Women’s Shoes for Beginners

I saw a pair of shoes during a coffee break last week that made me stop mid-sentence and announce that I was having a shoegasm. They were pink and red colour-blocked suede pumps. The lady wearing them had on a black and white dress, but that’s really all I can tell you about her, focused as I was on the area south of her ankles. My [female] colleague concurred – fabulous shoes.

Stacked kitten peep-toe Miz Mooz heels in yellow and white to match my accordion

Stacked kitten peep-toe Miz Mooz heels in yellow and white to match my accordion

As we ease into summer, I’m going to indulge the request of a male friend and tackle this very serious issue — What’s up with women’s shoes? We put them on our feet for warmth, protection, and comfort… end of story? Ha. Most people know at least one woman who exhibits a love of shoes that goes far beyond a sane appreciation of good footwear. Besides, so many of the shoes worn by women offer neither warmth, nor protection, nor comfort. In fact, we’d be much better off taking our chances bare-footed on city streets most of time, the odds of stepping on a used hypodermic needle while barefoot being so much lower than the odds that those cute new ballet flats will cause a blister. In fact, who among us has never walked home from the club, shoes in hand, on a hot summer night?

I’m happy to say that my days of choosing shoes on looks alone are long behind me. The ability to walk and stand comfortably in footwear for a minimum of 30 minutes is now mandatory, prettiness be damned. If a pair of shoes makes me wince and walk clumsily, it has no right to exist. Nevertheless, the truth remains that, though I already own respectably functional chaussures for every occasion, I will ALWAYS BUY MORE SHOES!

Aside from the obvious allure of a wardrobe item that graciously forgives weight fluctuations, I think shoes occupy a special place in women’s hearts because of their unique role. Shoes are an outfit’s band leader. Shoes set the tone, they communicate the emotion behind the facade, shoes can play softly or loudly. Picture a lady in a grey wool suit with a silk navy blouse accessorized with simple pearls. Now she crosses her legs and you notice… zebra print pumps. Things just got interesting.

Ok, but what makes a shoe special? Why is an animal print so much more exciting than brown leather? The answer to what makes a great shoe will be different for every woman. I can only try to identify the key features that make my heart race.

The heel

Pumps: I’m from the Goldie Locks school of heel height: not too tall, not too short, but juuust right. Kitten heels have their place (like, at a wedding or garden party), and 4” plus heels sure are impressive, but to my taste 2 or 3 inches are ideal (note: I’m referring to shoes only here!). A good pump is my preferred footwear for work or evening. You could accuse me of having too staid a predilection, but I stand by it (no pun indented). When wearing a classic pump, subtle details and interesting colours and patterns are what gets you noticed. It’s a classy shoe and there are many brands that make pumps that are easy to walk in and won’t make your feet bleed.

My favourite Tsubo pumps. So comfortable I got them in olive as well.

My favourite Tsubo pumps. So comfortable I got them in olive as well.

Wedge: Many a short gal sings the praises of wedge heels. I understand the appeal — Because the platform often runs the entire length of the foot, it’s a high heel that doesn’t create an uncomfortable incline. Nevertheless, I caution against the wedge; it must be chosen carefully. Too often, I find wedges detract from a woman’s proportions. Avoid looking like you stuck blocks underneath your feet by choosing wedges with a modest platform and slim silhouette.

Stacked heel: I am always drawn to a stacked heel. For some reason, a stacked heel evokes a tough yet sexy 1940s dame with great gams. Heels made up of several layers of thin wood (though I’m sure that’s not how they’re made these days) are somehow solid while remaining stylish and feminine. While not appropriate for a formal soirée, this type of heel is nevertheless extremely versatile.

Stiletto/spike: Listen, if you want to communicate sex, a 4” (or more) spiked heel is the way to go. The issue for me is that it’s too obvious, almost a costume. Also, people often look sadly off trying to walk in these shoes. Rare is the woman who can walk on painful feet without divulging her awkwardness. Make these shoes white or lucite and you’ve got the corner stone of a great stripping or drag wardrobe.

Flats: Ballet flats have been hot for several years now and it’s no surprise. Much like a pump, a simple flat is comfortable, can be easily matched with many different outfits, and is made special by its pattern, fabric, and colour more than its design. I will say this though, I’m astonished at how often I try on a flat that is too stiff and digs into the back of my heel. Also, these shoes are often outrageously priced! To the shoemakers of the world: we want flat shoes that are comfy and that are under $100.

*A word here about what to wear with jeans. And it is just one word: flats! The problem with the heels/jeans pairing is that it’s too “fancy.” Jeans are essentially casual, comfortable. À la limite, I don’t mind a low heel, 2 inches or less, but tread carefully as it’s easy to veer off into a 1990s clubbing look (sparkly baby T with that?).

Colour, Pattern, Fabric

Patent leather: Meow. Black or red are classics, but a neutral patent leather shoe brings a more refined sexiness.

Suede: I love suede, but it is the fussiest of fabrics. You can’t wear it in the rain without ruining it, and if you drop anything on your feet you’re bound to have a forever stain. Therefore, suede says “I’m high maintenance and have excellent taste” (or “I live in a dry climate”).

Animal print: This is where you want to put it — on your feet. For all of my adult life (ever since that time when, at the age of 21, my then-boyfriend told me leopard print reminded him of his mother) I’ve had a mental block concerning animal print. Accessories, coats, and, I would argue, underwear, are how to wear animal print without reminding anyone of their mom… one hopes.

Metallics: Though I do love a metallic knit sweater, it is rather difficult to get away with metallic clothing in every day life (unless you’re Elton John). This is why, as with animal print, limiting golds, bronzes, and silvers to accessories is smart. The best thing about metallic shoes, other than that they’re SHINY, is that they function as a kind of neutral. Silver shoes go with everything, I promise you. Jewelry can match, or not. It all works.

My round-toed Jump wedge stacked heels with cut-outs!

My round-toed Jump wedge stacked heels with cut-outs!


Straps: When choosing a design, leg shape and height must be a consideration. No matter how cute I think ankle straps are, I don’t wear them because they cut my legs off in an unattractive way. I also am not a huge fan of mary janes; I just don’t find them elegant. T-bars are cool. Gladiator sandals were all the rage a few years ago and there is something undeniably alluring about all those straps. A more subdued way of referencing bondage might be to choose strappy high-heeled sandals, however.

Peek-a-boo: Two of my favourite features in shoes are a peep-toe and cut-outs. These designs are sturdier than shoes with straps which is good news because, let’s face it, straps might as well be barbed wire sometimes. Yet they’re still a little bit naked — enchantingly fetching rather than obviously lurid.

Toes: Trends in shoe pointiness have gone up and down as much as hemlines have. And, like skirt length, pretty much anything goes these days. Again here, I’m not a fan of extremes: a round toe can make feet look stubby, whereas extreme pointiness comes across as overly slick (though a pointy shoe could come in handy if a fella gets too handsy…).

Because we’re forced into boots for about 8 months of the year in this country, I feel completely justified in ignoring them now that there’s no snow on the ground. Boots definitely have their allure, but they, on the whole, tend to be less playful and more utilitarian than shoes. Shoes are much more fun! So here’s to enjoying summer… Let’s let our feet don super cute accoutrements while they can.

Do you have a shoe habit — What makes a great shoe?


  1. I love a classic pump at the office but find it awkward to switch from flats to heels every time I leave my desk, now that I’ve switched to a standing desk. It’s embarrassing, somehow, to be calling such attention to my desire to look nice. Going barefoot would be the natural solution, but I wouldn’t dare. There are unspoken rules about such things.

    • I’ve wondered about that issue with standing desks. Thanks for bringing it up! I very much want one but then would have to remove my shoes and put on comfy slippers? I noticed a colleague who just stands in her pumps at her desk looking fashionable. I’d probably do the switcheroo- flats to heels. I have a pile of shoes in my office in any case, everyone already knows I care about such things. Now to try and finagle getting a standing desk…

      • I don’t think I could stand in heels all day, every day. For now, I’m switching to ballet slippers/flats in the summer, and standing in stocking feet in the winter. I too have a drawer full of pumps at my desk, so perhaps the jig is already up! I guess it’s no secret that I dress up for the office, but there’s still something odd about being caught in the act, ha ha. Maybe your idea of wearing a pair of outright slippers is the way to go… I’m intrigued.

        My co-worker and I used standing desk hacks (his is the Ikea hack available online, and I used a tv stand and propped my monitor atop a stack of books). The trick is to be able to easily switch from standing to sitting whenever the need arises. Oh, and one of those gel mats to stand on.

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