Wednesday, December 9, 2009
As promised earlier this week, today's post is all about shoes. This post is in response to a couple of reader requests; one for a tour of my shoes and another for ideas on how to break out of a shoe style rut. I figured that my own shoe collection is vast enough to provide anyone with ideas on building a shoe wardrobe, so I'm hitting 2 birds with one stone. As I take you through my own assortment of shoes, I hope to illustrate the strategy I've used in amassing my collection and show you where you might seek to add variety to yours.
The photos above show part of my shoe closet, but I can't stand back far enough to get the whole thing in at once. But you get the idea: it is literally a wall of shoes, ceiling to floor, and that doesn't even house all of them. The rest, mostly sneakers, hiking boots,and the like, are shoved onto a 3-shelf rack in a different closet. As I took them all out to photograph them for this post, it occurred to me that although no human really needs this many pairs, shoes for me are special in a way that other clothing items just aren't. They affect your height, the way you walk and stand, the wiggle in your behind and the proportions of your body. They can help you convey a powerful, sophisticated presence at an important meeting or take you strolling over cobblestones on the streets of Rome. There's also an engineering component of shoes that I really appreciate, because when you think about it, supporting the human frame comfortably on a small surface area is really not that easy to accomplish.
But also, shoes are the one piece of clothing that you can really get a good look at even when you're wearing them. Think about it; the way you see your own shirt or dress looking down at it is nothing like what other people see, and you can't see yourself from behind at all without the help of a mirror, and even then it's an imperfect perspective. But shoes are a different story; stretch out your leg and take a look! They are there for you every day in full view, and looking at them can make you feel like anything from a sexy vixen to a complete frump, depending on what you choose. So choose carefully, and they will delight your admiring eye. I spend much of my day in a chair, either at my desk or in meetings, and I often sneak a glimpse down at my fabulous shoes as a little pick-me-up. Oh, and they can also make or break an outfit -- let's not forget that little detail.
First I'll take you through my own collection, sorted by shoe type. I'll start with the boots and booties, since I have a whole hell of a lot of those. The first three categories are ankle boots, mid-calf, and tall. I'd say that most of these fall into the 'dressy' category, but I've made sure to get some casual pairs as well: in the ankle category I've got my sweater-cuffed Reikers and my dark purple Cydwoqs; in the mid-calf category I've got my combat style black Doc Martens, and in the tall category there's my workhorse brown Bata boots and my crazy plaid lace-up combat boots by Sugar. Then I've got the more specialized boots: cowboy and rain boots. Cowboy boots have a very specific look, and therefore I don't feel like I need to have many of those; likewise with rain boots, especially since I don't really have a need to tromp around in the rain all that much.
Now let's talk about the colors I have represented here. As you can see I have a bit more color variety among the shorter boots. This is really only because tall boots in interesting colors are difficult to find, plain and simple. And since I've been trying to get better about not duplicating things in my wardrobe, I told myself many months ago that I can only buy tall boots that are not black, brown, or gray (although admittedly, I could probably justify a nice camel-colored pair). And that doesn't leave much to choose from, I'm afraid. My strategy in building this collection was that I should be aiming to have at least one dressy and one casual pair in each of the colors I wear the most: black, brown, purple, and gray. And beyond that I should try to add interesting colors in either casual or dressy styles as I come across them. Examples of purchases that were aimed towards this goal have been the burgundy ruffled boots, the olive green 2-tone Fluevogs, and the blue Frye booties.
Finally, you'll notice that my rain boots are both in bright, fun colors. And why not? Rainy days suck; you might as well brighten them up a little with some fun boots. My red pair is a bit dressier and can be worn with skirts or dresses, while the flowered Wellies are relegated to casual weekend days when I'm kicking around in jeans. The bonus feature of rain boots is that they don't really change much year to year, so although neither of these pairs gets a lot of use, they'll still look stylish for years to come. If you live somewhere that gets a lot of rain, you may want to consider having one pair that has more neutral tones in it -- but I still maintain that rain boots should be fun, so how about a nice leopard print pair?
Next up are the mary janes. Remember how I talked about not wanting to duplicate things that are in my wardrobe? Well, go ahead and count 'em up -- I've got SIX pairs of black mary janes. Now granted, some are dressier than others and the heel heights and widths do vary, but still. No one, not even me, needs 6 pairs of black mary janes, and I therefore have a moratorium on buying any more until, well, a long time elapses and most of these are worn out and gone. Think of how much more interesting this assortment would be if I replaced, say 3 of the black pairs with blue, orange, and yellow. I'm far from perfect, and neither is my shoe collection. But it's getting there.
The next assortment is sort of an 'everything else' category of pumps. I've got t-straps, oxfords, and peep toes in here. In this group I've managed to get a good variety of color, and even pattern. I guess my leopard print pumps are technically mary janes too -- that was an oversight when I was taking the photos. But regardless, between this group and the mary janes I do in fact have a lot of variety in shape, color, and style, which is what I was aiming for. Notice that I have some, such as the black Tsubo lace-up shoes there on the left, that come up quite high over the top of my foot, whereas others, like the leopard print pumps, that are cut quite low. This is another good sort of variety to have in your shoe collection, because depending on your hem length you may want to show more or less of your foot.
Next up are the sandals, of which I don't have very many (comparatively speaking) because sandals aren't really great shoes for San Francisco weather most of the year. But what you'll notice here is that I've stuck mainly to colors, and have only one pair each in black and brown. That's because sandals tend to be reserved for very summery outfits, when I want to use a lot of bright colors. If you're on a limited budget or are short on closet space and need to pick just one or two colors for sandals, I'd say you should own one fun, bright pair and one neutral that's not black or brown -- bronze and silver are great choices for summery shoes that still go with everything.
My assortment of flats and low heels is fairly paltry compared with my other styles of shoes, because frankly I tend not to like them very much. They are often uncomfortable and I feel like they make my feet look bigger. As a result, all of my flats are in basic, neutral colors -- silver and black, ecru, white, and bronze, because they'll work in a pinch when I really need a pair of flats.
Finally, here are the last 2 categories, the ultra-casual and the ultra-dressy. On the left are the shoes that get used mainly on weekends for running errands or walking the dog. On the right are the fancy shoes I only wear to weddings and such. There's not much to say about the fancy shoes since they're usually purchased to go along with a specific outfit (or, in the case of the red ones, a bridesmaid's dress). But for the casual shoes I'll just say that it's nice to have at least one pair in a fun color or with funky detailing, because it's a great way to jazz up a plain old jeans-and-tee sort of ensemble. I'm planning a post in which I feature a bunch of my weekend casual outfits, in which you'll see how those pink sneakers and multi-color bowling style shoes come into play.
There are many different ways I could categorize my shoes, but I just thought I'd include 2 additional ways: color and funkiness. Below are all my colorful shoes arranged together, so that you can see how many different colors I have represented in my collection. While it's not important to have every single style of shoe in every color, it's great to get some variety in there where you can. Sure, with many outfits you can 'get away' with wearing black or brown shoes, but a fun colorful pair will spice up any look, and in many cases the shoes can even be the only colorful thing in the whole outfit. Don't worry about matching a specific color; if your shoes don't match the shade of purple in your top, then throw a third shade of purple into the outfit and you'll have an interesting look with a lot more depth. Reds and purples in particular look better when several shades are blended together, so buy what you like and you'll find a way to make it work.
Lastly, I grouped my shoes according to the ones that are the most funky and one-of-a-kind. It's great to have a few of these in your collection, because they can give an outfit a lot more character. You might not feel comfortable wearing an avant garde jacket with big pointy shoulders and a bunch of hardware, but ANYONE can put on a really unique pair of shoes and make them work. Funky shoes look great on anyone, young or old, big or small. If you're wanting to take some fashion risks and are a bit apprehensive, shoes are a great way to start. One thing you'll notice about my funky shoes is that there aren't any in here that you'd really call trendy. A weird shoe that's following a specific trend is going to be a lot harder to wear once the trend has died down; I tend to look for shoes that don't look like anything else on the market. Fluevogs are of course a perennial favorite for funkiness, and now Eject shoes have been added to the list as well. These are investment shoes that will stand the test of time; my advice for buying the really trendy styles is not to spend too much on them unless you've really got money to burn -- or unless you like wearing outdated styles, because that's exactly what you'll be doing in 6 months' time.
In closing I'll talk a little about details, because those are almost always what sells me on a pair of shoes. I tend to scrutinize potential purchases very carefully and look for at least one thing that really makes the shoes different. Buttons, studs, laces, and contrast topstitching always grab my attention, as do interesting heel shapes and the use of multiple colors. A great pair of shoes should go beyond functionality and really bring some beauty to your outfits. Why buy a plain pair of brown booties when you could get a pair with little silver skulls and studs on them?
I'll leave you with close up shots of some of my favorite details on my own shoes. And as always, I'd love to hear from you! What little details do you look for in shoes? Do you employ any strategies in building a collection? Am I a complete fiend for owning this many pairs?