Women and Shoes: A Love Story
Long before spiked heels
with exotic names (Louboutin,
anyone?) became objects
of desire, chicks have been
shoe-crazy. But recently, we
got proof of exactly how crazy:
While sales of most things
have plummeted thanks to
the recession, footwear sales
have gone up compared to the
same period last year. Yes,
buying a pair of shoes has always
effects — like instantly updating
an outfit from last year or
just making you feel hotter
than hell — but that doesn't
fully explain how footwear is
beating the odds in sales. Trust
science to have the answer: Turns out, we've always been
wired for shoe lust, even when the going gets tough.
First of all, there's some serious mood-boosting going on
when you try on any kind of apparel. "The neurotransmitter
dopamine is released, providing a feel-good high,
similar to taking a drug," says Martin Lindstrom, a branding
expert for Fortune 100 companies and author of Buyology:
Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. "The dopamine
increases until you swipe your debit card." Usually, the high
then flatlines, and guilt starts creeping in...except, that is,
when the item you're purchasing is a pair of shoes. "Shoppers
rationalize shoes as a practical buy — something they
can wear multiple times a week — so they hold on to that
pleasurable feeling longer," says Lindstrom.
But it's not just dopamine at work. Shoes' mood-altering
traits also come from another brain reaction, says Lindstrom.
Buying new footwear stimulates an area of the
brain's prefrontal cortex termed the collecting spot. "Shoes
are a collector's item, whether women realize they perceive
them that way or not," says Suzanne Ferriss,
PhD, editor of Footnotes: On Shoes. Just
think of how they're often stored artfully on
shoe trees and shelves. "They're like sculptures,"
says Ferriss. As a result, collecting
each type provides a mini-adrenaline rush
similar to the satisfaction a stamp collector
gets when he acquires a rare find.
A Higher Power
All those wonderful feelings are intensified when you choose
high heels...but again, it's biology, not Jimmy Choo, at work.
"Like most animals, we're wired to associate height with
power," says Helen Fisher, PhD, professor of anthropology
at Rutgers University. "High heels can literally raise your
status because you're taller when you wear them."
Heels carry historical significance as well, adding to their
appeal. In previous centuries, only the wealthy wore high
heels — everyone else had practical footwear to do manual
labor. "Shoes were a measure of class," says Fisher, "and
we still have a bit of that mind-set ingrained in us."
Now go even higher — to stilettos — and another element
rears its head: sex. Stilettos are undoubtedly foxy, but
why, exactly? "When a woman wears them, she assumes
a primal mating pose called lordosis," says Fisher. "Her
butt lifts, and her back arches."
But there's more to it than how hot your ass looks. According
to Daniel Amen, MD, author of The Brain in
Love, our minds are structured in a way
that may associate feet with sex. "The area
of the brain that communicates with the
genitals is right next to the area that deals
with the feet," says Dr. Amen. "These regions
share neural crosstalk, which may be
why shoes can be erotic." And we thought
it was just our lust for high style talking.