Reader Alyssa and I e-mailed back and forth about her fabulous question before I got a bead on it. She’s got a very small wardrobe of shoes – one pair for each season – and initially it sounded like she needed some general shoe-incorporation advice. I sent along these links, which were somewhat helpful:
But, in the end, she was looking for guidance on how to WEAR fun and interesting shoes, and how the choice is made to do eye-catching shoes over, say, leg-elongating ones. She wrote:
Bloggers often say they knew the outfit needed something else, or repeat that interesting shoes make the outfit. How does one decide that a fantastic shoe is the needed tweak (not a different accessory)? Or why would a pretty/colorful shoe be required to give oomph to the outfit, as opposed to an appropriate shoe in your base neutral that blends in? I guess I don’t understand the rationale behind when to choose a colorful shoe. Brown (or black, for others) just goes with everything! (Barring cream skirts in summer, of course). And is there anything else to consider other than color when using shoes as a statement accessory?
Whew. Toughie. Shoe choice is often informed by personal preference for color, style, balance, and many other factors. And especially since there is no “right” way to choose shoes, it’s difficult to explain how I – or anyone else – knows which shoes to pick to make an outfit work. But here are a couple of ideas that I floated to Alyssa:
Shoes can be a focal point
Take these for instance. They’re colorful, complex, and statement-y. The outfit I wore to accompany them isn’t completely plain, but it doesn’t have a lot of pattern, texture, or layering going on. And all of the clothing and accessories are mirroring the colors of the shoes. This doesn’t apply to Alyssa’s current collection or philosophy since she’s working with a very small group of shoe options, but one way that shoes can “make” an outfit is if they’re very bold, interesting, or unusual in and of themselves and the outfit built around them is purposely subdued.
Shoes can mirror outfit elements
When you’ve got a few colorful pairs in your stash, they can enhance your outfits by mirroring colors or textures present elsewhere. If you’re wearing black pants and a shirt with red, white, and black in it, you could certainly do black shoes to elongate your leg, but red shoes will add a bit more sass. (More on how to make this work in the Incorporating Colorful Shoes post.)
Shoes can create contrast
Outfits that juxtapose looks typically use shoes to do so. An entirely princesslike ensemble with combat boots, for instance. Or a moto and ripped jeans with patent stilettos. You can use shoes to create a pleasing sense of contrast within a single ensemble, and by doing so they often become the piece that creates both harmony and interest.
Alyssa was also interested in the choice to utilize an interesting shoe, as opposed to another eye-catching accessory or accent. In my opinion, that choice is generally about balance and focus. In terms of balance, if there’s a lot of color, pattern, or texture around your face, choosing flashy jewelry or a bold belt may make the outfit feel crowded toward the top. Doing funky shoes will spread the joy around a little and create overall visual balance. In terms of focus, depending on how an outfit fits and falls, you may want to redirect the focus of the observing eye. If you’re wearing something that fits snugly around your midsection and that makes you anxious, you may want to draw the eye downward toward your legs and feet instead of highlighting your waist.