(NEW YORK) -- 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.
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.
But Dennis Frisch, a podiatrist in Boca Raton, Fla. and a member of the American Podiatric Medical Association, doesn't believe going barefoot is a safe practice.
"The risks of what could happen when you're barefoot significantly outweigh the risks of what could happen when you're wearing shoes," Frisch said.
For example, he said that a blister or corn caused by wearing an uncomfortable shoe will take a couple of days to heal on its own. But a cut caused by stepping on undesirable material while barefoot could potentially become infected and be a severe medical problem.
Frisch said he isn't "anti-barefoot," and he even advises some of his patients to kick off their shoes while they're at home. Being barefoot for some period of each day is especially important for women who wear constrictive high-heeled shoes, he said.
"There's nothing wrong with being barefoot," Frisch said. "It's just that there is a place for it, and outside isn't that place."
Still, Frisch suggests people who want to escape the confines of shoes while at home wear socks or slippers to protect the soles of their feet.
Few barefooters have experienced such medical problems.
Howell says fears of broken glass and sharp objects are "greatly exaggerated."
"People like to think that every city street is littered with broken glass," he said. "But if you actually look around, you'll see that simply isn't true."
He said most injuries can be avoided if walkers look at the ground.
"If you pay a little attention, it's easy to avoid problems," he said. "A piece of glass that's big enough to see can be avoided."
As the movement grows in popularity, barefooters hope their choice will become more socially acceptable.
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