Your footwear says obvious stuff about you, like “I’m off for a run” or “I’m off to work”. But according to new research it says a lot more besides
Do you favour the scruffy trainer, the casual loafer or the designer brogue? Are your shoes a key part of your wardrobe or an unnoticed accessory you sling on without thought or feeling?
It doesn’t matter a jot to us, because we all have our own priorities and our own unique style. But you should be aware that your shoes tell a story about you that no other individual item in your wardrobe can match.
So here’s what a man’s shoes says about him – the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
The science of shoes
Your shoes do say something about who you are. But don’t take our word for it. Last month researchers from the University of Kansas published a study in which they took pictures of shoes and asked their owners to fill in detailed questionnaires designed to assess their lifestyles and personality traits. They then asked strangers to judge the wearers’ personalities based on the pictures alone.
And guess what? In a whole raft of areas, the strangers built up a pretty accurate picture of the shoes’ owners from just pictures of their shoes. Their shoe-based guesses matched what the volunteers had revealed in the questionnaires.
Some of it was obvious, of course. Men who earn a lot of money tend to wear expensive shoes, whether they’re dressing up for the office or down for the bar. Whatever type of shoes they were wearing, their footwear tended to be an expensive example of its kind.
Extrovert men tend to wear flashy, colourful shoes, while introverted volunteers went for more muted colours and styles.
Men whose shoes were not new but were well cared for tended to be more conscientious.
Oh, and unsurprisingly the observers were able to identify gender pretty accurately from the pictures of shoes.
Shoes say more than you think
But the study discovered that your shoes are giving away much more than just the obvious stuff. For example, it was found that practical, functional shoes – like walking shoes or boots – tended to be worn by people who are considered agreeable and pleasant, and many of the observers picked up on this trait.
Perhaps most surprising of all, observers were also quite good at judging somebody’s emotional stability from a picture of their shoes.
Emotional stability includes how you are in relationships, how anxious you are about being abandoned, and so on. The study found that those who had ‘attachment anxiety’ – in other words those who fretted most about their relationships – were more likely to have brand new, well-kept shoes. What’s more, strangers often guessed this personality trait simply from the picture.
Why might that be? The researchers theorised that people who are emotionally anxious worry most of all about their appearance, and wear new, well-kept shoes as a result.
According to the researchers, “shoes convey a thin but useful slice of information about their wearers.
“Shoes serve a practical purpose, and also serve as nonverbal cues with symbolic messages. People tend to pay attention to the shoes they and others wear. Shoes have a great variety of styles, brands, looks and functions. Because of this variety, shoes can carry individual difference information, but do they? We suggest that the answer is yes.”
It’s all about context
Away from science, the obvious point to make about shoes is that their message depends on the context in which they’re worn.
For example, wear your scruffy old All Stars at a casual back garden barbecue and you’re the epitome of hipster style and one cool dude. Wear them to your wedding and you’re on a fast track to divorce, and a bit of an idiot.
Context is everything. Here are some other occasions when your shoes will scream out their message about you, and it won’t be one you want to hear:
*Suits with trainers
To some men this may appear quirky. Most people seeing it will consider it trying way too hard. It’s a look that does neither the suit nor the trainers any favours.
*Dirty, scuffed designer shoes
The look of a man who doesn’t care. The idea that you’ve bought expensive shoes and then let them go to pot even smacks of arrogance. Counter-intuitively, it’s a kind of showing off.
*Jeans with running shoes
Jeans with trainers are fine. Jeans with running shoes are one throwback to the 1980s nobody ought to revisit, and it doesn’t matter how much the technical marvels on your feet cost. It marks you out as out-of-touch.
*Socks with sandals
A look that means you’ve given up entirely.
So what do your shoes say about you? Quite a lot as it happens. They tell people what sort of man you are, from how much you earn to what kind of boyfriend you might make. But remember, it’s not so much what you wear as how – and when – you wear them.