Apparently, the average British woman owns 20 pairs of shoes, eleven of which she barely wears. The total value of the average lady's shoe closet? £720, or around $1,189. That means about $660 worth of shoes are sitting idle. Women buy an average of eight new pairs each year. All these are the results of a survey conducted by an insurance company — perhaps, if closets seem like enough of an un-tapped market, we'll all be the targets of ads for shoe insurance policies in the near future. Goody.
It doesn't surprise me at all that many women own multiple pairs of shoes that they rarely, if ever, wear. As with clothing, shoe sizing is inconsistent (sometimes even within the same brand), and fractions of an inch make all the difference between comfort and pain. It's not even just a high heels issue: I currently own two pairs of black flat loafers, because they go with more or less everything and something about the loafer just works for me. One pair, the pebbled leather pair, have been re-soled twice, despite only being a year old. The other pair, the plain leather pair, are three years old but look brand new and mostly get worn while I'm taking out the garbage or popping across the street to buy milk. A long series of insoles and orthotics have all failed to make them truly comfortable enough to walk a long distance in; they rub my heels and give me blisters and feel like they're about to fall off, anyway. And that's what I get for buying plain sensible black shoes made by a reliable, un-fashion-able "quality" brand! It's enough to make a lady want to buy the black and gold platform wedges or the leopard-print booties or the 4.5" snakeskin heels with five buckles. At least those are fun.
The trouble is, you simply don't know how how well a shoe will really fit until you've walked in it, wearing your own socks, on the pavement, for a long time. Trying it on in the store might give you an intimation of a given shoe's points of concern or support, but that first time you really wear the suckers — that's when they reveal their true nature. At which point you're stuck with them, like it or not, because once shoes have been worn outdoors, there's no taking them back to any store. The shoes that really fit, that are cute and go with what you like to wear and allow you to walk as far and as fast as you like, are worth their weight in gold. Recently, I wore one of my favorite pairs of shoes without socks for the first time this season. They are a long-treasured pair of 3" stack-heeled leather-soled Oxfords, which I've worn at least every other day since, I think, 2006 (the best $10.49 I ever spent on eBay). But this time, my shoes did something they've never done before: They gave me blisters. It turns out I've worn away the suede lining in the heel through sheer overuse. Even the leather piping on the edges of the uppers is cracked and worn entirely away in the back. I really don't know what I'm going to do without them. This is a loss that is going to trouble me — this isn't a cut of dress I can replicate, or a shade of lipstick I can get kinda close enough to. It was pure luck that I ever found them and that they happened to fit me so well; how long is it going to take me to be lucky again?
I do continue to buy shoes, even though outcomes are unpredictable. (I just did a closet census: I have twenty pairs that get only occasional use, ten pairs that I wear perhaps 90% of the time, and three pairs that are too old and worn-out to deaccession but too pretty to throw away.) I want very much to believe in the promise of shoes. When I'm staring down a new pair at some sample sale or clothing swap or eBay listing or discount store, I have to believe that this time, a 10 will be a 10 and a 9.5 will be a 9.5 and there will be no insoles that come unglued, no wobbly heels, no balance issues, no imperfections, and that all my deepest podiatric hopes will come true. I am often disappointed. But otherwise I'd have no shoes at all.