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Professional Shoe Wardrobe Expert Tips

Sandy Dumont

Shoes can make you or break you in the corporate world, believe it or not. How does a shoe get you that promotion or leave you chained to the same desk you've been at for 10 years? What colors should you stay away from? How do you incorporate your own shoe style into your work wardrobe? LoveToKnow chatted with image stylist Sandy Dumont about how shoes can influence others' opinions of you.

Improving Your Shoe Wardrobe

LTK: What are some of the first things you change about a client's shoe wardrobe when they come to you for assistance?

Sandy Dumont (SD): The first thing I find out is how important shoes are to the person. If you are a shoe person you will "require" more shoes than the average person. Budget is also a factor. If money is no object, you may decide to have shoes for every outfit, for example.

However, for the average client, I advise building a basic wardrobe around a few great black skirts and/or pants, and then creating new "looks" with jackets in different colors and coordinating shoes.

Then, you will have the option of either getting a variety of really good black shoes in a variety of styles and heel heights, with the further option of getting shoes in two tones to match your ensemble. For example, you might find a black jacket with red trim, so you could opt for a pair of black shoes with red trim. Think of the classic Chanel shoes that are mostly black, with a red toe top. The same shoes would still go with a red suit.

If shoes are not that important to you, you could get by with a few pair of really great pumps in black in varying heel heights, including flats for pantsuits if you like comfort.

What Designers Don't Acknowledge -- That You Should

LTK: You mentioned that there's a lot of technical information shoe designers don't know. Would you mind elaborating?

SD: Shoe designers rarely think in terms of "line" and the impression that line creates. Line is crucial to everything in image, and particularly shoes. For example, the new look that is being pushed by shoe designers is round-toed shoe. This look will not last, because it makes women's feet look fat and squatty, like a peasant's foot.

  • In the days of European royalty, peasants went barefoot, and royalty wore shoes. Thus, they had slim, elegant feet and peasants had wide squat feet. The symbology still lingers, and shoes with slim heels and sleek-looking pointy toes look the most elegant and chic. When it comes to flats, however, the effect is just the opposite.
  • Round toes offer an advantage, because the feet will appear to be petite, especially when there is "cleavage." Conversely, flats with pointed toes make the feet appear very long, and this is read as "big feet."
  • Square-toed shoes should be outlawed forever for both men and women. They are neither elegant nor natural in terms of line. They make the feet appear large and clumsy, and they affect the overall image, causing a person to be judged as rather clumsy in general. Nevertheless, they pop up regularly, presumably so shoe designers can have something "new" to sell.

Choosing Shoe Colors

LTK: Should we stick with the basics--brown shoes, black shoes, navy blue shoes, etc, or is it okay for women match their shoes to their shirts or dresses?

SD: The basic rule of thumb is that the darker the color, the smaller the feet look. In all the years I have been an image consultant, I have never had a client ask me how I could make his or her feet appear larger. You do not want the feet to be the focal point, and if the eyes are riveted to the feet, something is wrong. That is why it is best to match your shoes to your skirt rather than your top.

For example, if you are wearing a black skirt with a white jacket, you do NOT want to wear white shoes, because the white shoes create a high contrast with black and would catch the eye too much, taking the attention from the face. In essence, the shoes would wear you instead of you wearing them.

The face must always remain the focal point, never the feet. If you love shoes and want a different pair for every outfit, you could opt for Chanel-style shoes that are mostly black with a white toe-tip to go with your black skirt and white jacket.

Improve Your Appearance with the Right Shoe

LTK: I've heard that wearing pointed-toe shoes in the same color as your pants, with the hem of the pants reaching mid-heel, is a great way to create the illusion of longer legs. Do you have any other tips similar to this for improving your overall appearance?

SD: The illustration you mention will be even more effective with stockings in a matching or "blending" color. If your pants and shoes are both black, for example, and you see white skin at the top of the foot, the high contrast of these two colors will demand attention and bring the eye down. Bringing the eyes up to the face is the desired result.

The majority of my clients want to appear thinner, and the best way to do this is to create a "sweeping" line of uninterrupted color from head to toe. You will then be perceived to have a tall, sweeping figure--so you will look thinner.

You will even appear thinner in oft-forbidden colors such as red or white, because the "you" that they see will encompass the tip of your shoes to the top of your pantsuit. This works best with pants, because you can have fuchsia shoes with a fuchsia pantsuit, but you may not necessarily want fuchsia legs with a skirted suit. I would suggest wearing nude stockings with bright shoes and matching skirt.

The Designer Shoe Scoop

LTK: How important is it, really, to buy designer shoes? How can our readers learn to spot a great pair of inexpensive shoes? Rumor has it, expensive shoes are a must. There has to be a way to maintain a professional, put-together image without spending a fortune, right?

SD: It is all hype that designer shoes are somehow better. To think that they are necessary in order to look put-together is even more hype! It IS true that cheap shoes may make your feet hurt and cause calluses or bunions, but a pair of "good" shoes with leather inside and out will not--provided the fit is right.

  • The "last" of a shoe has to do with the shape and general support of a shoe--in other words, the fit. Each shoe designer has little nuances, and you will eventually discover that one or two shoe manufacturers make shoes that fit you perfectly. The most expensive designer shoes in the world may have a last that does not suit the shape of your foot.
  • "Style" doesn't have to be expensive to achieve. There is a difference between being sStylish and being in style. Being in style means that you wear whatever is in style at the moment, whether or not it makes you look better. Being stylish means that you are eternally elegant and fashionable.
  • My advice is to look for basic pumps made of 100% leather inside and out. Pumps have the highest versatility and the most comfort. They span the seasons and the hours of the day. If you have wide feet, make sure they have a low vamp with lots of cleavage to make your feet look slimmer. If you have ultra-narrow feet, the vamp can be higher.

Use Your Heels to Climb Higher

LTK: What tips do you have for using shoes in an image improvement to get a promotion?

SD: The most professional look is a plain pump without any frills. You want to look serious, not frivolous. One of the most common complaints I get from bosses has to do with shoes. They dislike sandals and any kind of open-toed shoes.

If you are a shoe fanatic and just love shoes that stand out, you may have to forego your passion at the office. Serious professionals consider fashion a tool that helps them appear polished and professional. You want to look fashionable and state-of-the-art, but not over the top. This applies to shoes as well as garments.

LTK: How would you describe the ultimate "power shoes" for men and for women?

SD: For women, as mentioned, it is a well-made and well-cut pump in high-quality leather. My choice is a pump with a pointed toe that is not too exaggerated with an attractive heel of two or three inches. No clunky heels, please. If comfort is important, you can find hourglass heels of 1 1/2 inches that look fabulous. If you have a back problem, wear pantsuits so you can live in flats!

For men, lace-up shoes in a wing tip style (brogues) or a cap toe style are the most elegant and powerful looking. Wing tips are for daytime, but cap toes can be worn for evening as well as daytime, so they have more versatility. Boots and loafers are not power shoes. They are for casual wear or a less-formal look.

Remember to let shoes air out for a day before wearing them again. Shoes must never look run-down or in need of being polished. Scruffy shoes say scruffy attitude in general.

Relaxing in Comfortable Style

LTK: What are your favorite types of casual shoes for weekends and other time off?

SD: For women, I love flats in the Chanel style. My favorite is a black leather shoe with a black patent leather toe. A navy blue version would be my second choice, followed by a pair of old-fashioned Keds in black as well as white. I always wear black jeans or very dark navy blue ones, and the flats enable me to dress my jeans up a bit (using a smart belt and earrings), while the Keds make them look casual.

For men, I love tasseled loafers. They are far more elegant than loafers with buckles. Boat shoes such as Dockers also look quite classy with jeans or casual wear. I don't really care for men's strapped sandals with jeans or Bermudas, except on the boardwalk.

Look Your Best

By choosing the right style, color, and fit, your shoes can help you look your best. With thge number of choices in shoe styles and brands available today, you cna build shoe wardrobe that meets all your needs, from work to play, in style.

For more information about Sandy Dumont, visit the about page of her web site. You can also brows a wealth of information, including before and after photos style information specific to men and women, and get tips from Sandy's blog.

Professional Shoe Wardrobe Expert Tips