Shoes at the heart of a woman’s soul

By Rachel Sauer The Gazette (KRT) COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. _ We begin our pilgrimage into a woman’s heart outside the Discount Shoe Warehouse (DSW) store in Littleton, Colo. For spiritual guidance, we say a reverent “Hail Imelda,” then push open the double glass doors to paradise. Pausing just inside this cavernous temple, we are dazzled and stunned. It’s a vision of wonder: row upon row upon row of shoes in the Discount Shoe Warehouse. Shoes on sale. Shoes on clearance. Shoes in every color. Shoes with straps or buckles or Gore-Tex lining. Shoes for hundreds, maybe thousands, of feet. In this temporary state of grace, the heart of woman is revealed _ and it’s suede with a two-inch heel. The love affair between women and shoes runs deep. Often it’s something beyond words, a visceral and pure devotion to sling backs and kitten heels. “I just love shoes,” said Leslie Renda of Castle Rock, Colo., as she perused the clearance racks at DSW. “I don’t know if I can explain why. I used to have 80 pairs. Now when I get a new pair I have to hide them. My husband says, `Are those new?’ `No!'” It’s simply the joy of shoes, a joy recognized early by most girls, one that grows with age. Consider the fairy tales little girls are told: Cinderella with her glass slippers, which help her win the prince’s heart. Dorothy’s ruby slippers, which take her home. Shoes never cause a woman to question whether she looks fat in them. They have the power to improve an otherwise bleak day. Shoes provide a solid foundation for whatever complex psychology is going on with the rest of the outfit. Shoes, wrote author Nicholson Baker, “are the first adult machines we are given to master.” And women are masters. In the first 10 months of 2002, U.S. women spent $16 billion on 545 million pairs of shoes, compared to the $13 billion men spent on 284 million pairs, according to the NPD Group, a New York-based research group that tracks retail sales and trends. “There’s such variety with shoes that a woman can really reflect her personality with them,” said Diane Bucci, manager of the Littleton DSW store. “She can have shoes to match every outfit. Or she’ll buy a pair that go with only one thing in her wardrobe. We call those one-outfit shoes.” Whereas men tend to limit their shoe purchases to brown, black and sneakers, said DSW assistant manager James Green, women have no problem loading up on wildly impractical shoes, especially if they’re on sale. And especially if they look good, or feel good, or give her a buzz when she glances down and catches a glimpse of them on her feet. Renda described it as a rush, slipping her feet into a new pair of shoes, absorbing their new-shoe smell, walking around in them for the first time. Lisa Athon of Parker, Colo., another DSW customer, can relate. She appreciates the variety available in women’s shoes, and how shoes can update an outfit. Even if a woman can’t afford to purge her wardrobe every season, a new pair of shoes can make her feel stylish and her outfits feel fresh. Much has been made of the shoe-sex connection, of the fetishes and Freudian analyses, of the male-designed subjugation wrought by high heels. Still more has been made of the physiological damage shoes can do, especially high heels. Colorado Springs chiropractor Kerra Foreman said heels cause the spine to shift forward and aggravate existing problems from the lower back to the jaw. Podiatrist Jim Gremillion said women outnumber men four to one in his practice. They buy shoes that are too small, not realizing the average person’s foot swells half a size in width and length during the day. They wear high heels, ignoring the fact that for every inch of heel, another 20 pounds of pressure is inflicted on the ball of the foot. “We’ve made good progress (in educating women about shoes),” he said, “but vanity stands in our way.” Which is a real predicament, because what woman hasn’t been willing to suffer just a little bit for a fabulous pair of shoes? Seeing a woman in torturously pointed heels or ridiculously flimsy sandals is to think, in equal measure, “Dang, that looks painful” and “Dang, those are great shoes.” At least, you’d think that if you’re a woman, because you know what’s in your heart. ___ ‘copy 2003, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Visit GT Online, the World Wide Web site of The Gazette, at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.