The Meaning Behind Women’s Obsession With Shoes

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Beth Shak and her shoes. Photo: Courtesy of Caid Productions

When Net-a-porter's sale site TheOutnet.com hosts a Christian Louboutin flash sale, a pair of shoes is sold every nine seconds. All the shoes usually sell out within a couple of hours. This kind of ravenous purchasing behavior is unique to footwear, the site's director Stephanie Phair says: "It’s the fastest shopping we see. Women really do sit on their computers and have insane trigger fingers when it comes to shoes." The new film God Save My Shoes, which the Outnet screened this week, explores why women are so obsessed with shoes. Women's shoes account for 60 percent of the $40 billion worth of shoes sold in the U.S. each year — men's and kid's purchases aren't even half of that — and many of the shoes women buy are totally impractical and uncomfortable. So, why do we do it? What is it about shoes? The film's director Julie Benasra interviewed dozens of shoe obsessives and collectors, like Fergie, Kelly Rowland, and poker player Beth Shak (who has 1,200 pairs) for the film to find out why. Here, she explains:

Why a movie about shoes?
Initially it wasn’t my idea, it was the producer's idea. When he was shooting his previous documentary on the history of sneakers, he was looking at these guys with their crazy sneaker collection, and he was thinking: Men and their sneakers is one thing, but women and their shoes — it’s the next level. Men and their sneakers, it’s a smaller niche, but women and shoes, it’s 90 percent of women.

Were you worried about making women look overly materialistic?
I was. I was afraid that it could sound a little shallow at first, but there are so many layers that are really interesting in the shoe itself — the psychological aspect, the sociological aspect, the pop culture aspect. When the stiletto was invented in the fifties, that’s when Playboy was invented too. But for women, it doesn’t matter what their social level is, whether they can afford $800 Christian Louoboutin shoes or Payless shoes — the emotion, the obsession, is exactly the same.

But how much is there to say about shoes?
I realized there are so many layers, psychologically speaking, socially speaking, culturally speaking — there is this symbolism in shoes. It's a one-hour film, but it could have been three hours long, there is so much to say and so much I didn’t say.

Why do you think most shoe designers are men?
Even in clothing design most designers are men — the big names like Karl Lagerfeld, McQueen, and Jean Paul Gaultier, and all that, they’re men. I think historically speaking in terms of shoemaking, it was a man’s line of work, it was passed on from father to son. And it’s working the leather — it’s difficult work with the hammer, the nails, and all that, so there’s a historical tradition. I’m not sure if that has to do with designers being male or female.