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August 27, 2007 4:36 PM   Subscribe

What are the most essential women’s shoes?

As in… what styles of shoe should I add to my repertoire in a deliberate and ordered progression to attain the most versatility, timelessness, coverage and fashionability?

A good answer is “A black 4 inch unadorned pump in matte black leather.” But what else? And what after that?

I have a very varied fashion lifestyle: I’m a physically active professional glamourpuss. I use a lot of shoes.

I have big feet, so this is actually a good strategy for me to buy shoes. Instead of just taking whatever fits, and living in a continual in a panic that I'll never find a fit again, I could instead plan my lifetime of shoes wisely, and only be seeking one specific style at a time.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Shopping (38 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would put on the list a strappy black heeled sandal/peep-toe that you can stand in for at least a couple of hours. Essential for "damn I have a dress for this wedding but I forgot to buy shoes!"
posted by ch1x0r at 4:43 PM on August 27, 2007


black mid calf boots
posted by k8t at 4:47 PM on August 27, 2007


Whatever you add to your shoe wardrobe, make sure you can walk slowly in them, walk quickly in them, walk up and down stairs in them, wear them for more than 5 hours and drive in them. I guarantee you, as a fellow shoe-whore this will reduce your shoe wardrobe to essentials. Every single pair of shoes in my closet adheres to these conditions. Heels, boots, flat, sandals, etc. It means looking a lot harder while shopping and going longer between shoe purchases, but the shoes that you'll own (and probably paid more for) will have a longer life.

Oh yeah, you can't go wrong with a pair of Mary Jane flats that goes with pants and skirts.
posted by typewriter at 4:54 PM on August 27, 2007


seconding the generic dressy sandal. also: knee-high black leather boots. with no budget restrictions, i'd get a pointy-toe high-heeled pair and a round-toed low heel (riding boot-style).

i'd also invest in a good pair of black leather flats for work, funerals, whatever.

finally, a decent but inexpensive pair of black flats to leave in your car or desk in case of an at-work shoe malfunction, snow days when you commute in boots, or the day like i just had where i accidentally showed up at the office wearing the flip-flops i'd put on to take out the garbage before leaving for work.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:55 PM on August 27, 2007


Keds. Yes, seriously.
posted by goml at 4:56 PM on August 27, 2007


I'm a big footed person as well (a size 12) so I feel your pain on buying shoes in a panic mode. I do that with clothing still, but shoes I've been able to tame. I just shop (in person or online) at Designer Shoes.com (located in Boston).

As for some mandatories, I've found that a pair of tough, classy sandals works in many situations, along with a fashion sneaker (aka, a sneaker that looks like a nice shoe, but with the comfort of a sneaker).
posted by nursegracer at 4:58 PM on August 27, 2007


Mary Janes with high heels.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:01 PM on August 27, 2007


Frye boots.
posted by ersatzkat at 5:04 PM on August 27, 2007


Something drop-dead sexy. I could go on forever
posted by ersatzkat at 5:05 PM on August 27, 2007


I think it depends on where you live and what you do for a living, but this is my Must Own shoe wardrobe. I have to wear suits for work and I live in Florida, so evaluate accordingly.

1. 3-4" pumps in matte black leather. :)
2. 3-4" pumps in matte brown leather.
3. Flat black maryjanes or ballet flats in matte black leather
4. Flat brown mary janes or ballet flats in matte brown leather
5. Black strappy sandals with at least a kitten heel to wear with dark-colored dressy outfits
6. Light tan strappy sandals with at least a kitten heel to wear with light-colored dressy outfits
7. Flipflops
8. Sneakers
9. Black leather boots, ankle, mid-calf, or knee-high depending on what works best for you. Get brown also if you live somewhere very cold.

That said, I own at least 4 variations of #1 alone. :) However, with this as a base I can go to work, grocery shop, dinner, weddings, somewhere cold, somewhere hot, and I never have to worry about buying a new outfit and worrying that I don't own shoes to match it.
posted by gatorae at 5:07 PM on August 27, 2007 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure it's really possible to adopt this shopping strategy for fashionable shoes.

Recently, I was cleaning out my closet, and I found myself amazed by the array of toe shapes I had purchased over just the past three or four years. And there are shoes in there I would definitely not feel comfortable wearing now, because they have a toe that feels really dated, even though other aspects of the shoe are still fine.

I'm not sure there's a way around that -- unless you're willing to accept that you'll be buying shoes that may never go out of style because they're never really in style.

That said, I think a pair of round-toe skimmers are likely to take you through the next few years.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 5:08 PM on August 27, 2007


1. A supportive Mary Jane-style flat, with or without a strap, in black matte leather. (Could be conservative or sporty, depending on your wardrobe.)
2. A pair of waterproof, supportive hiking books, ankle-high.
3. Some big ol' clomping snow or rain boots -- mid-calf at least, waterproof, insulated, climate-appropriate.
4. Strappy black canvas espadrilles (I'm thinking something like this). Much nicer than flip-flops for casual summertime. They've been fashionable since, oh, I don't know, 1350, so I think they'll get milage.
5. Sneakers in a color other than white.
6. Black patent leather stiletto pump, 4-inch heel or more. Substitute preposterous pull-out-all-the-stops shoe of your choice.
posted by ourobouros at 5:10 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can't give you a good list, but I will say that these shoes are surprisingly comfortable, relatively timeless, look great with pants or a dress, and are just drop dead sexy. You can find them in larger sizes (up to 11) here.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:18 PM on August 27, 2007


I've found that Keen makes a dressier sandal that is very versatile. I wear a size 11, but that might be the biggest they make. They work for work, with casual skirts, jeans, etc.

You sound like the sort of person who needs at least one pair of outrageous shoes that incite comment. These can be active shoes, glamor shoes, active glamor shoes, etc. I don't know you well enough to say.

If you find a shoe that you really like, buy two pairs. You can get multiple colors if they are available. If you need active shoes, sometimes you can find men's that will work, especially if you have wider feet. If you do downhill skiing, try salomon boots.

I noticed the gender on your profile. You might find a crossdressing male who wears your shoe size, preferably someone too shy to shop for "herself". You help with the shopping (pretending that he is buying them for you), and you have a source of glamorous shoes to borrow.
posted by yohko at 5:22 PM on August 27, 2007


Get some shoe clips for those black pumps, to go with various dresses.
posted by yohko at 5:28 PM on August 27, 2007


A neutral or light brown pump (open or closed toe) is as essential as a good black pump -- you can throw them on with almost any business or dressy outfit and look pulled together.

As for heels, I now save my 3" or higher shoes only for special occasions -- wearing 2" or under on a regular basis is not only infinitely more practical (you can walk faster and -- god forbid -- run more easily if you have to), but the day-to-day comfort is much better and you'll help minimize the damage to your feet over the long run.

Also, very well-made shoes really do make a difference. I have a pair of Oscar de la Renta suede pumps and a pair of heavenly Miu Miu mary-janes with a short heel (bought on consignment for less than 50 bucks), and it's amazing how much better they fit and wear.
posted by scody at 5:39 PM on August 27, 2007


yohko: funny you should mention it, because once upon a time, when the internet was new, and I was just hitting the size 11 mark, I found a website that offered a "large shoes for women" catalog. I ordered it, and it came, chock full of glorious, tarty shoes - thigh high boots in clear pvc and such. Ooh la la! Sizes up to 15! Then I noticed... those legs...wearing the shoes... they're not lady legs.

I have long since figured out how to buy men's shoes and drag queen shoes, but patent leather stilettos (my favorite and default heel) can only get you so far.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:50 PM on August 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


Brightly patterned waterproof rain boots. Nothing makes me feel better about a yucky day than pulling mine on, and they always get compliments.

And I nth one pair of extravagant, gorgeous shoes. For me it might be a pair of velvet peep-toe pumps in some luscious jewel-tone, but that's just me.
posted by bijou at 5:53 PM on August 27, 2007


Red heels. You'll be surprised how many things they work with and they'll make you sooooooo happy.

And I second the Mary Janes - particularly the heels. They're very versatile.
posted by Evangeline at 5:55 PM on August 27, 2007


Leather "sneakers", e.g. Naturalizer (although I'm sure you can find more stylish ones). They go a long way when you've got a blister or dropped something on your foot or whatever but still have to look respectable.
posted by anaelith at 6:08 PM on August 27, 2007


Ah! Shoes! My religion (may the FSM forgive me)

Each in black, neutral, red or cordovan, each color and style flat and heeled:

sandal
dressy pump (strap or no strap)
casual pump (")
loafer or oxford
boot
what I call "slides"-- backless oxfords or clogs

maybe 6 pairs of shoes in colors you can't live without. I have moss green (one flat, one heel), light blue, yellow

at least one fantastic pair of dressy to semi-dressy very expensive shoes in a recognizable brand (something that one of the Sex in the City ladies might wear)

Hiking boots

two pairs of running or athletic shoes

I know. That's like 40 pairs of shoes. Please don't tell my husband.

I am crazy for Zappos. If you find a shoe you like but they don't have your size, get the clerk to give you the brand, exact model name and model number; you should be able to find it at Zappos on line.
posted by nax at 7:13 PM on August 27, 2007


Oh goodness. this post is going to take a while.

Frivolous Heels: you HAVE to have a couple of pairs of this. shoes that made your heart stop, shoes that match a certain outfit so well that people stop you on the street with the palpitations it's giving them. They can be strappy, pointy, purple, gemstoned, whatever. your choice.

Sensible Heels: Strappies in black and brown and tan/gold. Pumps in black and brown and tan/gold. I find a 3 inch heel more comfy than kitten heels, but that's just me. I find i need a work pump with a sensible heel and toe, and a night pump with a 4 inch stiletto in patent leather. but that's just me again. Variety in shoes is my THING!

Ballet Flats: In every color imaginable. You will live in these, especially in fall and spring. They go with skirts and dresses and jeans and pants and shorts. I tend to buy cheaper ballet flats and find them comfy (in my flat wide footed glory even) so i can have, again, variety!

Sneakers: A white pair, coz they look ever so cute, and a colored/vintagey pair for weekends and jeans days, and an actual exercise pair.

Heeled Boots: Black knee highs, brown knee highs. maybe some ankle highs. A cuban heel boot is comfy and will take you anywhere.

Flat Boots: a riding pair, in whatever color, looks hot over jeans and pants and leggings and under longer skirts!

Thongs/Sandals: Havaiianas makes the best rubber slippers ever, great for around the house, garden, beach, pool, supermarket. Also invest in a super comfortable roman thonged like sandal, because you will live in these in summer - comfy ones tend to be expensive.

Yes, I am an official Shoe Crazy. Mr Brown isn't too hot on the idea but hey, a girl's gotta be a girl sometimes!
posted by miz brown at 7:48 PM on August 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


Depending on your fashion sense: brown ankle boots.
posted by amtho at 7:57 PM on August 27, 2007


I wear Dansko clogs for everything. I wear them to the office as well as for light hiking. They were also the most popular shoe at the fine woodworking school some friends attend (think: standing all day). So, not only should they be in the portfolio, in my opinion, they are so versatile that they could fill multiple roles until other shoes are bought.
posted by salvia at 8:08 PM on August 27, 2007


I agree with alot of the above but I also like casual slip-ons - the loafer type rather than ballet flats/skimmers. Yes, they are casual and not terribly fashion-forward. But they don't have a heel so they are great for days when your feet hurt, and generally have better traction than flats. I wear them all the time (or, I will again after sandal season).
posted by cabingirl at 8:15 PM on August 27, 2007


I detest shoe shopping, I'm not particularly fashion conscious, and I have my work shoes provided, just for reference.

I try to make sure I have:

1 pair flat smart casual
1 pair silly strappy heeled sandals
1 pair sneakers
1 pair summer sandals
1 pair good quality black leather lace ups with closed toe and sensible 1' heel.

The last pair are my go anywhere shoes. I've had a pair of these for heading on five years, and I find they are astonishingly multipurpose. When travelling light, I take these and sneakers only.

Note that if you have a wider range of colours in your wardrobe than I do, then you'll need more than one colour. And you'll need bags that go too.
posted by kjs4 at 9:49 PM on August 27, 2007


Shoes that have stood me in good stead for years on end:

- Oxblood or cordovan loafers. More versatile than either black or brown, just had my current pair restitched after 5 good years. Good with skirts or pants and I can walk all day in them. If you're the heel-wearing type there are a bunch of cute loafer style wedges around.
- Many cheap pairs of espadrille wedges. Buy them on sale and they're about $10, I stock up in the fall and wear them all the next spring and summer.
- Black mary janes.
- Tall black boots. Be careful when choosing a heel since that's what will go out of style first. Riding boots are classics and will always be in style.
- Brown strappy sandals.
- Red sneakers. Nothing looks better with jeans than a splash of red.

You sound like you can handle some discomfort associated with wearing pumps. I can't but want to look feminine so I tend to wear wedges when I want a heel. I just bought these and they're really comfy and make my feet look delicate, not something I would ordinarily say about my size twelves. I plan to wear them for a long time.
posted by cali at 9:59 PM on August 27, 2007


Sandals you can wear wading that won't fall off (and won't break in 3 months like tevas do).
posted by salvia at 10:46 PM on August 27, 2007


I'm of the opinion that as long as you pick one toe shape (I personally like the almond toe - although I adore my peep toes, they seem very particular to this season) and one heel height (I like 3-4") and get them in black and brown leather and one fun color/texture of your choice, and then throw in a pair of colorful sneakers, some neutral pointy-toe or ballet flats, some flip flops and metallic strappy sandals of any height, you'll be covered for a good long while.

As for me, I would die a hideous shoe death without:

- My moss green leather sandals; sounds weird, but they're cuban-heeled, with very very wide straps and are actually quite comfortable as far as heels go. I love how they look with brownish/taupe/beige outfits and dark denim.
- 3.5" black leather pumps, with almond toes. I wish I had more iterations of them, and will probably buy 2 more pairs in the near future so I do.
- My red suede peep toe heels for color
- Black rubber flats (I got them for $6 at Old Navy, but I've seen that Crocs company actually make a not hideous pair that's similar)
- Rubber flip flops
- Green Asics sneakers, the hipster kind that you walk around in. I think they're called Onitsuka Tigers.
posted by universal_qlc at 12:05 AM on August 28, 2007


Red and yellow are neutrals, in shoes.

Shoes I feel necessary:

-Black (patent) leather maryjanes in all heel heights, from flat to teetering platforms.
-I like to have a pair of men's black oxfords. Mine are Cydwoqs.
-Adidas trail running sneakers for non-wet hiking.
-Ballet flats in matte black leather, patent red, yellow, animal prints. Oh, and I think absolutely most important of all is quilted flats. I need at least 4 more pairs to feel complete in life.
-Black low top chuck taylors. (When that top you've got on is just a little too sweet.)
-Most people prefer mid-calf to knee height boots, I'm into mid-calf to ankle without being those kind of ankle.
-This pump is about as perfectly classic as it gets for me. I'd buy it in every color if I had any need at all for pumps in my life.
-Old timey leather riding boot. Anthropologie usually has ones I like as well.
-Super cheap off season Old Navy flip flops.
-If you don't buy this shoe I'll pretty much hate you forever as it's in your size (11?) and not mine.
posted by birdie birdington at 1:47 AM on August 28, 2007


Shoes that I have found to be surprisingly versatile and necessary over many years of collecting and pruning:

- Black patent leather mary janes with a thicker 3in heel (got mine from Target!)
- Havaina flip flops (I'm from San Diego so YMMV)
- Matte black pumps (kinda pointy) with a 3" heel (Steven by Steve Madden. SOOOOO comfy I swear I can run down a hall with them and they're "office sexy" without being slutty.)
- Some sort of ballet flats. I have a pair of purple suede Marc Jacobs I got on sale. They're way cuter than that sounds and being such a wacky color, they actually go with everything.
- Black converse.
- lower calf to ankle length black boots to wear under trousers.
- calf to knee length boots to wear with skirts/dresses
- Tan shoes with gold trim and a 4" heel. Ok not really a basic, but the idea being you need a pair of flashy, sexy, impractical, knock them dead, makes your legs look gorgeous, secret weapon shoes.
posted by like_neon at 2:12 AM on August 28, 2007


;) I love these!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:18 AM on August 28, 2007


I'm on my second pair of these, and I live in them. Comfy, easy to wear, and kinda classy with jeans or casual trousers, if you get them in grey. Great for changeable weather - will get you through a few puddles unscathed, and if they do get soaked, the canvas cleans up well.
posted by tiny crocodile at 4:22 AM on August 28, 2007


maybe it's because i live in the south, but i absolutely love my cowboy boots!
posted by kidsleepy at 7:04 AM on August 28, 2007


This may not be a good answer since it's not very specific, but I'd suggest checking out John Fluevog shoes. They are very well made, comfortable, and unusual, with great colors and unusual styles. They go up to 11s and 12s in the women's shoes and bigger in the unisex. They have everything from funky pumps to kickass knee-high motorcycle boots that literally make men's jaws drop. Oh, and these, which I've been coveting for a year now.

I own many pairs (boots, sandals, heels, wingtips) and get compliments on them ALL the time, and they last years even with constant wearing.
posted by min at 7:24 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


2nd Fluevogs. Really well made, many can be resoled, and they're quite comfortable.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:16 AM on August 28, 2007


I have to add two Ibelieve in that nobody's mentioned.

Combat boots.

A metallic heel of some type.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:25 AM on August 29, 2007


I blame this thread on recent pruchases of funky leather boots with heels, and classic patent leather pumps.
posted by typewriter at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2007


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