Walk This Way

If you want to dictate someone’s character, buy their shoes.

No, this Aabservation isn’t about how shoes look — it’s about how shoes feel. Sure, a shoe’s appearance sends a message about the wearer’s social group and personality. But a deeper reason, I think, is that shoes physically affect how we walk. And how we walk affects our mood.

Two weeks ago (wearing slightly heeled boots), I power walked around New York City. I’d arrive each place somewhat breathless from walking briskly, my brain whirling with the increased blood flow. One such whirling thought was this: could the city’s energy stem from the fact that its residents literally have to run around it, and therefore end up at each meeting physically energized?

As I got my breath back, I watched closely how people walked. Amazingly, people’s shoes were completely affecting their gait. Next time you’re outside, try it yourself: watch people walking down the street, but don’t look at their shoes. Then, just by their gait, try to guess what shoes they are wearing — not just whether they are sneakers or how high the heel is, but how shiny they are, how new, how well they fit. Chances are you’ll be able to describe their shoes most of the time.

To see why shoes have such an impact on our mood, let’s take an easy example: the flip flop. You cannot run in a flip flop. You can’t even hustle down the street at a New York pace. Your toes are vulnerable to being trodden on, so you are less aggressive walking. To keep the flip flop on your foot, you have to tense up your toes and lunge forward more tentatively with each step. Dog poop is terrifying.

Now, wear a boot. The heel clicks like a metronome as you clatter across the concrete — you are on a mission. You could step on anything and squish it without a care. You feel in control, protected, powerful.

Unless it has high heels. Take the most driven, self-confident woman you know, put her in (or really on) a pair of high heels, and not only can she not rule the world, she can’t walk five blocks. Due to her shoes, she’s become vulnerable. She looks around, like a ballerina, for a prince in stable shoes to hold on to — which is probably why she chose to wear such silly things in the first place. (And why he decided to wear those power Oxfords — solid, stable, secure.)

Shorten her heel to something a bit more reasonable and voila, you get the power pump. She’s a bit more stable now, but taller than she’d be at home; in her power pump, she doesn’t have to look up at (or really to) as many people. The calf muscle is already engaged, ready to pounce.

Yet though this seems obvious, think of the last time you consciously thought about how a new pair of shoes would affect your gait. We try on shoes standing in front of the mirror, not parading around Parade of Shoes. There’s a gap there that the MBA student in me wants filled: for some shoe company to really study this relationship between shoes, gait and mood, and scientifically develop shoes that help us better become the person we want to be. Mood shoes.

If that’s too commercial a challenge, how about this one instead: isn’t it a peculiar coincidence that history is the story of men with boots conquering those with flip flops? Might Jared Diamond have got it wrong — that really it’s Guns, Germs and Boots? Apologies in advance, Dr Diamond: I didn’t mean to step on your toes.

Cheers,

Liz Aab http://www.lizaab.com/