The Soul of Your Soles: Why Women Love Shoes
Peep toes, pumps,
Mary Janes, clogs.
Kitten heels, mules,
Birks and wedges.
A new study reveals that our soles are the window to our souls; these tongues do tell.
The research finds that you can judge 90 percent of a stranger's personality just by the shoes the person is wearing. In the study, a range of detailed demographic traits, including age, income, political affiliation, and emotional stability, were guessed from the wearer's shoes. As the researchers explained in the Journal of Research in Personality, "Shoes serve a practical purpose, and also serve as nonverbal cues with symbolic messages. People tend to pay attention to the shoes they and others wear." According to the study, my shoes would reveal me as extroverted, aggressive, and conscientious, but not calm or agreeable. Hmmm. Maybe so.
At any rate, I was surprised to learn recently that a study conducted last year found that the average American woman owns 17 pairs of shoes.
I'm not exactly Imelda Marcos, but if you consider my various roles—professor, stall mucker, runner, rider, and regular person—then multiply that by four seasons, well, you do the math: I need a lot of different foot coverings. Even so, I have far more than I need—and yet still have a wandering eye. I can't even try to rationalize it. But still, I am curious about why something that so clearly serves an essential function (barefoot advocates notwithstanding), pleases so much through such variety in its forms.
It's not all pleasure, though. We shoe lovers apparently withstand a fair amount of pain for our shoe obsession: that same study from last year showed that 59 percent of American women surveyed have gotten blisters from their shoes, and 46 percent have experienced foot pain from them; 35 percent have had an evening ruined by uncomfortable footwear; and 24 percent of have fallen because of their shoes.
Theories to explain such inexplicable love for shoes abound. The same study above says that some women go shoe shopping to cheer themselves up. Perhaps that's true for some, but I'll happily shop for shoes in any mood. Another explanation the study offers is that "no matter how much weight you gain, you can always fit into your shoes. They're friends through thick and thin." Maybe. Some experts say buying new shoes stimulates an area of the brain's prefrontal cortex termed the collecting spot, and according to Suzanne Ferriss, PhD, editor of Footnotes: On Shoes, "Shoes are a collector's item, whether women realize they perceive them that way or not." Another sees shoe savvy as a way to boost one's career. A new book by Rachelle Bergstein, Women From the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us, postulates that shoe styles and sales reflect the economic times: sky-high platform heels became popular when the economy collapsed, and at the recession's height, when most retail sales were in decline, the sales of shoes—a more meager form of luxury—thrived. Within most of Christian culture (happily for me), shoes, for the most part, dance under the radar of the modesty wars, which are pretty narrowly focused on the three Bs (bust, belly, and butt).