I've had a few interesting conversations and about "emergency" footwear over the last week or so with some fellow barefooters. It seems to me there are a couple of predominant trends among dedicated of "full-time" barefooters when it comes to carrying a pair of backup footwear with them (e.g. flip-flops, mocs, etc.): some of us are OK with the idea of donning a pair of light footwear upon entering establishments that frown upon our bare feet, while some of us prefer to stick to our bare soles and put up a fight for our God-given right to be unshod at our will.
Through my 20's and early 30's I used to be a much more "hardcore" and "militant" barefooter that I am now. I used to get into many an argument with both employees and management staff at any establishment that would deny me service due to my lack of footwear. I used to write letter after letter to companies' head offices in the hope for some justice to be served and my rights to be respected; all of these efforts yielded minimal to no results in most cases.
After nearly 15 years of multiple aggravations, I have adopted a different approach (unfortunately, to the dismay of some of my more "hard core" fellow barefoot enthusiasts). I'm turning 40 in September and it seems like, the older I get, the less I want to be bothered by others about my barefooting. Therefore, over the last few years (maybe 4 or so), I have come to the realization that I need to pick my battles when it comes to fighting for my barefooting rights. While I still think it's very important to educate others and let them know that barefooting is a positive and healthy lifestyle, I think I can find much more productive venues to do so (like my blog here, twitter, facebook, etc.), instead of getting into an argument with some misguided clerk at a store or waiter at a restaurant who are, most likely, acting upon management instructions, rather than their own will/opinion.
In light of all this, and to avoid awkward situations -- especially when I am out with my partner and other friends, who are more than accepting and supportive of my barefooting -- I have gotten into the habit of carrying a pair of light rubber flip-flops with me at most times to help me get rid of any "shoe-police officer" I might encounter at any restaurant, or other establishment I visit. I love my cargo pants and shorts for that purpose, since the sandals fit perfectly in the side pockets. Surprisingly, more often than not, the flip-flops end up staying there in my pocket because no one gives me a second look for being barefoot. However, I find most surprising the occasions when I have been left alone (and barefooted) by store employees when I show them my backup flip-flops upon their questioning "Sir, do you have any shoes with you?"; my guess is that they feel reassured knowing I have something to throw on my feet, should the "impending emergency" they all seem to fear arise.
We all barefooters know that people's fears and misconceptions about what can go wrong by being barefoot are simply a product of their misguided minds. Therefore, I think having that little "insurance" that can be shown, in this case in the form of a pair of rubber flip-flops, puts their fears at ease. I'm not sure about you but, in my case, and given the prevalent misinformation in most of North America about our lifestyle choice, I think it's an acceptable compromise, in exchange for a more peaceful and enjoyable barefooting experience.