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; and ShoeBlog covers the gamut from glam to budget.

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: My favorite shoe brands include Tsubo, Fluevog, and Frye. NOT ONE OF THEM has consistent sizing. And while that's immensely frustrating, I can use my hard-earned knowledge when I shop. If I buy any of those brands under "final sale" conditions, I am prepared to end up with ill-fitting dud shoes. If I can avoid buying any of those brands 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 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.

Was this helpful? Are you already employing any of these techniques? How do you shop for shoes? Are you patient and methodical, or impulsive? Any shoe-purchasing triumphs you care to share? Resources for shoe stalking or shopping?

Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.

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