Understanding Shoe Aesthetics

Last Friday afternoon as I was driving along restaurant row on Main Street doing errands, I saw several young women who looked amazing – from the ankles up. Great hair, cute clothes, pretty jewelry, they had obviously spent a lot of time pulling themselves together for a Friday night on the town.

Too bad they ruined the look with their shoes.

For many, it was the ubiquitous flip flop that caused the problem. For others, it was an unfortunate color or style choice. Then there was the girl who teetered on heels so high, she could only make teeny-tiny Morticia Adams-like steps as her (clearly annoyed) date all but dragged her along behind him. That there are so many fashion mishaps with this particular accessory can only point to one thing: a need for more education.

If you’ve ever been befuddled by shoe choices, here are some things to consider next time you’re standing in front of mirror, mulling over which shoes to wear:

Match the Mood of the Shoe to the Mood of the Outfit

If you’re wearing casual clothes, your shoes should be casual. If you’re wearing formal clothes, your shoes should be formal. Shoes made of canvas, rubber, straw, or plastic are typically casual; shoes made of good leather or fine fabrics (satin, lace, tweed) are typically formal. Thick heels, cork heels, platforms, and wedge styles are typically casual; thin heels and simple silhouettes are typically formal.Note: flip flops are beachwear, designed for use near sand and surf. They are too informal for most casual clothes. Save them for the pool, the beach, and your backyard.

Casual dress with wedge-heeled sandals

Casual Attire

Formal dress with ankle-wrap sandals

Formal Attire


Strive for Visual Balance between Upper and Lower Body

This is often ignored but instantly creates a “what’s wrong with this picture?” feeling when you see it.

If your arms and shoulders are exposed (tank top, sleeveless top), you should expose more of your foot for visual balance (sandals, d’Orsay pumps, slingbacks*). If your arms and legs are covered (sweater and jeans), you should cover your feet for visual balance (pumps, loafers, boots). To cover or expose one part of your body without repeating it elsewhere looks unbalanced.

*Exception: workout clothes and tennis shoes

Arms uncovered + feet uncovered = visual balance


Arms covered + feed covered = visual balance


Arms covered + feet uncovered = visual imbalance

Visual Imbalance


Shoe Color Should be Darker than Hem Color

For a pleasing aesthetic, old school rules say that your shoe color should be darker than your hem color. So a white dress with black shoes would look fine whereas a black dress with white shoes would not. Same goes for hosiery. Light or flesh colored hose with dark shoes almost always look better than dark hose with light shoes.

Shoes are darker color than hem

Attention goes to the dress and face

Shoes are lighter color than hem

Attention goes to the feet


Be Careful With Colored-Matched Shoes

While matching your shoe color to your outfit color can be very stylish, it can also look strange, depending on the color, your body type, and the proportions of your outfit. If you’re petite or have short legs, for example, visually “chopping up” your body with blocks of color will only make you look shorter, so be careful. Also, while matching red, blue, and black shoes can look very elegant, matching odd colors like lime, plum, or orange can look very costume-y and – dare I say it? – declasse outside of a bridal party. Proceed with caution.

Matching shoes to clothes can be tricky

Be careful matching shoe and clothing colors

Wear White at Your Own Risk

White reflects light and makes anything it’s on look bigger, including feet. If you have small feet or really like the summer-time feeling of white shoes, wear them. If you’re self-conscious or don’t want people looking at your feet, don’t.

When in Doubt, Try Flesh Tone

A flesh-toned shoe in a simple style can see you through years of use. Not only will it visually elongate your legs, it will go with a variety of outfits. If you want to trim your shoe wardrobe to a bare minimum, invest in a dark pump and a flesh toned pump, slingback, or sandal, depending on your wardrobe and lifestyle. You won’t regret it.

Flesh-toned shoes visually elongate your legs


Only One Star per OutfitAny ensemble should only have one focal point. If your clothing is complicated – artful construction, unusual fabrication, or dynamite color, for example – keep your shoes simple. If your shoes are “fierce,” then your clothing should be simple to give your shoes center stage. Don’t make interesting elements compete against each other for attention. Only have one star per outfit. Are we supposed to look at the beading or the shoes?
Neckline competes with shoes

The dress is the star of this outfitFocus goes right to the waistline

Comfort CountsWhile there are TONS of cute shoes out there, only buy the styles that make sense for you. Don’t stuff your feet into shoes that are too small, have heels that are too high, or that mercilessly bind and pinch. If they look great but hurt your feet or exacerbate an old injury, they’re not for you. Keep looking. Cute but not practical

Pleaser USA

All photos in this section courtesy of Chadwicks.com unless otherwise noted

Finally, attend to any necessary grooming BEFORE exposing your legs and feet to public view. Get a pedicure and shave your legs. No exceptions. You want people to be delighted and amazed by your great shoes, not turn away in horror at your nasty toenails, cracked heels, or hairy toes. See to it.

Looking great from head to toe takes a little time and effort, but the rewards are definitely worth it. When you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good about yourself, it shows. Try it for yourself and see.

Need some more help sorting out which shoes work best for you? Then download a copy of ACCESSORY MAGIC to see how easy it is to create a signature style and stretch your clothing budget with accessories.

Accessory Magic

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