How to Shop for Shoes

how to shop for shoes

I’ve received a few queries in comments and via e-mail about my methods of shoe shopping, and requests for a tutorial on how to become an effective shoe huntress.  I’m more than happy to share my methods, of course! But bear in mind that shoes are my drug of choice, and my techniques for finding and procuring shoes may seem a bit extreme to some of you. Or, possibly, all of you. We shall see …

Research

Keep an inspiration folder: How do I find most of my pairs of shoes? Why, I read magazines and catalogs. Simple as that. When I spot a pair that makes my heart skip a beat, I either tear out the page and add it to my binder, or note the style name and price for future reference.

Read shoe-centric blogs: Naturally, reading ANY style-related blog is likely to yield the occasional lust-worthy and currently-for-sale pair of shoes. But blogs like Shoelust, Raw Shoes, and Sea of Shoes are fabulous for high-end inspiration; Barking Dog Shoes is a magnificent source of info for women with fussy feet.

Sign up for vendor e-newsletters: If you have an ongoing love affair with a certain shoe brand, make sure you’re kept in the loop. Nearly all major designers offer electronic newsletters to notify fans and customers of new styles, sales, and events.

Preparedness

Know your shoe size: Did any of you just say, “Well, DUH,” to your computer screens? Don’t worry, I’m not offended. Just gotta start with the basics. Especially since many of us don’t actually know our shoe sizes, and few of us realize that shoe size can fluctuate with hormonal, weight, and growth-related changes. I’d say it’s best practice to get your feet professionally sized every couple of years, or after any significant physical shift. (Are you a specialty size? I’ve got resources for you!)

Note brand tendencies: Likely my all-time favorite brand is Frye, a brand that’s infamous for inconsistent sizing. And while that’s immensely frustrating, I can use my hard-earned knowledge when I shop. If I buy a pair of Fryes under “final sale” conditions, I am prepared to end up with ill-fitting dud shoes. If I can avoid buying any brand under “final sale” conditions, I do. Once you’ve tried on more than one pair from a certain brand, take note of how sizing runs. Also worth observing: Construction quality, comfort, durability.

Read the fine print: We all know that awareness of return policies is absolutely key to successful shopping. (Wait, we all know that, right? OK, good.) But there are plenty of other ways that fine print – both online and in-store – can trip you up. Especially when it comes to shoes.

  1. If ordering online, check the return policy for a description of what “worn” means. In most cases, slipping on new shoes, and walking around on a carpeted floor will be perfectly safe, and you can return those pups without worry. But every vendor is different. Better to be prepared.
  2. Whenever you buy shoes, make sure you know material content. I’m not a huge fan of pleather and PVC shoes, and both can look so convincingly like leather and patent that I have, occasionally, been fooled. This goes the other way for those of you who shop vegan, too.
  3. Talk to sales associates. If you’re mulling a pair and not ready to commit, ask if there are more available in your size. If not, can you put them on hold? Will more be coming in? Are they available at another store? Is there a layaway policy? Ask questions!

Purchasing

Sign up for the 6pm.com e-newsletter: This tip will apply to U.S. residents only, I’m afraid, but it is a juicy one. 6pm.com is a subsidiary of Zappos.com – the two even share inventory somehow – and I have landed a good half of my amazing shoe deals from their daily sale specials.

Monitor: When I see shoes that send me into fits of object-lust, I generally just shell out full price for them. But pairs that strike my fancy yet aren’t haunting my dreams? I stalk them. Sometimes for months. I’d say I check in on shoes I’m pondering on a weekly basis, monitoring price and size range availability. Is this a little obsessive? Yes. Does it land me the occasional mouthwatering deal? Sure does. This practice is for the extreme shoe shoppers out there, I realize, but it’s worth mentioning!

Create saved searches on eBay: For those times when my shoe stalking fails me and I miss out on my size, I rely on eBay. I’d say that of the dozen or so pairs of shoes that I’ve loved and missed, only two pairs have failed to show on eBay within a year. Yeah, a year. That’s why you rely on those handy-dandy saved searches, so info about your longed-for shoes can come to YOU. For instructions on setting up saved searches – and other tips for happy bidding – check out this older post on how to shop on eBay.

Final word of advice? Understand your needs and acknowledge your personal style. I see about a dozen pairs every day that strike me as phenomenally beautiful. I do not purchase a dozen pairs every day because I am not made of money (sadly) and because I know the types of shoes that work for me. I can’t do stilettos, don’t like mules, need to limit my sandals since I live in a climate where winter is the dominant season, and may love super-girly, pointy-toed shoes but they do NOT align with my style. I know my body and its needs, and I can look at a pair of shoes and guess how far I can walk in them and which parts of my feet they may hurt. I know my style, and I can look at a pair of shoes and immediately gauge if they’ll work with my existing wardrobe.

Buy shoes that you will wear. Admire the rest from afar.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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  • It’s a good job I read this, lovely lady, as I was bemoaning my shoe-shopping drought only yesterday. We’ve been through such a rough patch financially that I have been forced to buy only vintage/secondhand – if any! – and though that unearths its own gems, sometimes it’s hard to have to let the newbies go. When I did have the cash I also stalked certain pairs – recent Kurt Geiger shoes have had me salivating – but I generally try eBay first to see if I can get a cheaper deal…

    By the way – where are those shoes from? The colours are stunning.

    • Sal

      Ahhh, those are Faryl Robins from several years ago. The style is Suzu. I stalked them on eBay for at least a year before finding a pair in my size!

  • Susan

    This is helpful. I’ve been wondering about 6PM.com. The e-reviews have been really mixed –people love them or hate them. And, some of the comments about getting shoes were horrifying. I am considering give them a try for boots I’ve been lusting for.

  • I would add Yoox to the list for RTW shoes at great prices. Hard to beat the prices and selection. Also remember outlets like Cole Haan, sign up with them they have great deals for shoes with Nike Air Technology and quality leather, snakeskin, mohair etc at their clearance centers. Nordstrom has the best return policy, you can return their shoes after wear as long as you have the box and/or receipt.

  • sue

    Great post, Sal.

    I too love 6pm.com. However, when I’m contemplating something there, I always check on amazon also. I found Tsubos cheaper there a few times. Also, when I haven’t tried on a pair irl, I google reviews on them. It really helps to know if they run small, tts, etc. Amazon is also a great place to look for reviews of shoes. Happy stalking!

  • Izabela

    This may not help everyone, but for those who live in Kentucky, there is a Zappo’s outlet (goes by 6pm now). All the shoes are 50% off original prices, everyday. They frequently have days where all shoes are 70% off, and they give you a friends & family discount of 20%, so you get shoes for super cheap! I bought a pair of Michael Kors boots for all of $50…originally they were $400ish! It’s an amazing place…shoe heaven, really.

  • Katharine

    As a Canadian (sigh!) I have more problems shopping for shoes online; generally, even stores with a return policy do not pay for return shipping. Oo, it bites to pay $25-$35 just to try something on, walk about on a towel for a bit, and go “nope.”

    Amazon is pretty good for Canadian shoe shopping, better than some other sites that LOOK better. They roll all of the customs and brokerage charges in at checkout, which is often less than UPS charges at the door. I’ve never dared shop on eBay; my feet are too fussy, and I’ve never seen anything that I really covet for anything like a deal. (I have been tempted, though. I still dream of the Chie Mihara Suma Geisha sandal, which, damn, I should’ve bought from Gravity Pope when their last pair, in my size, was on sale.) Solestruck has also been very nice to me, and their sales associates are stellar; they’ve called me with detailed answers to questions when I’ve emailed them.

    I have more of a brand loyalty, I think. For instance, I’ve sort of inadvertently been collecting Doc Martens in the Diva range, because the heel and last is PERFECT for me; I can walk for kilometres in them like flats (actually, better than most of my flats). I was loyal to Fluevog for a long time, but I have to say I think their quality is declining, as their prices skyrocket. I have a pair of Haights where the sole, for no good reason, twisted and pulled off the rest of the shoe after no more than a year of wear, which hardly compares to the Minis I’m still wearing after more than seven years. And the Earl of Lancasters I ordered, aside from completely not fitting me, had a gap in the stack of the heel, brand new.

    My biggest shoe regret was the Ash Lotus a few years back. I saw those on a blog, and yes, stalked them, and finally breathed hard and ordered them full price. So beautiful! Such lovely leather and colour! So, so hot on! And I tried them on and strutted in front of the mirror for no more than 15 minutes, and by then I already had red, raw patches forming at the edges of the straps. They weren’t even “sitting shoes”, they were “someone carry me everywhere on a palanquin” shoes, which was not so very surprising, since once I saw them on my feet I realised immediately that the inspiration for the style and the name came from Chinese footbinding. But what a gorgeous, gorgeous shoe.

    • Sal

      Ach, so sad to hear about the Lotus! I’ve been eyeing those myself for a year or so …

      • Katharine

        Well, other people on the Internet say they’re very comfortable. I tend to have problems with strappy shoes on my tender feet; these were just especially bad and the straps on the top of the instep were in exactly the wrong place for me.

        I just sold a pair of super-pointy black stiletto Nine West witch shoes that I wore once (OW!!!) and the woman at the consignment shop said, when I sadly described my woes as I handed over the box, “why not do what our other customers do. We have several ladies who take a couple of Advils before they wear shoes that hurt.” I think I gave her a very blank look… but that’s one of my inflexible rules for shoe shopping, these days; I WILL NOT buy “Advil shoes.” I’ve sometimes been mistaken, and shoes that seemed comfortable turned out not to be after a few hours, but I won’t buy anything that’s not comfy out of the box!

        (It’s made a huge difference in my heel-wearing. I used to say, “I can’t wear heels,” but in fact I can only wear good, well-made, mostly-expensive heels. That are comfy out of the box. Of course, starting my attempts at heel-wearing in the late 80s, primetime for the painful, pointy shoe, probably had a lot to do with it.)

  • Janice

    You are a girl after my own heart!

  • Great tips, Sal. I think I will sign up for the 6pm alerts. Like Sue, I do a search of reviews first and always hone in that key word: “comfortable”. The rest I am content to admire from afar, as you put it : >

  • Sally, you have changed the way I view shoes. I had never known about Tsubo, Fluevog, etc. before your site..now I am searching for those styles…chunky, sculptural and comfortable. Love your blog and your style. Thanks.

  • I’m so glad that you made this! Shoes are the last thing on my mind when I go out shopping. I usually put some flats on as a last resort and while I’m walking around town I find myself wishing that I put more effort into shoe shopping. Thank you for giving us non-experience shoe buyers the help we need!

  • ali

    Sally, I found your site when I was searching for Fluevog Guides, and the whole world of fashion blogging (stylish gals who love gorgeous clothing! My friends appreciate, but don’t ‘get’ my clothing lust, so I’m now hooked).

    The Guides are the best shoes ever – fun, quirky, platform makes it look like a heel but wear like flats, rubber no-slip soles…I was practical and bought the brown. Got a new job, immediately went home and bought the blue. Love ’em.

    I find Fluevog quality to be better if you stick to the classic styles and more substantial soles – Oprettas, Angels, etc. And the salespeople are awesome (via email or phone) at helping you figure out their very inconsistent sizing.

    El Naturalista also makes fun, comfortable eco-friendly shoes. I love that your shoes look great and good to your feet.

  • Cel

    I’m currently stalking a pair of Jeffrey Campbell sandals… have been for weeks… I can’t afford to pay full price AND the $22 of shipping involved! I actually wind up asking for the wrong shoe size in most shoe stores just because I fluctuate from 8-9.5 in so many.

  • Anne

    Sally, you’ve given some really great information here. Shoes have the amazing ability to turn an outfit from shlumpy to chic. Here are my additional two cents: Piperlime is a great shoe resource. The site is very easy to drive and you can find a pair of shoes, put them in your shopping cart and let them sit until you can afford them or they go out of stock. They always offer free returns and very affordable shipping. My other advice is find a good shoe repairer. My upper limit for shoe prices is $150.00 but I extend the life of my shoes by having them repaired and resoled. I have also turned “Sitting shoes” into “Walking shoes” by having them stretched. Last little bit: don’t forget shoe polish.

  • Tanya

    Hi!

    I’ve been following you for a while but this is my first comment…
    Something that I would like to add to your list here, and I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, but: find a good cobbler. I work for one of the shoe companies you mention in your post, and when it comes to fit we always consider length first, i.e. is the shoe/boot long enough for your foot? Second, we check out the width, so a snug fit is good (because leather opens up and molds to your foot naturally). But a tight fit is not – having said that, though, this is where the cobbler comes in. Not only can your cobbler resole, reheel, restitch, etc, your shoes when needed, he/she can stretch out the width and get that naturally-occurring-leather-opening-up-process moving along. You can’t change the length of your shoes, but you can change the width. Personally, I stretch almost all my shoes because my baby toes are rarely happy in any shoe at all, and I can’t think if they’re not happy!

    Thanks! Loving your blog!

    • Sal

      Great tips, Tanya! And a good cobbler is key to any shoe collection.

  • Sal, I can’t thank you enough for letting us know about 6pm! I’ve been browing their website for about half an hour and I am impressed by the prices, the picture quality and the wonderful selection! 😀

  • Aziraphale

    Ah, shoes. A topic near and dear to my heart.

    Yes, I employ some of those shoe-shopping techniques. Like you, I think Fluevog and Tsubo are fantastic brands. They have never let me down in terms of quality and comfort. My favourite pairs of shoes/boots are all Fluevogs, although I have a pair of white Tsubo knee-high boots that deserve an honourable mention because they look darn cute with short skirts and get a lot of wear since they’re flat and SO comfy. But I rarely buy expensive shoes on sale. I think this is because I’ve been burned a few times by waiting until the pair I covet goes on sale, only to find that my size is gone, gone, gone.

    So to avoid spending thousands of dollars on shoes I don’t step out of the house very often with the intention of buying any; however, there are a few shoe stores I can’t resist popping into when I’m out and about, and once in a while I’ll fall in love with a pair. When that happens, I first decide if I can afford them, and then I’ll try them on and see if they are comfy. Then I go home and read ALL THE REVIEWS before going back to get them. I guess, since I generally don’t leave the house with the intention of buying shoes, that I am a somewhat impulsive shoe buyer — but it’s a cautious sort of impulsive!

  • Barb in Minn.

    I am always amazed to see so many women walking around in shoes that aren’t the right size. Most common with sandals – toes or heels hanging over the ends.

    • KL

      I wish I had that problem! I’ve only recently been kind enough to myself–and able to afford–to buy ONLY shoes that actually fit. Which means, no more size 6 strappy sandals that “fit” because the straps keep them on my feet, even though they’re obviously too long for my (true size 5) feet.

      • One reason for might be the width of the shoe. I have long (size 9) but narrow feet, and sandals are usually too wide for me. I do not buy any where my toes hang out, but I can definitely see the temptation to get sandals with straps that fit well, even if the shoe is too short.

        • Katharine

          Also, with toes popping out of heeled sandals, sometimes it’s just the angle of the shoe. I have a pair of open-toed slingback sandals that fit me perfectly when I’m standing still, but as soon as I walk in them, my toes come out over the edge.

          I really need a pair of Foot Petals for them, but the local drugstores stocked them last year and seem to have gotten rid of them again, and I can’t find anything similar.

  • Aziraphale

    I should add that I almost never shop online for shoes. The only time I have done so was to replace some Rocket Dog snow boots that had worn out, but I was ordering the same size and colour that I had the first time. I got them from Zappos.ca. I’m Canadian too, so the shipping can be a pain. I guess the reason I don’t shop online for shoes (besides the annoying shipping fees) is that there are so many beautiful shoes available in Vancouver in brick-and-mortar stores that I already have to restrain myself from overspending…why add to the temptation?

  • Fel

    This is really helpful, thanks for the tips! 🙂

  • Buy shoes that you will wear – AMEN! I used to buy “pretty-but-who-cares-if-they-fit-right” shoes by the dozen, only to wear the same old ragged comfortable pair every day. Wearability is my number 1 rule these days. 🙂

  • I definitely do a lot of this. I have literally stalked pairs of shoes for up to a year and a half. I’ve gotten $400 boots for a minimum of 60-70% retail. Example: I DIED over those Hepats from Tsubo’s fall/winter 2010. I put a mental note back in my head. I checked ebay, amazon, and endless to no avail. Only a pair of 5.5 left. But 6pm.com had them in both sizes 6 and 7. They were still $200 when I first checked, but this weekend they dropped down even further with additional free 2 day shipping and I pounced! They arrived today and I am in love! You were so right about them being insanely comfortable.

    Unlike some commentors, I don’t have anywhere to shop for quality shoes with quirky details – so I rely almost entirely on the internet for my shoe shopping. I try to also watch my favorite bloggers purchases to get feedback on brands. I’d rather read it from someone I’ve come to trust than a handful of reviewers on the site who don’t say anything about quality or fit.

    I disagree with signing up for newsletters unless you buy a lot of shoes or clothes. I’m too tempted by even looking and having stuff show up daily/weekly would make me feel like I need to shop more than I do. I do think you should bookmark if you’re really interested in a shoe and want to wait down the price.

  • I usually shop one place for shoes: Winner (TJ Maxx in Canada). I’ve been lucky, but they’re kind of boring and always cheap. For for investment shoes, which after discovering this blog I’m really thinking is the way to go, I will try in person first then look online. I did spend an enjoyable lunch hour at Fluevog’s experiencing their shoes. Some worked great for me, some not so much. Good information to tuck away.

  • I have horrible feet. They’re narrow with very high arches and morton’s toe (where the second toe is longer than your big toe). This means that when I walk, all my weight gets thrown onto that long toe, my feet roll inward, and my arches collapse in a big way. My feet are always in pain. I’ve worn shoes with 2 arch supports at once and they still don’t help. I work on my feet all day and sometimes I end up stuffing wads of paper towels in the arch just to get through the rest of the day. It’s ridiculous! And it’s hard to find any kind of shoe that fits right- it has to be long enough to accommodate the wonky toe and narrow enough not to flop off my heels.

  • Thank you Sally for the compliment.

    Winston Queensborough

    R-A-W SHOES BLOG

  • LQ

    If we’re doing shoe shopping free-for-all in this thread, any tips for TALL feet would be appreciated. Plenty of resources for wide out there (and I recognize wide is plenty challenging) but nothing much for tall. I have size 9, B width feet with really high insteps. I have a lot of trouble with otherwise terrific shoes, the right length and width, whose vamps cut cruelly across the top of my foot. Adding width does NOT help, with the exception of a pointy-toed slingback or d’orsay where the toe box is fundamentally narrow and is independent enough to kind of redistribute its extra upward.

    I am doing OK with Miz Mooz lately BLESS THEM but I’d love tipoffs to any other likely brands or outlets, other than the really hardcore comfort brands like Merrell, which get me through the summer but are not a source of elegance or delight.

    • Mona

      Have you tried Aerosoles shoes? I wear Size 9, and there usually seems to be space on top of my foot (assuming that this is what instep means), and I have not bought some of their booties because of that, maybe it works for you. Their shoes can also be on the frumpy side, but they sometimes have nice sandals. Good luck!

      • LQ

        Mixed success with Aerosoles, but yeah, they do fit OK in that specific wa,y and I probably should have cited them for it. They never seem to pan out as comfortably in other respects as they theoretically should, but they’re respectable, comfortwise. Trouble is they aren’t my style. Any of my styles. I mean, if I’m going for insouciant comfort at all costs (Merrell), I want that; if I’m going for chunky-quirky (Fluevog although not alas for me), I want that; if I’m going for elegant-femme (Stuart Weitzman), I want that. Often, Aerosoles seem like they’re trying for a prudent middle ground, and they just end up achieving this very sad profound mediocrity on all three axes.

  • Great tips Sal! I already do most of these, and then because I’m in between sizes I also scour the internet for reviews of the pair I’m considering. That helps me figure out whether to order up or down in size.

  • I’d say another important thing to keep in mind is what you already own. For instance, I’m moving right now and I discovered I own 3+ pairs of black pumps and 9+ pairs of sandals. Needless to say, when you’re immediately enthralled by a pair of shoes–make sure you don’t have a VERY similar pair already in your closet.

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