September 27, 2008 3:43 AM   Subscribe

Why do (some) (Western) women like shoes so much? What is it about shoes *in particular* that seems to inspire such ardor?

Do women in other cultures (Eastern, for example) respond to footwear in a similar way?
posted by chuckdarwin to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (32 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, there's the infamous Chinese shoe fetish. Not a modern example, but still.
posted by nax at 4:08 AM on September 27, 2008

This told me way more than I ever wanted to know, but it seems that the economy plays a role, as shoes can represent the status of an individual.

(On a personal note, I just like 'em cuz they're pretty)
posted by jnaps at 4:10 AM on September 27, 2008

Maybe it's just because shoes are so heavily marketed towards them? Similar reason why guys are so ga-ga over electronics and gadgets. But (some) (western) women aren't the only ones that like shoes so much. In high school, tons of guys were into (basketball) shoes too.
posted by sambosambo at 4:31 AM on September 27, 2008

Feet don't get fat the way an ass does. Most women will never ask you if a pair of shoes makes her look fat, and most women really do not look as good in clothing as the people who model them; this can be disappointing. But feet? Most feet usually look good in a cute pair of shoes. Feet also don't vary as much as the more noticeable body parts, and chances are that a woman's shoe size will stay pretty consistent throughout her adult life (although yes, it can change along with other life changes, but not as often and not as drastically as her dress size). So a woman might find that she's outgrown her favorite pair of jeans and then think "ohmigodNOiamsuchawhale" but her shoes will probably never make her feel that way.
posted by Polychrome at 4:49 AM on September 27, 2008 [11 favorites]

They seem to get the attention of so much fuss, and yet being way down on the feet they're the last thing most people would ordinarily notice.

No, American women notice each others shoes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:52 AM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

No matter how big your rear gets, your shoe size stays roughly the same. So shoe shopping stays fun even if you put on a couple of pounds. Also high heels can change your whole look - you look taller, you stand up straighter, you can feel sexy and powerful in a way that just isn't possible in, say, loafers. Clothes are often pretty generic and boring, but an interesting pair of shoes is like jewelry - one thing that stands out and makes the outfit look special. Why do some of us like shoes so much? Because they are AWESOME.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:53 AM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't say this is a phenomenon of the west (although, I guess in cultures where people don't wear shoes much, it wouldn't matter). In India, my cousin's wives have many, many pairs of dress slippers to wear with their fancy sarees. Also, I remember reading somewhere that middle eastern women are a huge market for luxury shoe makers (and indeed luxury clothing/handbag brands in general).

But I concur with others. As fat as you get, your feet usually remain the same size. You buy one pair of shoes today; you'll probably still be able to fit into them a year from now. They're easy to wear -- most people look good in them. The same cannot be said for cool/expensive clothes. Personally, I think shoes are pretty awesome from a construction point of view. It's relatively easy to sew your own clothes, but making your own shoes is somewhat difficult. I like buying them for functional reasons of course, but I also like buy interesting shaped/colored ones just to look at them on my feet.
posted by bluefly at 5:02 AM on September 27, 2008

If a woman is unhappy about her figure, and/or if she is hard to fit, shopping for clothes can be an upsetting and frustrating experience. Shopping for shoes, however, is always enjoyable because as long as you're a standard size (and probably 95% of women are) you can easily find flattering and attractive shoes. And a woman can always use another pair. Shoes are a key part of your ensemble. They can make or break an outfit, and dress it up or down. Would you really not notice that a man was wearing filthy runners with a nice suit?

Then too, feet are sensitive, and are a ready pleasure and pain point. You're more aware of the feel of your shoes than you are of the feel of a sweater. Putting on a new pair of shoes is like kissing someone for the first time.

And no, I'm not Imelda Marcos.
posted by orange swan at 5:03 AM on September 27, 2008

let me preface with this: I love shoes.

I'm thinking that this is just a case of you noticing this more than anything else. Lots of women collect make-up. Or jewelry. Or shoes.
posted by agentwills at 5:18 AM on September 27, 2008

My wife, quoted word-for-word:

"So we can accessorize and attract men."

I tried to get her to elaborate, but every time I prodded her for more information, that's as far as I got. I think it's some secret locked-away portion of the female mind that no one will really ever understand.
posted by joshrholloway at 5:38 AM on September 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm a guy, and I like shoes a lot, but I rarely buy them since most shoes I'd actually wear (name brand sneakers or brown/black leather ones) are in the $50-100+ range. Women's shoes have a huge variety in the $10-40 range too, so it's easier to buy them more often.

I don't know if these affordable womens shoes are there just because of demand from consumers, or maybe because simple womens shoes are cheaper to manufacture.?.
posted by p3t3 at 5:40 AM on September 27, 2008

Shoes don't wrinkle. Shoes don't surprise you at 7 am with a waistband that won't button. Shoe shopping is a good way to spend time with friends who are much [smaller|larger] than you - as a formerly very big person, shoe shopping was the only way I could participate in social shopping. Sure, there are some shoes that are unflattering, but that's generally the fault of the SHOE, not of my fat ass or generous bustline or sloping shoulders.

As many have already said, shoes may be the only thing I wear some days that makes me smile. (And on those days, it's time for purple suede heels!)
posted by catlet at 5:48 AM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Accessories are especially fun because you can pair them with outfits nearly endlessly - so, one pair of shoes doesn't give you one new outfit, it gives you a new outfit for everything you already own.

And having eight zillion pairs of shoes... well, you get the idea.

Also, aesthetically, you can get away with a lot of things with shoes that just don't work with clothes on the whole. Like, brightly colored shoes with a regular work outfit... really "sexy" high heels for going out without looking "trashy"... they can really put you in a certain mood.

And yes, women of all sizes can get into finding the perfect shoe. Your shoe size pretty much doesn't change, so you're not depressed about wearing a larger size.

Lastly, shoes last a damn long time - it astounds the kiddos that I babysit that I have shoes older than them.

In general, shoes are tons of fun - speaking as someone who "downsized" her collection to a mere 10 pairs.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:13 AM on September 27, 2008

I agree with the people who said that women like shoes because your shoe size won't change like your dress size can.

I also like shoes because I can see them while I'm wearing them. I can't see my jewelry or my sweater without a mirror, but I can look down and see my shoes.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:39 AM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Personally, I don't get shoes...I have hard-to-fit feet, so shoe-shopping frustrates me endlessly.

I think it's a combination of showing one's wealth (there was a time not long ago when most people owned two shoes, one for the week, one for Sundays.) With the industrial revolution, and the growth of the middle class, everybody gets to have more luxuries. I also think it's related to why birds have colorful attract a mate.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:47 AM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

here, let's have another look at that:

"Why do (some) (Western) men like gadgets so much? What is it about gadgets *in particular* that seems to inspire such ardor?

"Do men in other cultures (Eastern, for example) respond to electronics in a similar way?"
posted by lia at 6:55 AM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have both a tremendously fat ass and very large, non-standard feet for a woman. So I don't love shoe shopping and I don't have a zillion pairs of shoes. But I can still back up what other people are saying -- when I go clothes shopping, for every 10 things I try on, 9 of them make me look even fatter than what I was wearing when I walked into the store, 4 of them because even though they're theoretically 'my size', they don't come anywhere close to fitting, and the other 5 of them because the way they grade clothing sizes for larger women makes no fucking sense, so even if it goes around my hips one way, it won't go the other way. All of which doesn't matter, because when I look in the mirror, all I see is a giant lardass who is too fat to even wear clothes.

When I go shoe shopping, and shoes don't fit me, it's not because I'm fat and ugly and had that extra piece of cheesecake at lunch this afternoon. It's because women's shoes don't generally come in 10EE. It's frustrating, yes, but it's frustrating on a retail level (on par with, say, not being able to find a Wii in stock) not on a personal level.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:11 AM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's not just about shoes not making you feel fat. I am very short and small and have a hard time shopping for clothes, especially pants. I have to wear the same few pairs of pants and jeans every day, so shoes are a good way to make it look like I own more clothes than I do.

Also, it's easier to find a shoe that will be in style for several years (that is, if you don't buy things like those hideous stiletto ankle boots that make everyone's legs look stumpy). You can get more money out of your purchase than with a shirt that will be dated in 10 months.
posted by fructose at 7:15 AM on September 27, 2008

Personally, I don't get shoes...I have hard-to-fit feet, so shoe-shopping frustrates me endlessly.

(raises hand) Same here. (Size nine, double-A width. I once had to shop for tap shoes for a class in college and ended up scaring the entire staff of a Capezio's.)

I think the premise is that they're a way to play around and be frivolous with your apparel, but they're not so big that they're going to totally dominate the outfit -- you can get away with big flowers on your shoes, because they're on a small item and it's just an enhancement, but if you went with big flowers on your dress you may not be able to pull it off as well. Plus, if you take a basic suit you can wear different pairs of shoes with it and make different outfits as a result.

Also -- speaking as someone who only has a few pairs that she wears a lot -- if you wear a single pair day in and day out, they wear out FAST. Having several pairs lets you extend their overall lifespans. Maybe?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 AM on September 27, 2008

Accessories are especially fun because you can pair them with outfits nearly endlessly - so, one pair of shoes doesn't give you one new outfit, it gives you a new outfit for everything you already own.

And having eight zillion pairs of shoes... well, you get the idea.

Yes, totally. AND having eight zillion pairs of shoes gives you the added benefit of keeping them in good shape. It takes years for my shoes to wear out. Shopping for shoes is almost always something fun--my male friends are always all like "Oh, man, I need to get new shoes. Mine are falling apart."

I was really, really into buying funky shoes, until I discovered buying cheap eyeglasses online. It's sort of the same principle: alternating (cheap, funky) accessories is an easy way to change your appearance without worrying about fit or anything like that.

(I cut/dye my hair constantly for the same reason, I think).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:15 AM on September 27, 2008

I was just teaching my class about the 1972 art installation Womanhouse, which included a shoe closet, and a (black) (male) student pointed out that he and his (black) (male) friends all have over 20 pairs of shoes, but his (white) (male) roommate only has one pair. Others in the class confirmed this phenomenon (we're in Michigan).

So I would say that this is about marketing to specific subcultures, and the development of status communication and fashion norms within them. We did wonder if any systematic studies had been done, but I'm afraid I didn't look it up.
posted by obliquicity at 9:12 AM on September 27, 2008

When I was young and playing with Barbies all the outfits came with a pair of shoes. The problem is, they were so tiny they got lost almost instantaneously. Barbie is a very fashion forward kind of gal, but was almost always barefoot. Hence the obsession with finding the perfect pair of shoes begins.
posted by Ugh at 9:27 AM on September 27, 2008

Your topic is WAY larger than the scope of an AskMeFi. The question touches on issues of body image, fetishization, accessory psychology, fashion & functionality over centuries, and some really interesting gender issues, too.

Many, many non-western cultures are also intensely occupied with feet and the things that go on them.

I will start you off with two words: Imelda Marcos.
posted by Aquaman at 10:27 AM on September 27, 2008

You can never have too many pairs of shoes. The more you wear, the less each pair wears out.
posted by troy at 10:54 AM on September 27, 2008

This is weird, but I think the shoe thing goes deeper than men and women. Have you ever noticed how enthusiastic toddlers and small children get about shoes? They love them. They're a symbol of independence - "Look! I can walk and run away from you now! I no longer have to just lay on my back and gurgle!" - and perhaps that happy thought gets deeply implanted into our subconscious minds. Shoe shopping was the only kind of shopping I could get my kids to willingly do and I still remember trips with my mother when I was very very small to get new shoes. Face it, there's just something fascinating about feet and shoes. Even tiny babies like to look at their feet and get all happy when they get new shoes and socks.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:56 AM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Joking apart, I find the women with shoes, men with gadgets things kind of similar. It's a bit bargain basement psychology but both seem like the gender being stuck at about 11 years old, playing with toys and dress-up and combining them with a way of showing status.

(I'm a woman, and I like shoes just fine, about as much as I like pens - good design is nice, but finding the right few to do the job is the thing, and then the hunt is off until I need a replacement.)
posted by carbide at 11:40 AM on September 27, 2008

They seem to get the attention of so much fuss, and yet being way down on the feet they're the last thing most people would ordinarily notice.

Shoes are considered to be a very noticeable and visible indicator of the economic status of the wearer, for both men and women. If you think that people won´t notice your shoes, try wearing a pair of $1 flip flops with your best suit to your next interview.
posted by yohko at 12:21 PM on September 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is weird, but I think the shoe thing goes deeper than men and women. Have you ever noticed how enthusiastic toddlers and small children get about shoes? They love them

That might explain why grown-ups in general might go on to continue to be enthusiastic about shoes, but it doesn't explain the gender gap.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 3:17 PM on September 27, 2008

Because appearing attractive is very important for females, in this culture, many females own a wide range of clothing items and doo-dads. This extends to owning many pairs of shoes. Because they last longer then another sort of garment, like a dress, shoes make a more sensible investment to show your place in society. Purses also may fill this role, and in past times, ladies were also known for obsessive hat purchases. I also see western women and girls collecting makeup, especially exotic pigments, jewellery, and house goods.

Female shoes are intentionally 'daintier' for the most part, because impractical shoes demonstrate you've avoided the lower status skut work that tends to be the employment option for a women of lower social standing. Jennifer, the engineer/office drone/manager does less walking then Alice the shopclerk/maid/waitress. Because of the risk of exploitive labour, it becomes more important to demonstrate you're physically incapacitated. This is the basis for foot binding as well. (It's worth noting that hypothetical Jennifer probably owns specialized sports gear for her exercise program, including a $100 pair of sneakers, to clearly demonstrate breaking a sweat is a leisure activity).

However, in sections of Western culture where males are actively interested in dressing for attention, not camouflage, men and boys will also obsess over owning fashionable sneakers and dress shoes, and, income allowing, obtain quite the collection. My boyfriend owns more shoes than me, because I find it hard to justify owning more than a couple of pairs, while he buys designer shoes to look good.
posted by Phalene at 5:04 PM on September 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just for posterity's sake, I was finally able to get what I thought was a decent answer out of my wife, and it echoed the "shoe sizes don't change like clothes sizes can" thing. It was quite an amusing and fervent speech about how "8 1/2 is always 8 1/2, no matter what, forever and ever amen."

Good stuff.
posted by joshrholloway at 9:11 AM on September 29, 2008

Let me guess… you're a breast man?

Seriously, though, my father has as many or more shoes than my mother. Deliberately dressing like a schlub may be a Anglo-American male thing. America is not the world. Get a passport.
posted by gentilknight at 1:47 AM on September 30, 2008

My shoe size went up when I gained weight and went down when I lost weight. I know from reading weight loss blogs that I am not the only one, by far. So they stay more stable than clothing sizes but when I gained a lot of weight I had to buy all new shoes.
posted by Melsky at 8:15 PM on September 30, 2008

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