Shoes, shoes, SHOES! Some people love ’em, and cannot imagine life without a variety. Others see them as a necessity to cover their feet to get into stores and restaurants. The latter are usually the ones asking me what shoes do I really need? (Read: How few can I get away with owning?) As with any wardrobe choice, your personality, lifestyle, and values should be your main determinants, so let’s explore what that means when you go shoe shopping.
Before You Go Shoe Shopping…
Know your body. Most guides suggest shoe shopping in the afternoon when your feet are their widest, but mine are wider when I first get up, so that’s when I go shopping. Make sure to go when your foot is at its chubbiest! When you try on a shoe, check the material of which it is made. Leather shoes will stretch a bit. Fabric less so, and plastic/PU/vegan leather: not so much. You want your shoes to fit snugly enough that nothing slips, but not so tightly that they pinch. If the insole is very padded or cushy, there will be more room after the padding compacts. These should fit quite snugly. Make sure to wear the socks that you will wear with the shoes you are buying, or knee high hose for dress shoes. Most shoe stores or departments are carpeted. Toodle those feet in your potential purchase onto a non-carpeted part of the store (with permission, of course), to make sure they feel comfortable on a hard surface, and not only on the rug! If you always put insoles or liners of any kind in your shoes, take along a new pair to slip in the ones you are trying. You don’t want to get them home only to find the fit not generous enough for your favorite gel pads. If you need orthotics, you already know how that dramatically limits your shoe options. You may find going with a brand you know and trust, and customizing the color with shoe paint can be a great way to add variety to your choices.
Your Lifestyle and Personality
Please, think about your lifestyle before you buy. That darling bejeweled pair of satin stilettos could be a staple for the red-carpet walking starlet, but maybe not for the carpooling mom who spends hours standing at the side of the soccer pitch. If you wouldn’t be found dead in the gym, the $150 for those cross-training shoes might be better spent elsewhere. (Unless the guilt motivates you…) Shoes are a fantasy escape for many women, and since they fit through many size changes, they can be one of the most uplifting purchases!
In a previous post, I mentioned that I could survive (in the Navy) with four pair of shoes: PT shoes, boonies/work boots, oxfords, and pumps. Those covered the basics of what I needed in uniform, and gave me what I needed for any particular day. I still find those four basics a great place to start a shoe wardrobe, and the equivalent of those 4 are often my basis for travel packing. If I have all 4 in my suitcase, I know I am ready for anything! (No, I do not take dress shoes camping!) If you live in a place with very distinct seasons, you may find that you need a seasonal variety in some categories. Our summers here are unbearably hot and sticky, so I have dress shoes and dress sandals in my shoe wardrobe, and casual shoes and casual sandals.
A Dress Shoe
I know, you never go anywhere that needs a dress shoe. Well, having a pair you can rely on for solemn or festive occasions is a lifesaver. And a pair of pumps can take your jeans and a tee or blouse to places your favorite flip-flops or tennies just can’t. (Especially if you swap out your everyday tote for a smaller bag or clutch!) For most women, I suggest a dress shoe or pump in your haircolor. A shoe in this shade goes with everything, and creates a pleasing top and tail effect that draws the eye of the beholder back to your face, where it belongs. Many women default to a black pump, the kind you find on every wardrobe-must-have list out there, but unless your hair is black, try another shade. If you change your hair color often, or a brown shoe doesn’t seem dressy enough, look for a pump in your skin tone. That elongates the leg when wearing a dress with bare legs, and looks great year round. So does a metallic shade that reflects your hair color, like pewter, silver, platinum, or gold. Try on dress shoes when you are out and about doing other shopping. You can find a pair that you like that is comfortable, rather than panicking when you need a pair and settling for the first thing that you can stand that “matches.”
A Casual Shoe
By Casual Shoe, I do not mean flip-flops or tennis shoes. I think of those as leisure or PT shoes. I am thinking of a low or flat leather or fabric shoe. Yours might be a ballet flat, loafer, or oxford. It depends on your personality, fit issues, and wardrobe. Maybe I should call this a Nice-Casual Shoe. This should be something you can wear with trousers, skirts or dresses, maybe even shorts if that’s your style. If you have a very relaxed personality, maybe yours is a boat shoe, or espadrille. Another woman’s casual shoe might be a pointy-toed flat. I have a pair of pewter oxfords that have become my fast favorite this past winter, for both casual, and work
A Work Shoe
Long, long, ago, the US Navy issued me a pair of boondockers. They had to be one of the ugliest pair of shoes/boots I had ever put on my feet. I learned to appreciate their steel toes, and how comfortable they were to march miles in. I still have mine, and wear them for yard work, and take them camping. Now you probably don’t need a pair of steel-toed boots for work, but what is your work shoe equivalent? Many teachers I know swear by Dansko clogs. Those are their work shoe. My shoe of choice is flat or low heeled pump most of the year, and a low heeled boot in the winter. The pewter oxfords I mentioned above are great for my work now, and fill the function of a casual shoe as well.
A PT Shoe
Please, please, please do not go running in your old Keds. If you are going to run, or do whatever physical training you do, please buy the right kind of shoes for the job. Have your feet professionally fitted. The people at our local Fleet Feet are great at helping fit your foot, and find the best shoe for your foot. It is worth it to pay an expert. It costs far less than the medical bills that shoes with poor support can create! You can always go find your next pair on-line at a discount.
To Think about When Choosing a Shoe
Toe and Heel Shapes: Unless your personality calls you elsewhere, a toe shape that reflects the shape of your nose or chin will be most harmonious, and flattering. I prefer pointy-toed shoes, and have a pointy chin. A gently curved almond toe flatters most women. If your feet are very long, you may prefer a snip toe or a more rounded toe, and if your feet are small, you may like a shoe that is more pointy. Heel shapes are important for the back view. (Something we would often prefer to ignore.) If you have a curvy shape, you should look for a curvy shaped heel, and a straighter body shape should look for a straighter heel.
If you cannot walk comfortably heel-to-toe in a pair of shoes, please leave them behind! There is nothing elegant or sexy about a woman doing the “Frankestein walk” because her heels are too high. I have seen women in heels so high that they are unable to straighten their legs, creating a pulsating flamingo effect as they walk… (My husband even noticed one in the Target parking lot, and stopped me to ask me why a woman would do that. I ventured that she thought the shoes were sexy… He replied that there was nothing sexy about moving that way.)
Scale: I touched on heel shape and substance above, but even more important than shape for a heel is scale. A chunky wedge looks great on a larger scale woman. In the same way, a dainty strapped stiletto looks better on the woman with smaller scale ankles and calves. The width of the straps plays into scale, too! Thicker straps are good for larger scale women, medium straps for most of us, and thin straps for the thinner or more petite. If you are heavier, look for a heel with substance. High is fine, but that stiletto draws attention to the contrast between your more generous frame and the skinny heel, and makes you look wider. (Or about to topple over.) A thin woman may look bony in a very chunky heel. Look for shoes that reflect your own physical characteristics.
Vamp: The vamp is the open part on the top of the shoe. We generally think of lower vamp shoes as dressier, and higher vamp shoes as more casual: pumps vs. oxfords. A more open vamp creates the illusion of a longer leg, which flatters many of us. The sandals here have a high vamp, but if worn by a woman with skin similar in color to the straps, will not appear as a high vamp shoe. In black, they would have a shortening effect on a fair skinned woman. Ankle straps and shoes that tie high up on the foot create a shortening effect that is flattering for women who want to shorten their legs. (I have yet to meet one!) If you need the leg length, but really want to rock those ankle straps, find straps in your skin tone, and of the proper scale. Some women avoid low vamp shoes because they find toe cleavage unappealing. That is a matter of personal taste; try each pair. Knee high boots create a low vamp effect because of the unbroken line from knee to toe. Ankle booties in your skin tone create less of a line, but if you always wear them with pants, then a pair the color of the trousers you wear most often with them is the best choice for length.
What are your must-have shoes? Please share in the comments below! I love to hear from you…
And I must add a thank you to Catherine at Not Dressed as Lamb for the Link Up!