Oh, the feeling of trying on a gorgeous new pair of shoes, the giddiness that ensues after the initial slip on, the swiping of the credit card, the justification of their practicality, the enjoyment of your new gems on your feet.
There’s nothing quite like the highs and lows of buying a new pair of shoes (yes, there are lows, too – ever felt guilty about your purchase?).
But that doesn’t exactly explain why women love spending money to dress their feet so much. It’s a phenomenon, really, the world’s infatuation with shoes.
Women across the globe are obsessed with adorning their feet in the most elaborate, but not always the most comfortable, and most expensive shoes they can find.
Is there an explanation for those feelings associated with buying and wearing a great pair of shoes? Or does it all just sort of happen? Well, read on.
Believe it or not, there are some scientific factors in the feelings associated with purchasing a pair of new shoes. For starters, think about how trying on clothes makes you feel. It’s usually a pretty good reaction. That’s because when you try on apparel of any kind, your brain releases higher levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes you happy.
Your brain continues to release these crazy amounts of dopamine throughout the trying on process – that’s why as you’re trying to justify your purchase or simply decide on it, you can’t stop looking at the shoes. They literally make you happy.
Because of this reaction in the brain, shoes are actually considered “treat” items, things that women will go out and buy when they’re either feeling down and are in a bad mood or want to celebrate something and treat themselves. It’s a little practice we so lovingly refer to as “retail therapy,” and shoes are a highly coveted item on therapy sprees.
Now for the lows of your happy, excuse me, shopping, spree. The dopamine levels actually start to decrease as soon as you take your purchase to the register and the cashier rings up the total and begins swiping your card. That’s when the feelings of guilt start to arise, while the dopamine levels decrease. Now it’s time to start the justification process.
Once the dopamine is down and the guilt is up, you start to justify your purchase by saying things like, “Well, I’ll wear them several times a week” or “They’ll go perfectly with dresses, jeans and shorts!” If a woman can walk out of a shoe store feeling good about her purchase, she wins!
Just kidding – science does show, though, that there is still a significant amount of dopamine left in the brain even after the guilt has set in, so women tend to have no problem at all justifying their purchases, and in fact, feel better leaving the store than they did when they went in.
There’s another part of women’s brains that’s hard at work while making a shoe purchase, too. It’s an area of the prefrontal cortex that’s referred to as the collecting spot. Women tend to see shoes as a collector’s item, whether they think they do or not, and end up displaying their shoes proudly, thereby wishing to collect as many different kinds as they can get their hands on.
It’s a similar reaction to the natural high that a baseball card collector gets when he makes a rare find and purchases an impossible-to-get baseball card. Women are simply collectors of shoes and experience the same natural highs.
The human brain is also programmed to associate height with power. Think of how intimidating the tallest person in your office is. Height gives off a perceived power and authority, and tall people usually tend to exude confidence.
Women, who are naturally born shorter than men in the majority of cases, notice that wearing high heels and being taller gives them an added sense of power and a major boost in confidence. We could be wearing the most uncomfortable pair of shoes in the world, but they make us walk more carefully and with more confidence, so how they feel no longer matters – it’s all about how they look.
Think about the history of high-fashion shoes, too, and you’ll see that even it plays a role in why today’s women love shoes so much.
Way back when, only the wealthiest people could afford high heels. Women today relate their expensive shoes to displaying wealth (obviously), but even a cheap pair of shoes that looks great can make a woman feel good enough just by wearing them that she exudes more confidence, thereby coming across as more wealthy and successful.
High heels have also historically always been a major sex symbol. Women in the highest pair of stilettos have always been viewed as more sexually attractive to males than women in plain janes or a normal pair of flats. Women today know this and want to capitalize on the look, and knowing that they are more attractive to men usually tends to make them feel happy.
Think, too, about what a high heel can do to a woman’s appearance. It seems to elongate her leg, thin out her ankle and contract her calf just enough to show its definition and make it look more pronounced. Women aren’t stupid when it comes to high heels – they know how a good pair of shoes makes them look and most men can probably agree that women certainly know how to use heels to their advantage!
And still, there’s just an overall feeling of overwhelming happiness when you return home with a huge shopping bag that houses your brand new pair of designer shoes. It must be a combination of science, psychology and history, but women are, and will forever be, totally obsessed with buying shoes.
Ashley Dean is a freelance writer for several health and beauty publications. She loves her collection of designer shoes, but mostly wears Dansko shoes at work so she doesn’t slip and fall. She encourages women to find shoes that they love and rock them with pride and confidence!