Transform U: Shoes

September 1, 2008

Auretha Callison

Take a lesson from Imelda.
by Auretha Callison
My grandfather once went to a party in the home of Imelda Marcos. I have a photo of them together. Grandpa Cal ran a lumber mill in Iowa, and placing him in an atmosphere of decadence and indulgence was quite out of the ordinary. Like Grandpa, I have recently integrated my Iowan practicalities into partying with high fashion and I have found that, indeed, shoes are the sex of the wardrobe. Having lots of shoes, for fun, feels indulgent. Imelda understood that there is little else that feels so good and so powerful as a closet full of gorgeous, sexy shoes.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can just slap on any old shoe with your nice clothes. You will instantly invalidate any attempt to look nice. Shoes are the foundation-like rhythm to any music. "They" say that you should spend money on your shoes and your hair and skimp on everything in between. I’d say that’s pretty accurate, but spend more on your shoes than your hair.

The biggest challenge I have in my image work with my clients is their belief about shoes. They do not believe that they can have both comfort and sex appeal at once. Yes, I say, you can! They may not all be vixen sexy, maybe sweet sexy. You can save the vixen shoes for special, but you can live in the sweet shoes. Sweet Sexy shoes have some heel and draw your eye up the leg. Sweet sexy is alluring and comfortable and finishes off the rest of the outfit. Sexy men’s shoes tell the rest of us you have confidence to spare and you are not afraid of stepping out from the crowd. For men, sporty Italian shoes say you have class. Sexy shoes don’t make you look too young or too old. They are the perfect fit for your style and body type.

I shop three local places for shoes: Nordstrom, REI, and Nordstrom Rack. Why? Their return policies. It is nearly impossible to determine a shoe’s comfort in a store. I buy a pair of shoes and then wear them inside the house for at least 15 minutes a day-never outside, which makes them unreturnable to most retailers. Nordstrom and REI are very good about returns and quality, but for good shoe karma, please only wear them indoors until you are certain you have a match made in heaven.

On the e-commerce front, Zappos.com is amazing. They carry just about every shoe on the market, provide shoe testimonials and reviews and free shipping to and from, plus they really zip them out to you quick. Returns must be in perfect condition, but when you need something special or quick, their service is amazing.

Construction and care are the key factors to long-lasting shoes. Purchase quality shoes, and take them to the cobbler at the end of each season to reheel or resole. Polish and protect them regularly. If your shoes look dirty or scuffed (unless it’s intentional), it says that you are sloppy. Our shoes are a reflection of us, so take the time to look good head to toe!

Peruse the footcare section of your favorite drug store and notice all the shoe pads and blister protectors and strap guards for shoe comfort. Have a collection and love your feet accordingly.

Here are my suggestions for a basic shoe wardrobe for our region.

• Dressy Naot/Birky-type strap sandals for summer with a slight to medium heel, excellent cushioning and arch support. Sometimes the bones of your foot spread out if you wear these often, and you may find yourself having to buy larger shoes all around. Avoid living in flip flops, which can cause nerve damage between toes; go for comfy straps in a playful, colorful style, not just brown! Make sure these are good looking and notice how they make your foot appear. Straps too high on the foot will make the leg look shorter. Thinner straps that sit lower on the foot look much better and create a longer leg line.

• Water sport shoes such as Tevas or athletic sandals. I like toe protection. (Then do something fun that really puts these shoes to good use!)

• Walking, running or trail running shoes. Always get more toe room than you think you will need, up to one full size larger. I wear a 6 1/2-7 narrow shoe and wear an 8 trail runner! Pay attention to the brands that fit your foot the best, and look for sales at the end of the season.

• Casual sporty sneakers for yoga or meandering. (LL Bean has cute ones called Everyday Sneakers in Nautical Red.) They should have great construction but be super cute, playful and colorful. Subtle metallics are great; they go with everything. They can look like a sneaker or a more elegant athletic ballet flat. For men, look for a cool shoe, rip out the footbed and buy a good bed insert.

• Platform sandals and high heels. Sexy and stylish, they give you a lot of height without the Ouch! factor. My narrow feet love Athena Alexander. I always encourage women to get summer shoes with soft leather because it stretches and conforms to your foot. Patent leather is just scary to me.

• Boots, boots and more boots. They always seem to look more fashionable than regular shoes, and you really can’t have too many. (I guess you could say you get more bang for your buck.) Boots are great for rainy and cold days. Look for a great cowboy boot, a flat riding boot, and a heeled boot in cordovan. Black boots look harsh-you only need one pair. Get different shades of wine and brown. Dressier men’s boots look great and are fantastic for our weather.

Trying boots out at home is important. Many boots have little or no cushion inside so it’s important to buy them a size larger to allow insertion of a great foot cushion and still leave room for my SmartWool socks. ( My feet get cold, so I swear by Smart Wool.) Don’t forget fun Moon Boots for winter.

• Dressy event shoes for men and women. You will need tux-worthy black and cordovan for weddings, funerals and social events. Quality really counts here; these shoes can last a lifetime. A classic style that suits you is best. Make sure they are comfortable enough to sleep in. Important moments in our lives deserve the comfort of knowing our attention won’t be on our aching feet!

Amazing shoes are well worth the time and investment. Build the foundation of your wardrobe on good, solid ground and don’t forget the importance of sexiness and fun! May the spirit of Imelda guide you.

Auretha Callison is an image and essence consultant in Salt Lake City. Visit her at www.IntuitionStyling.com.