Shoe shopping: decoded!

Shopping for shoes can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. D’orsay, wedge, stack, almond, leather, man-made, what? It’s enough to make your head spin. But that doesn’t mean you need to give up and spend the rest of your life in those boring white nurse sneakers! (You can if you want to, I guess, but where’s the fun in that?) Here are some tips on how to get a great pair of shoes.

First of all, fit them correctly. If you’re trying on something with a pointed toe, don’t be afraid to go up a size. If you’re right up against the sides of the shoes and they feel tight, go up in width. Just because you wear an 8 in one shoe doesn’t mean you might not need a 7 1/2 or 8 1/2 in another brand or style. Don’t buy into the “breaking them in” nonsense. If they don’t fit when you buy them, they don’t fit.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to add cushioning where you need it. In high heels, that’s most often going to be at the ball of the foot, where your weight comes down. Your body is used to having your weight distributed between your heel and the ball of your foot. When you put on heels, that’s going to redistribute your weight. That’s why no matter who you are, no matter how you’re built, heels will make your leg line longer, your butt wiggle when you walk, and your chest thrust forward, giving the look for which high heels are designed. It’s also going to put extra strain on the ball of your foot, which, if not absorbed, will tire your feet out. So get a cushion to put in the shoe, and take that cushion with you when you’re trying on. (Stores like Aerosoles will actually give you the cushions to go in shoes you buy there.) If you’re like me, and the ball of your foot is significantly wider than your heel, then you’ll probably need a little extra cushion around the heel, no matter what type of shoe you’re wearing. If the shoes you’re looking at don’t have padding there, you can get a stick-on cushion to go on the inside. That keeps friction from happening from the gap between your shoe and your heel. .

I know the super-high heels are cute, but don’t, unless there’s a platform at the front of your foot to reduce the angle. You don’t want the height of your heel to be more than 2-4″ from the top of the sole. Larger feet can get away with higher heels, because at a smaller size, it’s going to be a more drastic tilt to your ankle, and that can be unhealthy in the long run.

Shop for shoes at the end of the day, after your feet have had the chance to do any swelling they’re going to do. If they’re workable then, they’ll be workable any time of day, but if you buy early in the day, you may end up with shoes that are too tight and uncomfortable by the time you get ready to take them off.

Unless you’re specifically trying to avoid animal products, try not to buy shoes made from synthetic or “faux leather.” Real leather, if properly cared for, can hold up for ages. Synthetic leather, which is generally just hard molded fabric with leather-look waterproof coating, won’t do that. It scuffs and wears and comes apart. My favorite leather boots are some I’ve had for four years. The fake stuff tends to last me a few months at the outside. With leather shoes, you’ve got to keep them cleaned, conditioned, polished, and waterproofed, but proper care makes it a lot easier to keep a decent pair of shoes.

I know it’s a cliche that fashionistas want ALL the shoes, and I’ve got a bit of magpie in me on that point, because I want all the pretties for myself. But you don’t need that. All you really need are a few well-made pairs of shoes, to take care of the various occasions you’ll encounter. Anything else is just a bonus.

Here’s my basic list of what you’ll need:

Two or three pairs of comfortable, casual shoes (not sneakers) for everyday

A pair or two of shoes that are appropriate and practical for your job (style will obviously vary by what you do for a living)

A pair of dress shoes

A pair of sneakers for working out

You don’t have to spend a fortune or have clothes and shoes piled up everywhere to be well put together. You just have to have the basics down, and beyond that, you’re free to experiment or not, as you see fit.


3 thoughts on “Shoe shopping: decoded!

  1. Good tip about shoe shopping at the end of the day. It may explain why a pair I bought last year proved unwearable. These shoes happen to be patent leather. It does’t seem to stretch and conform to the feet the way softer leather does.

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