Gente descalzada", "unshod people" who habitually went barefoot, were
at the bottom of the scale of economic and social differentiation. Most,
but not all, of those who went barefoot as adults were Indians.
Stratification up the scale included people of "caites", succesors to
traditional Mayan sandals, worn exclusively by Indians; "gomeros",
rubber or plastic mass-produced slipper-like shoes, worn by Indians
working in Ladino households and by poor Ladinos; "sandalias", leather
sandals and huaraches; "botas", leather boots; and "zapatos",
factory-made leather shoes. The existence of these terms got me in the
habit of taking special note of what people had on their feet as I took
notes about participants in social gatherings. Sure enough, what people
habitually wore on their feet was a pretty good index to their
participation in stratified social groups.

Then I heard a much rarer term: "gente de calcetin", people who wear
socks or stockings.  Well, lots of people who wore either boots or shoes
and at least some who wore huaraches or sandals did wear socks from time
to time.  But there were only a few families where everyone wore socks
or stockings every day.  It didn't surprise me to learn that the only
people called gente de calcetin were Ladino members of the local upper
class -- and that they were all members of the very top stratum of that
class.  Conversely, the people who belonged to that stratum did
habitually wear socks or stockings.

I thought that was some really fancy categorization by people at the
lower end of local society recognizing the finest of distinctions at the
top.  That's lots better than Lloyd Warner was able to get out of people
in the middle and lower classes of "Yankee City", the studies that led
U.S. sociologists to build considerations of socio-economic class
structure into their pictures of our society.  According to Warner, only
people in the upper class made distinctions between the lower-upper and
the upper-upper classes.

There was one breakdown in the footgear classification system in the
Chiapas town I studied longest.  My own habitual use of socks with my
shoes never led anybody to call me "gente de calcetin".  If my group
identity was in question, Indians called me one of the "gringoetik" -- a

All of that comes from my field notes from 1958 to 1974.  In 1994, I
found a new classification in a nearby Tztzil-speaking community: the
equivalent of "people who wear Adidas"-- who habitually wore white
athletic socks with their Adidas.  Except for what they had on their
feet, the people I saw  wearing Adidas wore local Indian clothing,
albeit of the finest quality.  Only Indians live permanently in that
community, and the only Adidoetik I saw were political leaders and
members of their immediate families.

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at>

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