The cliché dialogue I have with myself whenever the right pair of new shoes comes along is always “this is better than sex!”
It isn’t. But it’s close.
Comfortably draped t-shirts and flattering blue jeans are up there, but there’s something about finding that pair of magical, made-for-you new shoes that takes the dopamine to another level. Our feet are full of nerve endings.
New shoes reconnect your pleasure center with your feet, and remind you what it feels like to spring confidently through the day. New shoes refresh existing clothes, add a new counterpoint for your eyes. New shoes make you want to tap dance.
The irony is that those shoes, as a component of any ensemble, take the brunt of abuse, contacting infinite environmental hazards and often missing out on the mindful care we take of our knits and our handbags. Nevertheless, we hold footwear in high regard, spend on it (it’s one of the perennially high performing segments of the luxury industry).
And, we haven’t found a way to really revolutionize shoes. For the most part, they’re still made how they were fifty and a hundred years ago.
I judge shoes on a rapid, nearly subconscious list of qualities. Color, texture, profile, proportion. Forward motion. Balance. Are they too wide, too pointy, too tall, too bulky? Am I drawn in, or merely curious?
Do the color and texture have depth? Is the material hard, thin, too shiny? Do they look cheap? (Lots of expensive shoes these days look cheap to me. See: Giuseppe Zanotti, Buscemi)
Do they shout “I paid a lot for these and need validation”? Or do they confide “I have a fine-tuned eye for classic with a twist”?
What sound do they make in stride? Some make more of a sound than others, and you’d probably like to know that before you click-clack your way through crowded streets or building lobbies, right?
I once bought a pair of deck shoes from Gilt during that site’s heyday, only to find that they squeaked when I walked. The sound came from deep within their construction, and I never found a way to silence them, short of complete deconstruction.
I wore them anyway, despite their embarrassing squeals.
While shopping in person, which doesn’t happen as much anymore, or even at home via mail, if I decide to try a pair of shoes on, the most important question mark is always: how do they look from above? I’m the one who has to look at them the most, and for most of that time, staring straight down.
Too many shoes look terrible from above. Maybe they look alright in profile, and great from afar, but how will I know they don’t look like webbed toes if that’s how they appear from up top?
I’ve sent back (or rejected in-store) hundreds of pairs of shoes because I felt like a fool wearing them, however good I was told they looked. Great shoes are about how they make you feel, not how they make everyone else feel.
New shoes of the near-perfect variety improve your posture. They play a trick, becoming an extension of your legs and ankles, like the opposite of having phantom pains in a lost limb. They become your proxy bare feet, and thus, present a different you to the world.
I don’t know about women and how they feel in high-heels, but height can be a—pardon the pun—real boost to my attitude. One of my favorite pairs of shoes are ankle-high boots set on thick crepe rubber soles, with just enough height to put me an inch or so above my natural habitat. At squarely average 5 foot 9 inches, this is no small victory.
Italians make some of the best shoes, though that is not a guarantee of quality. British shoes are also very well-respected. Portugal and Spain have both emerged as new sources of high-end footwear, and France is no slouch.
My experience has been that any shoes will last if they’re taken care of, not matter where they’re made. That means:
- no wearing leather soles in the rain (can quickly lead to sole rot and mold in colder climates)
- use cedar shoe trees between wears
- use a shoe horn to put shoes on (helps the back of the shoe keep its shape and your fingers from getting squished)
- don’t wear the same pair two days in a row (let them breathe!)
- regularly brush and clean your shoes of marks, scuffs, stains; and
- store them away from heat, direct sunlight, and moisture
I take all of this for granted, but realized recently many people do not.
Go out and find that pair of new shoes that you love, that love you back. Life is too short (and your closet too small) for non-euphoric footwear.