Shoe Shopping

I am the first to admit that I am no girly-girl. I don't buy new clothes each season. I don't have a flair for accessorizing. But I will also admit that a stylish shirt and a pair of pants that fit my curves just right can do wonders to boost my mood. Until I look down in perplexity at my bare feet and at the rows of shoes in my closet, none of which match my outfit.

Why is femininity linked to shoes? Multiple shoes. Casual shoes. Dress shoes. Shoes for long skirts. Shoes for short skirts. Loafers. Knee-high boots. Ankle boots. High-heels. Pumps. Sandals. Sling-backs. Flats. Shoes. Shoes. Shoes.

I walk into a shoe store with modest goals. Usually to replace my worn-out fall-back shoes, the shoes I nearly always wear after dismissing each of the trendy pairs in my closet. Frequently, I find myself leaving the store with three or four pairs of shoes, none of which meet my intended goal and most of which will be returned by the end of the week or will sit in my closet gathering dust.

Regardless of my poor track record, I walk into each shoe store with high hopes. I am a woman. It will be fun to have new shoes. My hope dwindles as I circle the store. Ugly. Gaudy. Big random buckles or bows. Impossibly long square or pointed toes. Skinny towering spiked heels. Nothing that resembles the size and shape of an actual woman's foot.

I don't give up. On the second circle of the store I move more slowly. Perhaps my initial reaction was hasty. I begin to see how some of these shoes might be nice - with the right outfit. I begin surreptitiously checking out the shoes that other shoppers are wearing. I tend to like shoes I see other people wearing. I just can never seem to find them in a shoe store.

On the third pass, I usually spot a pair that look promising. Something leather in a neutral color. I'm not sure about the buckle, bow, tassel, or other odd adornment. I tell myself that must be the style. I ask the salesman to bring me my size, or if I'm in a warehouse style store, I begin searching the boxes. Frequently, they are sold out.

When I do find a shoe to try on. I sit down and wait for the salesman, or if I'm in a warehouse store, I wobble on one foot at a time and slip the shoes on. I stand up and look down. My feet look ridiculous. I look over at the nearest mirror for a side view. Better. I begin to walk.

Pain! Did the designer of these shoes hate feet?! A pain shoots up the ball of my foot. The leather digs into one spot on my ankle. The toes on my left foot are cramped and the heel of the right shoe is too long. I take a few more steps. Maybe they aren't too bad. If I shorten my stride, shift my weight a bit, and give them time to break in, maybe they would be all right... but they don't really match anything I own.

I ask a salesman if he can recommend a comfortable pair of high heels. I hear two women behind me snicker as if I had asked where I could buy a pet unicorn.

One hour and a dozen shoes later, I'm again holding three shoe boxes. I don't really like any of them and they probably won't match my clothes at home. I look around at the other shoppers and wonder if their feet are shaped differently than mine or if they are simply more willing to put up with the pain.

As I look at the aisles of shoes that are destined to be worn at most for one season, I begin to get angry. Why is femininity linked to shoes? Why do women need to have shoes to match each outfit? In the Silence of the Lambs, why does Hannibal Lecter judge Clarice for having a good bag and cheap shoes?

I put my shoeboxes back in a burst of outraged defiance. I will not let fashion magazines manipulate me into buying shoes that I do not need and barely like! I will not buy more shoes that hurt my feet! I will go on wearing my broken-in, out-dated shoes that, despite their scuffs and worn spots, at least have worn themselves into a comfortable mold around my feet. Wearing comfortable but out-of-style shoes will not make me less of a woman!

As I'm heading proudly out the door, a group of women come in. One of them is wearing lovely, strappy sandals with a wedge heel. I hesitate in the doorway. I think maybe it wouldn't hurt to at least ask her where she got them... and maybe go try them on.

Because I really could use a new pair of shoes.