In my (admittedly short) experience as a personal stylist, I’ve come across a number of recurring style questions, many of which I’ve addressed in my previous posts – everything from achieving proper proportions, transitioning clothes from work week to weekend (and back), and finding’s one’s inner style. I have now decided to tackle some of the less urgent, but nonetheless interesting, questions that have been brought to my attention.

Today: the essential shoe wardrobe. 

To go by the popular media’s typical portrayal of the “average woman”, all of us should be swimming in shoes. We just can’t get enough shoes … or so the stereotype goes. For my part, I can’t deny that the “shoe fits” (haha!) – I probably have 30 or so pairs in total, which no doubt represents more than the “bare necessities” of footwear when you start thinking about it. But I also happen to know plenty of lovely, stylish ladies whose closets boast far fewer pairs – I’ve even met someone who can count her shoes on one hand! So, clearly, we are not all so profligate in our shoe-buying as some might suggest. Functionality and thrift can be one’s guiding principles when it comes to this important task, in which case a little bit of planning is essential.

So, what are the key pieces of footwear one ought to think about?

Since we are still waist-deep in snow, let’s start with seasonal footwear. A sturdy pair of flat, rubber-soled, insulated winter boots is a must for anyone who spends any significant amount of time walking outside during Alberta’s winter season (November to March). Here, practical considerations have to win out over style, although it’s not impossible to find some relatively cute options.


Although it’s not a look that will get you onto any best-dressed lists, you can wear these with pants (tucked in) or skirts as the need may be (especially on that cold commute to work), and you will not be in any danger of losing toes or your dignity (hello pavement, meet my butt!). Once you arrive at your destination, you can always slip into something more stylish if the occasion calls for it.

For spring and fall, a pair of knee-high boots is key. Heel height is optional, depending on personal preference, but something with even a little bit of a heel will be more versatile than a flat boot, especially for anyone who favours skirts over pants. If you’re thinking long-term investment, a rounded toe and simple style (no buckles, extra zippers, etc.) is mostly likely to get you through a few seasons at least.

 Nine West

A low wedge heel offers a good compromise to those who shudder at the thought of high heels, and they are more likely to come with soles that have more grip than regular boots, a plus in this climate.

 Michael Kors

In terms of colour, black is the obvious choice, given the likelihood of its being a prevalent colour in most people’s wardrobes. However, if you do wear a lot of browns and earth tones, a dark brown pair of boots may be the better alternative. In the long run, plain leather will wear better than man-made materials, as well as patent or suede – but proper care is key in making your boots (and any other shoes) last. If you end up wearing your leather boots outside in the wintertime, this is especially important. I try to wipe the snow-gunk off my shoes rather than letting it air dry because it’s often mixed with salt and other stuff, which can be damaging if left caked on. A protecting spray is also a good line of defence … and always, always get your shoes re-heeled before you wear them down to the nail.

In terms of casual footwear, there are two basic kinds that almost everyone will need (or want) to have in their closet, regardless of their lifestyle and hobbies: a pair of ballerina flats, and flip flops.
Even as a dedicated lover of heels, I can’t do without ballerina flats. They’re a great option for weekend footwear – “dressing up” a casual outfit while maintaining comfort and utility. A classic style with minimal frills will take you from season to season, and doesn’t have to break the bank – which makes buying multiples (in different shades) practically guilt-free. I have these ones in about 5 different colours, and none of them set me back more than $20.

Old Navy
Around here, we don’t get much chance to “liberate” out tootsies, but there is probably no simpler way to do it than in a pair of flip flops. Whether you choose colourful plastic or something with a little bit more glitz, flip flops will get you through the worst heatwaves our fair province has to offer – and any beach vacations you might be planning in the meantime. I love the cheapie flip flops at Old Navy, which come in a riot of colours (and patterns!) and can cost as little as $6 for 2 pairs.
For evening and special occasions, there is nothing like metallics. Pick a style you like (at least a low heel is appropriate for dressier events), and go with either silver or gold depending on your preference. Pick your metallic of choice based on your complexion and the type of jewelry you normally would wear – and, yes, even metallics come in different shades; think of the difference between platinum and pewter, or yellow gold and rose gold, for example.

 Enzo Angiolini
For everyday footwear, there are two things to consider: style and colour. Though you can mix and match to your heart’s content, here are the things to keep in mind:
The classic pump. I’m talking about either a pointed or rounded-point toe, and 3 inch heel. This is a true ‘workhorse’ in any shoe wardrobe, and can take you from the office to any after-hours event. 
 Nine West

Ralph Lauren

The peep-toe pump. A little bit sexier than your classic pump, but still work-appropriate (in most places). I like to pair this style with either a bright (shoe) colour, a funky material/finish, or some fun embellishments, just to shake things up. Bonus: you can show off your pedicure. [As an aside, I am personally not opposed to the idea of wearing peep-toes with skin-tone nylons, provided the latter are the sandalfoot/seamless variety. If you go that route, a lighter colour nail polish might be the better option.]

Stuart Weitzman
The slingback. A nice alternative to the classic pump for the warmer months. The only caveat is that it can be inconvenient when wearing pants; depending on the length of the hem, the pants might end up getting caught underfoot every time you walk, which can be annoying.

Liz Clairborne

The kitten heel. Although it’s been trumpeted as making a “comeback” in the past year or so, it’s actually a classic style with tons of understated elegance. It’s also a good compromise for those who don’t find heels comfortable – you still get the leg-elongating effect of heels, but with minimal pain. And no, it doesn’t have to be “stuffy” … just look at these beauties:

The wedge. This is another option for heels-haters; low wedges give flats an extra boost, while higher wedges can often be more comfortable than heels of the same height.

 BCBG (left); Goldenbleu (right)
Black. Naturally, a staple – although, as I mentioned above, depending on the colour scheme in your closet, brown can sometimes be a good substitute.
“Nude”. For shoes, it’s the perfect neutral – it goes with everything and is super flattering. It’s important to pick a shade that’s close to your natural skin tone (or the colour of your nylons), otherwise it can look a bit odd.  Nowadays there are lots of options out there, from pale champagne to blush to mocha shades. Although a matte nude shoe can look great, I have an incurable weakness for the shine of patent.


Red. Everyone needs a red pair of shoes in her closet; it’s the perfect accent colour for any outfit that needs some “punching up”. If your wardrobe favours the cool colour spectrum (blues, greys, purples, pinks, etc.), a blue-based red will be  easier to match than an orange-based red, but if in doubt, go with a true red (fire hydrant red). Here again, I prefer a shiny patent red over anything matte, which I find can dull the colour.

“Out there” colour. Have fun with your shoes; pick at least one crazy colour that can take an outfit from “blah” to “wow” – hot pink, turquoise, yellow, purple, whatever takes your fancy.

6 Comments on Style question: the essential shoe closet

  1. Helpful hint: keep the tissue that you find stuffed into the toes of your shoes when you buy them, and re-stuff the toes firmly when you put your shoes away. That way, your pointy-toed heels don’t start to curl up at the ends after a few wears, and you can help prevent the patent from cracking on your shinier heels. If your shoes didn’t come with tissue, plastic grocery bags or scrunched-up paper work just as well. Stand rolled-up magazines in your boots to keep them from flopping over in the closet and getting wrinkly in the ankles.
    You can also stuff your handbags for storage to help them maintain their structure.

  2. @ Cat: great tips, I second them!

    @ Sarah: I like Nine West (good quality & reasonable prices, especially around sales time), Mayfair Shoes (for splurges), Superstore (for flats), and Winners (for the occasional great find). But I shop around a lot for shoes because I’m always looking for deals – that way I can get quality for less.

  3. I do own most of these shoes! Plus a lot of heels and flats in fun patterns. I don’t own peep-toes, slingbacks, and nude shoes though. I don’t like peep-toes, I’m not really attracted to nude colour shoes, but I would like to try some slingbacks – maybe for my next shoe purchase?

    One other category of shoe that I like is the casual sneaker. I love my ballet flats, but sometimes I find that they are too flat and make my feet cramp up. A sporty-casual sneaker offers more support for my arches and still looks cute. This is not the kind of shoe you would run in anywhere or play sports in, but is one that is more casual for everyday wear. I also find I walk a lot, so ballet flats just don’t cut it sometimes.

2Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Style question: the essential shoe closet

  1. […] wouldn’t consider ankle-strap shoes a wardrobe staple (here are a few ideas in that direction), so I won’t be looking too hard for a pair; if a nice, affordable one crosses my path, I […]

  2. […] No post on accessories can start with anything other than shoes. Shoes can often make or break an outfit – not to mention your feet – so it makes sense to pay extra attention to them. Despite what Joe might advocate, buying your shoes at the Dollar Store will not cut it in an office environment unless you’re on the cleaning staff. My advice is always to go with quality over quantity: buy fewer shoes, but the best you can afford. You actually don’t need as many work shoes as you might think, especially if you do the un-trendy thing and wear runners (or other non-work footwear) on your commute. Below, I am going to talk about the basics of a “work shoe wardrobe”, but here’s a more extensive look at must-haves for your general shoe collection. […]