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Fashion Friday: Why Shoes?

Why are so many women who care about fashion and style so fascinated by shoes?

In last week’s Fashion Friday, I posted a picture of a plaque on Boston’s Freedom Trail, commemorating the moment Christian evangelist D.L. Moody found God in a shoe store. I posted this with a series of snarky comments, including “Religious experience in a shoe store? I know the feeling!” and “Were they Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos?”

In response, arensb asked:

Could someone please explain to this stereotypical guy what the deal is with shoes? I don’t get it.

My first reaction was to think that this was a silly question. I mean, isn’t it self-evident? It’s obvious why shoes are so interesting! They’re interesting because… because… hmmm. Good question.

(Side note: I love it when people question things that to me seem self-evident. It makes me re-examine my assumptions, and dig really deep into them.)

I’m going to say right off: What I’m about to say here is pretty much harebrained speculation, personal opinions pulled entirely out of my ass. There may be some sociologist who’s studied this question… but if there is, I don’t know about it. This is just what I’ve pulled out of my brain after pondering this question over the last few days.

Okay, Disclaimer out of the way. Why are so many women who care about fashion and style so fascinated by shoes? Here are my ponderings:

1: Feet and legs are sexy. Beautiful and interesting shoes show them off. ‘Nuff said.

(I’m not talking specifically about foot and shoe fetishism here, btw. That’s an interesting topic in itself, and it’s obviously related… but it’s a different topic.)

2: It’s relatively easy to find shoes that fit. Yes, there are some women with very small or very large feet who have a hard time finding shoes. But it pales in comparison with the number of women who have a hard time finding clothes that fit. If you’re interested in fashion and style and want to express yourself through your appearance, and you’re fatter than average, or thinner than average, or taller, or shorter, or bustier, or more flat-chested… finding clothes that fit can be a hassle at best, a frustrating nightmare that can drive you to tears at worst. But chances are excellent that you’ll be able to find shoes that fit. So just about everyone can get into them, and have fun with them. (This is especially true for fat women: cool shoes are many a stylish fat woman’s best friend.)

3: Shoes create versatility: they’re a small item that can make a huge difference in an outfit. Take your basic little black dress, for instance. If you wear it with classic pumps? Ballerina flats? Mary Janes? Outrageous, super-trendy platforms? Four-inch stilettos? Cowboy boots? Combat boots? You’re going to get a very different look. (And that’s not just true for LBDs: it’s true for jeans, suits, mini-skirts and tights, pretty much anything.)

Remember what I wrote a few weeks ago about jewelry, and how in the discrete combinatorial system of fashion and style, jewelry is a cheap way to multiply your options? Shoes are like that as well. If you have six awesome dresses and three cool pairs of shoes, you have eighteen outfits. Get one more pair of shoes, and you get twenty-four outfits. You do the math. (It’s a little more complicated than that, since not all shoes go with all dresses… but the basic principle still holds.)

It’s sort of like what hats did for decades, and indeed centuries, before they fell out of favor. In fact, I’m now realizing that hats fell out of favor at about the same time that hemlines started to rise and shoes started to become more visible and more important. I’m now wondering if there’s a connection. (Where’s that fashion sociologist when I need them?)

4: Shoes affect how you stand and walk. That’s most famously and obviously true for heels, of course. Heels, and the way you stand and walk in them, emphasize femininity and female sexuality. Heels, not to put to fine a point on it, make you switch your hips and thrust out your boobs and stick out your ass. Which, if that’s what you’re going for, is awesome. And I’ve mentioned that shoes show off sexy feet and legs, right? (And then, of course, heels limit your mobility… which enhances a cultural image of femininity in a much more sexist and fucked-up way.)

But this “how you stand and walk” thing isn’t just true of heels. In boots, for instance — a topic worthy of their own post — the way I stand and walk is confident, assertive, even athletic. In boots, I have a strong stance, an easy stride. Boots — flat- or low- heeled boots, anyway — give an air of freedom, of being ready for anything: ready to walk for miles, climb a fence, run for a bus, run from the cops, kick someone in the balls, dance all night, fuck all night. Just by how you stand and walk in them. (Okay. Boots definitely need their own post.)

5: Self-fulfilling prophecy #1: As is the case with so much of fashion, a huge part of why people are interested in shoes is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lots of women are interested in shoes… so lots of designers respond to this demand by making beautiful and interesting shoes… so there are lots of beautiful and interesting shoes on the market… which makes lots of women more interested in shoes.

6: Self-fulfilling prophecy #2. And there’s another form of self- fulfilling prophecy at work that’s also very common in fashion, in a somewhat more conformist way. Lots of women are interested in shoes… so lots of fashion magazines and fashion icons and other fashion trend-setters get very fixated on shoes… so women who want to be fashionable and trendy get on the shoe train.

Or, if you want to see it in a less harsh and negative light: Lots of women are interested in shoes… which gives other women the idea, and gets them paying attention to shoes when they might not have done so before… which, in turn, gets still more women paying attention to shoes. There’s definitely an element of that for me: I was never that interested in shoes (apart from boots) until I started paying more conscious attention to fashion and style. Once I did, I saw shoes everywhere — and while a lot of what I saw was clownishly stupid (boy, there are some pig-ugly shoes in the world), a lot of it was beautiful and exciting, and made me want to play, too. I’m a social animal, and if lots of other people are paying attention to something, I’m more likely to pay attention myself. It might be food, or a predator, or a potential mate! (Any or all of which could apply to shoes. Tasty, sexy, predatory shoes. Yum.)

I’m sure I’m leaving stuff out here. Thoughts? If you’re interested in shoes — why?

Comments

  1. says

    “In fact, I’m now realizing that hats fell out of favor at about the same time that hemlines started to rise and shoes started to become more visible and more important. I’m now wondering if there’s a connection.”

    Oooh, great thought there! A couple of other things were happening as hats began to go out of fashion: shorter & more sculpted/permed haircuts that could stand on their own became more and more common, and folks began to wash more and more frequently (at the turn of the 20th century most folks bathed like once a week; by the late-mid 20th century it was expected that you’d bathe nearly every day). But people – both women and men – have been interested in fancy shoes for centuries. Ever seen some of the shoes of court of Louis XIV?

  2. John the Drunkard says

    Well, what about hats?

    How could they go from front-and-center to nowhere in one generation. Maybe because women’s feet and ankles were concealed for so many generations? Hats are close to faces, to eyes, mouths, hair, napes, throats etc. much more concentrated attractions than ankles, calves and so on.

    PS I am mystified by the shoe thing AND the old hat thing too. I just don’t see how naked women can be improved upon.

  3. says

    #2 is definitely something I saw among my friends who had a problem finding normal fitting clothing. Also, when I had (more?) body issues, shoes were so awesome because what could be wrong with your feet? Your feet can never be having a ‘fat day.’ This was definitely a trend among my women friends, even if their shoe obsession of choice was Chuck Taylors or high tops.

    I would also say that women and shoes are a perfect example of how fashion is not always the ‘women dressing for men’ assumption that some people make. The obsession with shoes is something that is coded as feminine. Hence, women being made fun of for liking ‘frivolous’ shoes is a narrative that has arisen. Women wear shoes for themselves and to be admired by others who appreciate fun shoes. Although, there is an argument that heals and other non-practical forms of shoes are anti-feminist because they ultimately damage and hurt feet. I would say , though, that there’s a large assortment of shoes to chose from that heals can be avoided. I like heals, but I can’t wear them everyday because that’s just not practical. So, I keep about five pairs of nice heals around, and I own a lot of flats, oxfords, loafer, boots (of all lengths), and sandals to make up for this.

  4. says

    I’m going to stick with the idea that most of what women call “shoes” are just HUGELY overpriced weird crap that can’t be anything but pain and suffering for your feet. I say that with the caveat that I’m a man, I have incredibly bad feet that have hurt me more or less nonstop since 1991, and I’m a giant fan of non-shoe overpriced weird crap. So no judgment from me. :)

  5. says

    Thanks for that answer (and a belated thank you to Improbable Joe as well). I think that makes sense; that shoes are basically an easy way to drastically change one’s appearance.

    I suppose the obvious question is why there doesn’t seem to be anything comparable for men. When I look at, say, pictures of the Oscars ceremony, I see women dressed in a profusion of outfits in every color and cut, while the men basically stick to a variation on the theme of “suit” (or two themes, if you consider “tuxedo” a separate outfit from “suit”).

    I think the closest equivalent to women’s shoes would be men’s ties, but I’ve never seen a man go nuts over a tie.

    Perhaps part of the explanation might be sexism: historically, it’s been a lot easier for a man to be judged by his achievements or intellect, while women have primarily been valued mainly for their looks, and there’s still a lot of that going on.

  6. says

    On point #3: WHERE ARE THE HATS? I think we should bring them back — men can get into hats far more than they can shoes (I take a very utilitarian view of shoes), but hats as a statement…that would be fun.

    As it stands now, all you see in the world of men’s headwear are baseball/gimme hats, which don’t say much. “I drive a tractor” or, if worn backwards, “I’m an idiot”.

    OK, and in Minnesota in midwinter, the knit stocking cap, which says “gawdamn I’m cold”.

  7. Predator Handshake says

    I don’t want to go too far onto a limb here and say that I understand the whole “shoes” thing as a male, but I think I at least have a slight idea what it’s like to want to wear uncomfortable shoes that make you feel hot anyway.

    When I was 3 or 4, I had a pair of alligator cowboy boots that I would wear constantly. I would walk into my preschool and even though my mom made me wear a heavy coat that I hated and that made me slightly immobile, I felt like the coolest dude around when I was wearing those boots. Then toward the end of my fourth year of life, my feet started to outgrow my boots. I had gotten new shoes before and could remember what happened: the old shoes disappeared and I never got to wear them again.

    I didn’t want to let go of my cowboy boots, so I would lie to my parents when they asked if it was time to go shoe shopping. I wore them for about six more months before my parents noticed that I had begun walking a little funny, and that my socks had little blood stains in the toes where my blisters had opened. When my parents finally dragged me to the shoe store, we found that my feet had grown three sizes while I had been wearing my boots. Luckily these shoes didn’t disappear; my mom still has those boots somewhere, and one day when I have a kid of my own I hope that they’ll get as much use out of them as I did.

  8. Liz McK says

    I think 75% of it is #2, which if you think about it, also applies to hats. Another reason hats fell out of favor might be improved central heating.

  9. KG says

    But people – both women and men – have been interested in fancy shoes for centuries. Ever seen some of the shoes of court of Louis XIV? – looloolooweez

    Fancy shoes used to mean high social status, both because they were expensive, and because anyone doing manual work or even needing to walk outside couldn’t wear them. I’d guess there’s still some of that going on – heels at work advertise that the wearer is of at least clerical status. Ditto ties for men, and long fingernails for women; with the latter, even someone who needs to type much would have problems, so they suggest someone who does not work at all, or who is telling others what to type.

  10. badandfierce says

    I have way more hats than I have shoes. Hats are way better. That said, I’m particular about shoes because I have trouble walking and I like to costume. I recently retired all my heeled shoes (and they were platform heels; never could move on anything else) except one pair of knee-high moccasin boots, because they’re too cool. I just wear them when I know I won’t be moving much. Shoes are the only thing I wear that I’m particular about brands, because they vary so widely that you never know if an unknown shoe label will kill your feet or fall apart. My standard approach is Minnetonka Thunderbird Moccasins for summer and ankle-height Dr Martens for the rest of the year, with the patent leather knee high Dr Martens for special occasions. And I do have the moccasin boots with the stupid heels, the geta sandals, the vaguely Western men’s shoes, and camo-print Converse, but those are for specific situations and not easy on my screwed up knee. Gotta be comfy, reliable, and awesome.

  11. Emily says

    I suspect that some women’s fascination with shoes is related to what shoes represent symbolically. Shoes are about mobility and opportunity to change scenery without impediment.

    I suspect that many women who are fascinated by shoes, in some way, feel confined or trapped in their lives. This is not to say that I am referring to all cases, under all circumstances.

  12. vcatalysis says

    This is a great article about all the ways GC loves shoes. It’s a great, fun article, period.

    But my comment is negative. I am a mostly-fem ally young female, with terrible feet problems. My feet are a source of physical pain and limit what I can do. (Wheelchairs, scooters and what not will be more of a bother than a help, because I can walk, just not every much. Many a doctor has tried to help, but they mostly just disagree with the last doctor.) I just want shoes that minimize the pain so I can have a life. Some doctors think shoes that relieve one kind of pain are now giving me another kind. Comfy athletic shoes are barely tolerable, so I can’t be athletic. Wearing those shoes to events/places that are less active make me look like the slob who wears sweatpants to a swanky restaurant. No, flats and boots won’t cut it, especially with orthopedic inserts.

    I deeply hate and resent shoes as fashion accessories because there are cultural expectations for what shoes women should wear in what settings, and I can’t follow them (unless I’m in an athletic setting, where I’ll just sit on my ass because it hurts). I feel like I can never dress up. I feel like that ugly girl who cant/won’t play with others, especially considering I’ll park my ass on a chair and hardly move. I hate “shoes as fashion” because it’s another way I am lame (yeah, punny).

  13. Ainuvande says

    As someone with very narrow feet and high arches, I disagree with #2. I also work nicer retail, which means I’m on my feet 8+ hours a day, and am expected to wear “nice” shoes. Finding work shoes is an ordeal, and lately even finding fun shoes is a massive challenge, as heel heights have soared over the past 5 or so years. I remember being able to walk into a store and spend some extra money for things that came in A widths that weren’t much over $100, and that had a heel under about 2 inches (about all I can stand for an 8 hour shift). This past season, it took me month to find something that fit and was comfy (once I put insoles in). I think I spent more time thanking the clerk than I did actually scouring the shoe store. And I definitely wrote the company that makes the shoes a thank you letter for making narrow widths.

    So no, for me, shoe shopping is a horrible chore that leaves me frustrated and angry (so does clothes shopping- again a size issue, but at least there I can tailor it if it’s close to fitting). I will say this for shoes though: if you spend a little extra on quality, and you don’t buy things that scream this season, you can usually wear them through multiple clothing fashion trends.

    Personally, I’ll stick to using jewelry to jazz up my outfits.

  14. says

    I’m not interested in fashion, although I am interested in a “good” pair of shoes for practical reasons (comfort, enhanced ability to do stuff, etc.) But I do want to point out that, as a cis-female, most of my shoe conversations happen with men. My experience is that men aren’t any less interested in shoes than women, it’s just a cultural difference of the kinds of shoes they’re interested in.

    I have men compliment me on my shoes daily – all black, extra-high Converse or steel toe combat boots – not because they think women like to talk about shoes, but because they want to wear my shoes. My coworkers and I spend long conversations discussing the various merits of different types of shoes – high tops vs. low tops, insoles, boots vs. sneakers, etc. A good pair of shoes is worth the money, and men can spend a hundred or two on shoes also.

    It just seems as though our current culture doesn’t emphasize male shoe fashion to the degree that it does women’s shoes, but it has not been my experience that men are any less interested in shoes, nor for very different reasons.

    It wasn’t that long ago that men were killing each other for their shoes. Men spend a lot of money on a single pair of brand name shoes for the status. Men have different types of shoes for different looks and functions too.

    I think it’s a false stereotype that men aren’t into shoes. Individuals vary, as they do for women. Me, I’m not into shoes at all. If I could get away with my sandals, my Chucks, or my combat boots, those are the only 3 pairs I’d own, and the ones I wear most of the time. But I’m also a costumer, and in order to make a good costume, I have to have the right shoes to match, which means that I have a whole closet filled with shoes that I don’t particularly care for, but that go with the outfit.

    My point is that all the reasons given here for women apply to men too. We just seem to want to convince ourselves that men have no interest in shoes and women are obsessed with them. But I think the truth is, like everything else about gender stereotypes, that there are actually two Bell Curves on the subject, and those Bell Curves overlap a whole lot more than they don’t.

  15. Emily says

    I do not mean that real shoes have anything to do with real mobility.

    To restate for clarity: In our big collection of culturally accepted symbolism – commonly used in art, popular media, and in dream interpretation – shoes are used to represent what I discussed in my post.

  16. timberwoof says

    There was a guy on PBS who did pledge drives while showing off various high-tech scans of people’s brains and exhorting people to stay off drugs and keep their brains flexible. He said that while at a neurologist’s conference in Milan, a colleague complained that his wife wanted to go shoe shopping. He told his colleague that since the nerves from the feet go right by the nerves for the pink parts, he should take his wife out shoe shopping. And for the clerk to fit them … that would be just wrong. He reports that his colleague had a very pleasant smile for the rest of the conference.

    Now I’m not familiar with women’s anatomy (I’m not that kind of guy), I would very much enjoy going shoe-shopping with a guy friend, even if we got strange looks from the shoe clerk.

    So, neurologist-friends, how full of it was this PBS lecture-circuit guy? Better yet, can anyone report subjectively on his hypothesis?

  17. says

    Wow, Greta, you’re really getting me thinking with that comment about hats falling out of favor around the time that shoes became a big focus. I studied historical clothing and fashion for my undergraduate public history thesis, and this is just the sort of thing I like researching. In fact, just off the top of my head, I can recall a 1960s fashion guide book that I have, which doesn’t have a big emphasis on hats (that’s when they were going out), but says about shoes that no pair of shoes can/should “make” an outfit, because shoes should never stand out that much. But of course, she says it in a way that indicates that she’s reacting against, and disapproving of, something that some women are already doing. That definitely supports your idea of a connection! I may have to look into this further….very intriguing!

    Also, I love that you’re talking about this stuff. It makes me happy when people bridge the perceived divide between intellectualism, feminism, etc. and things that are perceived as frivolous. There are many ways to find beauty and joy in the world….fine literature, hilarious critiques of silly ideas, and really nifty shoes alike. :)

  18. Rejistania says

    I disagree with #2: I always found buying shoes an ordeal since I have very wide feet. However, the fashion industry seems to think that feet are a line and only have one set of dimensions. So I generally wear shoes until they fall apart, sometimes quite literally (fortunately, I found Crocs, so happy to find fitting shoes :) ). I cannot wear heels at all (even short ones). Wearing heels to me appears to be like wearing a blindfold: You cripple yourself. And just as no one would wear a blindfold to an event, I cannot understand that people deliberately wear heels. Can anyone here enlighten me?

  19. says

    Point #2 does not compute for me. I wear size 11 in Women’s, which means I’m lucky if I can even find my size at a store. I wear men’s sneakers for that reason. Boo hiss!

  20. Sara K. says

    I am another one of the people for whom #2 does not apply. I have wide feet, which means I have trouble finding shoes which are wide enough and which are not too long. Even some of my current shoes do not fit particularly well – you can see my pinky toe bulging out at the sides if you look carefully. I remember once in high school making a remark about how my toes have been deformed because I’ve had to grow up using shoes which were a little too narrow for me (I think it was during history class and we were talking about 19th century corsets), and my high school teacher said ‘then you should wear wider shoes.’ Ummm, excuse me? If these wider shoes were easy to find, I’d already be wearing them. As it is, I keep the minimum number of shoes I can get away with, and I only go shoe shopping when absolutely necessary (i.e. when my current shoes are falling apart).

    On the other hand, I’m not thin and I’m not fat, so I have never run into sizing issues for any article of clothing other than shoes and … hats (my head is also unusually wide, particularly for a woman, so finding a hat which fits me is also a challenge).

  21. RowanVT says

    :/ I hate how all shoes feel, and tend to prefer to walk around barefoot. Maybe it’s because I have the lovely curse of high arches AND wide feet, but the only comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned were a pair of second-hand, well worn hiking boots that I found. The physical discomfort of shoes has been an issue throughout my life, I naturally walked on the balls of my feet as a toddler, and I’m sure we all know how stupidly stiff the shoes for young children are. So shoes hurt. Walking heel-toe is still a little owwie for me, and most shoes aren’t designed for someone who walks toe-heel.

  22. CGV says

    I wear a woman’s size 9 so it’s usually not hard for me to find the size I need, but I have high arches and terrible feet. (Not disablingly terrible, but if I spent more than an hour or so on them in a day, they start to hurt.) I wear athletic walking shoes most of the time just because I don’t like hurting. I hate heels, partly because of the pain factor and partly because I don’t like the feminist implications of wearing shoes designed to emphasize my body that way. I’m still trying to figure out how I can find attractive, non-athletic shoes that are well-enough padded, have enough arch support, and no heels.

  23. scramble says

    Joreth @14: YES! There are men who absolutely love shoes as much as women, and who ‘get it’! Not just gay men either, as stereotypes would indicate. I took a clothing and textiles degree, and we watched a documentary in one class about men’s fashion in the hip-hop community, as part of our exploration of fashion, African-American men and the civil rights movement-a *truly* amazing topic to study, I must say! I learned so, so much. :) Anyway, I can’t remember the name of the documentary, sadly, or the name of the artist who let the cameras into his shoe closet, but…my god. I have never seen so many pairs of running shoes in one place, each seemingly identical, but each with their own subtleties and special details, as the man lovingly described for the audience. That scene made me grin from ear to ear-It was a fun moment for me, realizing that men are not so different from women after all!

    Also, I have a male friend who is obsessed with designer watches. Obsessed. He has a beautiful collection, the cost of which I won’t ponder. As someone who never wears a watch, it makes no sense to me at all, but as someone with several more pairs of ankle boots than she really needs, it makes perfect sense.

    Lastly, on point #2: I hear exactly what Greta is saying. I think she’s right. But I also hear what the rest of you with fitting problems are saying. I never knew shoes might not be fun for everyone until I met my stepmother, who in an amputee from the calf down. Her prosthetic foot is solid-no joints, no squishy skin, and for balance purposes, actually a bit wider than her natural foot. Shoe-shopping is, very sadly, a nightmare for her. Just finding one to GO on and STAY on her fake foot as she walks while actually feeling good on her real foot is a victory. She does have a ‘special occasion’ prosthetic, which is shaped to accomodate a high heel, but the movement problem persists.

  24. scramble says

    Also, the hat vs. shoe question has interested me for a while, too! Those of you who’ve decided to research it, please tells us your findings! I’ll do the same.

  25. Second Thought says

    I am a woman who doesn’t get the ‘female shoe obsession’ thing. It always seemed a bit Hollywood stereotype yet I see stores filled with what seem to me to be immensely impractical footwear for women so I grudgingly admit that there might be something to the stereotype even if I don’t fit it myself.

    In general I prefer comfort and practicality over being fashionable. I can see the fun aspect of playful footwear, I just want it to be functional too. It is nice to see sneakers/runners now available in so many different colors and patterns. You can be playful and still get around easily.

  26. Anna says

    I was pretty amused to see this today as I just bought a new pair of heeled ankle boots last night. They are my favored style of shoe and my old ones are developing holes in the toes (I’m bummed). While shopping I described to my mother how “guilty” shoe shopping made me feel- not because I buy tons of shoes or extremely expensive ones, but because I would LOVE to do so. That made her laugh, because I don’t. I own two pairs of flip flops, two (temporarily three, now) pairs of boots (one high heeled and one flat), and two pairs of heels. The most expensive pair were my flat boots at $90 and I have had them for about 6 years (they are solid riding boots and one of my least used pairs, hence the unusual lifespan). But I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to shoes, mostly designer heels. It’s more that I covet shoes than I actively consume them.

    It was also pretty funny because finding shoes for me used to be a HUGE pain and it wasn’t until we had to buy pointe shoes (I took ballet) around age 13 we realized why. Despite being a perfectly average length, my feet have really high arches, narrow heels, and SUPER wide balls (the part your toes connect to; I do not have male reproductive organs). Even the specialty dance store (and trust me, exactly fitted pointe shoes are vital; you tried on every pair you bought, even if they were the same style and size as your last pair, because if there was ANYTHING off… results were not pretty) didn’t have the right width. We had to special order, but at least we figured out the problem and could deal with it.

    I happen to also enjoy hats and have a collection larger than my shoe collection. I’m one of those people who look great in hats (this is good, because I am still virtually illiterate in creating hair styles and would vastly appreciate your thoughts on that aspect of fashion). I think the reason I like hats and shoes is ultimately the same; they are such delightfully sculpture-like shapes. Modern clothes generally need stands or people to be displayed properly, but shoes and hats can often go it alone.

    Oddly, as much as I appreciate fashion and shoes now, I love barefoot and naked too. I guess that’s because the nude human body is its own fashion statement- and a remarkably sculptural one at that!

  27. Marella says

    If I found a lamp with a genie in it, I wouldn’t ask for millions of dollars, I’d ask for decent feet! I can quite easily spend an hour in shoe shop trying on shoes and walk out having found nothing that fit at all. I have had bunion operations on both my feet and I also have had operations for Morton’s neuromas in both feet which removed a nerve out of each one but left the other neuromas untouched (you can’t have all the nerves removed from your feet for obvious reasons). I needed theses operations as a result of a lifetime of wearing too tight shoes because it is so hard to find them wide enough. As well as being wide my feet have very high arches and buying shoes is a goddam nightmare, it’s also embarrassing when you’ve had the poor shop assistant running around for ages and can’t buy anything. Fucking shoes. Sorry, bit of a sore point, literally and metaphorically.

  28. says

    I freaking hate shoes. I hate wearing them, I hate shopping for them, I resent having to spend money on them and I resent being told that I have to wear XYZ kind of shoe.

    I’m a ciswoman, & gender comforming more or less in terms of appearance & clothing choices. I think.

    The balls of my feet are broad, my heels are narrow, I get blisters, I can’t walk in heels. Sparkly Airwalks are my idea of dressy shoes. No one else agrees with me-to be professional or dressed appropriately for most anything I have to suffer blisters from shoes that cost more than I wished to spend. Woe.

  29. carolw says

    I think Anna@ 29 and I have the same feet. I never was fitted with point shoes, but I’ve learned that there are several styles of shoe that don’t fit my “duck feet.” I am one of those shoe-obsessed women. I can’t see the bottom of my closet right now for all the shoes. I have everything from Chucks to platform heels to pole climbers. I love putting different shoes with an outfit to change it up. I also have way too many purses and hats. I think that comes from my mom. She has a purse for every outfit.

  30. Beth says

    I have issues with balance to the extent that I’m hardly ever in public without a serious assistive device. Because of this, unless I know I’m going to be in a wheelchair all the time I’m out, it’s all about shoes I can stand in — heels are definitely out. I have some white shoes meant for cheerleaders that were made for balance. They have inserts for “team colors” that I sometimes change out to match. I have some nice-looking boots that I wear in cold, bad weather, and a couple pairs of brown sandals that I sometimes wear when it’s warm. Given my disabilities, no one really expects me to wear anything but the most boring shoes. I’ll admit that I mostly do that… but one can’t forget customization. I have suede(like?) black tennis shoes that I wear as dress shoes. They work for that because I replaced the flat black laces with round block cording. No one guesses they’re tennis shoes. Sometimes I re-string them with ribbon. Even if you don’t have much choice in what sort of shoes you can wear, you can still dress them up. Heck, it was before my illness, but I went to my senior prom in black boots laced with cording that matched my dress. Just re-lacing can make things look nice, bold, and/or fun!

    On 3… I wear hats. Whenever I’m out, unless it’s night, I’m probably in a hat. I wear full-brimmed hats that have soft brims. Bucket hats, sunhats and others that I don’t know the names for. It started just as a way to limit sensory input because lights bothered me, but it definitely became something more. It started with a bucket hat… which Mom shrank, so I had to look for another. Then I found sunhats. I got a few of those so I’d have a choice beyond the one bucket hat. And then I started trying to match my hat to my outfit when I was going out. I started to be excited about seeing new hats.
    I began getting comments about my hats, invariably positive ones. “Nice hat.” “I like your hat! Where’d you get it?” and the occasional, “It’s nice to see someone wearing a hat again.”
    Hats became more than functional to me. In addition to a style element, they became a connection. To a significant number, I’m no longer the girl in the wheelchair or with the walker, I’m the girl in the hat with the wheelchair or walker. Hats are an identifiable part of my appearance in public. Without an assistive device around, I bet a lot more people would recognize me in my hat than if I were hatless.

    I do hats (for function, style, and a social purpose). I do jewelry (maybe because I like making it). Shoes… I try to make passable what I must have functional. Basically, I work with what I got. I can see how some might like shoes how I’ve gotten to like hats. I have ten hats aside from winter caps (3 bucket hats, 5 sun hats, 2 hats I can’t name). I can see them as analogous to having different pairs of shoes. They serve a necessary purpose but I have so many because I like them. (Hats can be super-cheap, too. Most of mine were less than $10 and none over $12.) I definitely have favorites. And, yes, I even go, “I love that hat!” at pictures and in stores just like some people do with shoes. :-)

  31. says

    @Jen — Nordstrom (the Rack for price) is a tall woman’s friend for shoes. I wear 10, 10.5 or 11, and do well there.

    Since I moved to Seattle, where there are a lot of hills, I stopped wearing heels for the most part. Also, since I stopped dating men a long time ago. It’s one thing to be 5’10” and prefer dating taller people when you’re straight, but frankly lesbians are all short (I have only anecdotal evidence, but it’s totally true). It’s not just me: one day I watched a woman in stillettos walk down a hill. She had to do it sideways. I mentioned it to my friend, who used the word “hobbled”. Such an accurate description! And a cold shower to the idea that I could get back to heels ever.

    I want to love all those shoes I used to wear, but nowadays I go for comfort first. I still care about style, but I walk so much rather than drive that I just can’t get by in many shoes. My fav thing to wear right now is a pair of combat boots I bought in Italy in 2000. It’s much fun to say “they’re Italian” because it sounds so much fancier. :)

    What wasn’t mentioned is the height that shoes can bring. Even cowboy boots can have heels. There’s really something to be said for towering over people (men) simply by strapping on some knee high boots. I don’t feel feminine, I feel powerful. Or both, like a dominatrix.

  32. Sara K. says

    I wonder what the statistics are on women who have trouble finding shoes which fit vs. women who have trouble finding other kinds of clothes which fit (hats, bras, dresses, jeans, etc.) When I first read #2 it seemed like a statement from another planet – the idea that finding shoes that fit well is easy is a bizarre concept to me. Of course, many of the people I know having shoe fitting issues (thought not necessarily the same issues that I have), and we kvetch a lot together … but because the people who don’t have such issues would not kvetch, I never noticed them, and had always assumed that this was a very common problem.

    Likewise, I never thought many women had fitting issues with other items of clothing (I always figured that my hat-fitting issues were an oddity) before I came to Taiwan. I was repeatedly warned that it would be difficult to find clothes that fit white women here … yet I haven’t even had a problem with swimsuits, which are considered one of the trickiest items. Of course, I just attributed that to my body shape probably being closer than the body shapes of many white women to the body shapes common in Taiwan. Before reading this piece, I never thought general fitting issues were that common in the United States itself (but then again, my acquaintances who had this kind of trouble may have simply not chosen to kvetch in my presence, since I do not understand what it is like to be particularly thin or particularly fat or to be particularly busty or to have a particularly flat chest etc.)

    Part of me still does not really believe that fitting issues for dresses/pants/shirts is more common than sizing issues for shoes, and I don’t I can be fully convinced without some hard data, or at least some information based on serious research.

  33. says

    Add me to the “can’t find fitting shoes” list.

    My feet are small and wide, and half way between 2 standard sizes in length. I’m just too small for men’s shoes and just too big for boys. I swear that young teenage boys must go barefoot for a year, as they grow past my size. (4-5 or 6-7 depending).

    90% of shoes in shops are too narrow for me. So I don’t dare buy on the internet. Birkenstocks work well for summer; Docs with thick socks for winter and the motorcycle. No, there are no prper motorcycle boots that will fit me. Nor will most other kinds of boots, because I have large calves.

    Occasionally I randomly find some shoes that fit and buy up big. Athletic stores tend to be the best – “walking shoes” often look OK for work. And indie/goth shops can have some wider stompy boots, or maryjanes with cats and skulls.

    And I find heels offensive. Apart from being disabling in actual use, they WILL eventually cripple you if you wear them regularly. Enjoy your forthcoming back pain and bunions, girls, it’s the price of femininity! High heels only make sense if you don’t actually need to use your feet. Of course, the recent fad for super-high heels would put me en pointe, if I were to miraculously find any wide enough in the first place, so it’s all academic to me.

  34. fronkey says

    I’m moderately fashion conscious, and I hate shoes. Ok, so I don’t actually hate shoes, I have shoes that I love, but I hate shopping for them. It all comes down to #2 – easy to fit. I have very wide feet, and most fashionable shoes, or just shoes that I like the look of are painful, and I don’t do pain for fashion, at least, excepting very rare occasions where I will put on heels for an evening. Most shoes that I wear regularly are shoes that I consider OK. I don’t really like them, but I can tolerate the look, and they don’t hurt my feet.

    As an aside, I wish hats would come back into fashion, so that I’d have a bit more choice. I’m seriously melanin-deficient, which is not cool in the Australian climate.

  35. says

    PZ, you’ll be pleased to know that hip men of NYC wear hats. My dude had a like 6 of them. My theory is that fashionable hats went out of style in part because people started spending less time outside, walking around. Hats are a very practical clothing item, but if you have to wear them all the time, you start to really invest in how attractive they are. New Yorkers still walk everywhere, so New Yorkers have access to fashionable hats. Men and women both remove hats indoors, however.

    NYC is also ground zero for comfortable but beautiful shoes. Again, if you have to walk everywhere, etc. You have to pay a little more, but since they are basically substituting for a car, it’s worth it.

  36. Jack Rawlinson says

    And then, of course, heels limit your mobility… which enhances a cultural image of femininity in a much more sexist and fucked-up way.

    This is true, but what’s also interesting that is that the stereotypical domme female wears high heels. They’re seen as appropriate for both submissision and dominance. Presumably the former is down to the above stated mobility limitation factor and the latter is down to this:

    …emphasize femininity and female sexuality. Heels, not to put to fine a point on it, make you switch your hips and thrust out your boobs and stick out your ass. Which, if that’s what you’re going for, is awesome.

    I’m with PZ on the hats thing. I’m this close to getting a trilby. My dad always wore a trilby and he looked cool as hell in it. Mind you, he was better looking than me, dammit.

  37. Jaime says

    - It wasn’t that long ago that men were killing each other for their shoes –
    From one of my fave movies THE WILD BUNCH: “C’mon TC, help me with his boots!”

    Boringly straight guy here with a personal anecdote: not 12 hours after I had a semi-snarky conversation with my significant other about wimmens and the shoes thing and why it was like that, she stepped out after getting dressed and I said, not unkindly, “Y’know, those shoes don’t really make it with that outfit.” Did SHE give me the stink-eye for that…

  38. says

    Interesting post!

    I am not a shoe freak, but I’m definitely selective about them. I have only two pairs of heels and they are of the “sexy librarian” variety, which is a look I love. Closed toe mary janes, 3″ somewhat blockish heels. Good for both interviews and going out and reasonably comfortable. My other pair are vintage 40’s shoe heels (not sure what they are called but they lace up like a shoe, but have a small block heal. Kind of Mary Poppins.) I call them Lois Lanes. But mostly I wear Sketcher mary janes or sneakers. Cheap. Mostly comfortable. Not overly feminine, but still cute. Or flip flops. I love flip flops!

    Anyway, what I really wanted to confess is that I check out men’s shoes when I check them out. There are definitely some deal-breakers. Sandals with socks, for one. Ok they aren’t total deal-breakers. I dated one guy who wore them, but man it made me wince. And it made me not want to be seen in public with him lol. I feel terrible about it- what a petty thing to care about, right? Still, there it is. Also, white sneakers. Especially if they are old and dirty and not Converse. I don’t even know why I hate them, but I do. They just look slovenly and, whether it’s fair or not, they make me think the person has absolutely no flair, no creativity, and can’t be bothered with even the smallest attempt to look decent. That definitely isn’t fair, but again, there it is.

  39. Jaime says

    ‘Tis Himself, OM:

    i’ma put my military geek pedant hat on & respectfully point out (if anyone gives a damn) that the “WWII German army tanker’s helmet” pictured is actually a Russian pattern, which has been in more or less the style for every army using Russian armored vehicles since the war.
    The soft leather style of tanker’s helmet usually looks silly in civilian photos because it’s meant to be worn in the tank over headphones. The ever-stylish Nazis frequently wore this when blitzkreigin’ over Europe:

    http://www.google.com/imgres?q=WWII+panzer+beret&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=ZRm&sa=X&rls=org.mozilla:en-US

  40. razzlefrog says

    Meh. Heels. I’m a 6’2″ college girl. I look enough like a bean stalk without the glorious addition of those. Make the guys wear them, I always say, I want to dominate the floor I walk on!

  41. Dhorvath, OM says

    First off, I am a man who loves footwear, from Chuckies through Docs and just about everything in between, I like to wear shoes. For me, number four in particular has a lot of resonance. The way I walk, and consequently the way I feel depends to a marvelous extent on the gear on my feet. Different shoes:

    Engage the terrain differently, some slipping, some gripping.

    Allow for better performance, whether it’s running, standing, cycling, what have you, a well adapted shoe makes the things I like to do more enjoyable.

    Encourage different behaviour whether it’s brazen confidence from a bulky shoe or stealth from a soft sole, a different gait from a change in mass, or just different noises on the ground.

    Make an outfit stand out. Male fashion can be boring, but if you start from cool shoes, the rest kind of falls into place.

    Even better, all of these things can be changed in minutes, just a swap and I feel like a different person.

  42. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    There’s a woman I work with who often wears three inch heels. She’d noticed I would often walk behind her and accused me of staring at her ass. I told her, quite truthfully, that I wasn’t staring at her ass but rather at her ankles. They made quite amazing gyrations with every step she took.

  43. says

    @PZ —

    Fedoras, you forgot about fedoras. I have a great fedora hanging on a hook in the hallway as I type this, and I love that hat. Dress me up a bit, put the hat on, and I look good (well, I and my wife think so at least).

  44. cd says

    I have to disagree with point (2) as well. Shoes have to fit much better than clothes. If my clothes don’t fit at all, I look dumpy, which is a little bit sad but I can live with it. Clothes just have to be able to go on and not fall off. If my shoes *almost* fit, I’m in pain before I’ve walked a mile.

  45. niki says

    I don’t get fancy women’s shoes (or most fashion for that matter, but that’s not the topic at hand). Like Jen, I’m a size 11 and my dogs are wide, wide, wide. On top of that, tricky ankles that guarantee that I’ll lose balance at least once a month. In even 1-2 inch heels, I used to sprain the damn things all the time. I tend to stick to the men’s section for sneakers and solid boots, and a plain flats if I have to get fancy. No ordering online, because sizes are so weird. I have to trot to a store and engage in one thing I’ve always despised, shopping for clothes.

  46. FreebornJayne says

    Having read many of the comments about shoes not fitting, and having battled many a blister myself (oddly, more in flats than in heels), I have to wonder if it isn’t so much about shoes fitting better, but about the fact that an ill fitted shoe doesn’t carry such negative implications. If you can’t find dresses that suit you, society will jump up to tell you you’re too fat, too thin, too boxy, too curvy, whatever. Whereas I don’t think any similar implication comes with shoes (except maybe for women with unusually big feet). So perhaps it’s less stressful in that sense. A shoe either fits or it doesn’t. You don’t feel so bad if you can’t squeeze into a pair of size 6 shoes when you’re really a size 8 (unless they’re really fantastic shoes, of course).

  47. Quinapalus says

    Tasty, sexy, predatory shoes. Yum.

    Then I met an Englishman
    “Oh!…” he said
    “Won’t you walk up and down my spine?
    It makes me feel strangely alive.”
    I said “In these shoes?
    I doubt you’d survive.”

  48. says

    Interesting tid-bit: high heels used to be for men only, because they were associated with keeping your feet in the stirrups of your saddle. Since women rode side-saddle, it was unseemly for them to need those kinds of shoes — and also shoes were less seen because of hemlines. I’m talking about way back in the 17th and 18th centuries, here, when men were also wearing a lot of knee-high stockings and knee-length trousers to show off their legs. Which, as we’ve all noticed, is exactly what high heels do: they improve your strut at the expense of your joints and back, and they make your legs look sexy. So way way back, that was the realm of men. Women wore corsets and giant hats and carried fans and wore sheer gloves and exposed lots of cleavage.

  49. Susan Silberstein says

    @14, you may be able to find something here http://www.munroshoes.com/

    These are made in the U.S. shoes with a lot of narrow width styles and some of them might be suitable for your job. I hate high heels, but like shoes and wear a couple of styles from Munro for work.

  50. Ariel says

    Just a quick remark from a male fashion analphabet.

    Why are so many women who care about fashion and style so fascinated by shoes? […] Tasty, sexy, predatory shoes. Yum.

    Because a shoe is a place to put something into … er … I mean … something presentable and sexy to put something into … er … Damn‼! Will someone help a very shy male fashion analphabet to find proper words??

    arensb #5

    I think the closest equivalent to women’s shoes would be men’s ties

    You’ve got it‼

  51. says

    Yes, must get more shoes! It’s one of the first things I notice when a woman is walking “what do her shoes look like?”

    One of the things I get now, being trans, is that shoes are so much more than feet covers. I can wear the exact outfit I’m wearing right now (suit pants, suit jacket, lavender shirt, and tie) and if I put on a pair of heels instead of the plain black shoes I’ve got on, I go from being masculine to being super femme.

    It also helps that I’ve got really nice legs.

  52. Ubi Dubium says

    Ah, as I read this post, I’m sitting here wearing a really boring practical pair of shoes and a really great hat.

    I’m another with hard-to-fit feet (wide and short), and I’m really really picky about style. Most shoes in the shoe stores these days are either tremendously ugly, impractical or both. I simply don’t understand large platforms, wedge heels, and especially big wedge platforms. When I see a woman in a great outfit with two large chunks of wood strapped to her feet, I think, “This is fashionable?”

    All my heels over an inch high went by the wayside with my first pregnancy, and I’ve never gone back to them. (I also have escaped corns and bunions, so it’s been worth it). I often see men’s styles that I really like, and they are wider and better made. But they never come in my size. I’ve promised myself that I will never again spend any length of time in shoes that make my feet hurt, so an attactive pair of shoes that fit is a treasure that can make me happy for at least a week.

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