How Many Pairs of Shoes Does a Woman Really Need?

closet shelves filled with women's shoes

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I have too many shoes. Even after a purge last year, when I donated five gently used pairs and received one pair back from Naya shoes to style in various ways, I still have shoes taking up space in my closet (and my head — where I consider them each time I put together an ensemble and inevitably end up dismissing them). Too many of anything you don't need is wasteful and resource-sucking.

Reading through Caitlin Moran's hilarious new feminist memoir/call-to-arms, "How to Be a Woman," I noticed she spent almost as much time on her lifetime of frustrations with shoes as she does on the birth of her first child. The problem is that shoe buying is easy, but wearing shoes is hard. Moran resorts to wearing men's shoes, which she says are less expensive, made better, and are far more comfortable. While I love a great pair of cowboy boots, Doc Martin's or flip-flops, all of which are pretty unisex, but unlike Moran, I love a good heel, and I don't hate wearing them. (Her problems walking in even slightly heeled shoes sound a little pathological, or maybe she has strangely shaped feet.)

That being said, I still have too many shoes. But I think I'm getting close to figuring out how many I actually, really need. About 12 pairs, but only 10 would be out at any one time (I live in a very seasonal part of the country). FYI, I work from home, but also attend events and meetings regularly, some of them "fancy," so I can't get away with just wearing the same pair of sandals every day.

Here's my list:

Two Pairs of Running Sneakers

I run and trail run - it's important to not only have a dry pair ready to go when you need it, but I like to run in a very thin, light sneaker (sometimes referred to as a 'barefoot' shoe) when I'm in the woods. It's fun to feel the trail under your feet and make adjustments to terrain on the fly. I like a slightly more cushioned pair for running on concrete, even though I practice the barefoot running style. (Obviously, if you do other sports, you might not need two pairs).

One Pair of Good Quality Flip-flops

I like Havianas because they last forever, are made well, and come in a zillion colors and iterations. It's easy to have a small wardrobe of flip-flops, but you only need one good pair since it's not like you have to wait for them to dry if you get caught wearing them in the rain.

Two Pairs of Brightly Colored Sandals With Heels

Like Moran mentions in her book, bright yellow sandals are surprisingly versatile. My other color would be red, or maybe a bright blue. These are fun shoes, but should be shoes you can wear to work, casual outings, and are comfortable and easy to clean. I would choose one with a very low heel and the other with a slightly higher (an inch and a half, maybe).

Nude-colored Ballet Flats or Flat Sandals

Don't break up the leg — especially if you're wearing flats — by wearing a strong color on your foot. These should be dressier than flip flops, but skip the bejeweled stuff.

Two Pairs of Boots, One High, One Low

These are your go-to's in fall, winter and spring. They should make you wince a bit at their cost, because good quality boots are expensive to make.

Hiking Sandals

I love to hike and check out rivers, streams, ponds, gorges, seas, sounds and oceans. Having open footwear makes water sports in almost any area a lot easier. You don't have to worry about your feet, which can give you access to other areas. I also have a pet peeve about hot feet when I'm out in the summertime. Though this is a very specific shoe, I have had the same pair of them for almost 10 years now (Chakos), so I'll be keeping them around.

Two Pairs of Low-heeled, Cold-weather Shoes

Basically like the sandals above in terms of heels, but one pair should be in black or brown. These replace the sandals when it cools down.

One Pair of Fun Shoes for Dancing

Crazy, sexy, ridiculous, fun shoes for dancing (or just standing in, looking good.) Because we all need one pair, and if you get them in a classic shape and color, you can wear them for five years or more.

One Pair of Winter Snow Boots

I live in New England and spend time in NYC, where stuff gets really messy in the winter. When I need to (or want to) walk, I know my feet will be kept warm and dry.