growing a minimalist wardrobe: shoes.

October 23, 2014
growing a minimalist wardrobe | shoes I probably own too many pairs of shoes. And if not too many, at least more than the minimum that I need. But every minimalist has her Achilles’ heel, right? She might as well have a pretty boot to cover it up with.
Bad jokes aside, if we’re looking for a diagnosis, I’ll be the first to admit that the problem with my shoe collection is not the total number as much as it is the diversity. Not enough range, too much depth.  
I have more clogs than I need and zero dress shoes. This makes twisting my ankle fairly easy and being prepared for anything formal more difficult. But this isn’t a post that offers a perfect formula for minimal shoe preparedness. If you work on your feet all day your needs are no doubt different than mine. If you log long hours at a corporate law firm, there again, I imagine that our footwear needs are quite different. Ditto for people in very snowy climes or very sunny climes, and so on and on.
But as much as my own collection could benefit from some editing and some adding back in, and as much as I can’t know what particulars you might need, I think there are a few things that are right with the shoes in my closet. And these things might help you (and me) get on the path toward a minimalist shoe collection. 
1. Quality:
I try hard to only buy good quality shoes. In high school I had a mortifying habit of indulging in whatever super cheap shoe caught my eye. I ended up with a ridiculous number of shoes, the vast majority of which were shoddily made and even worse looking. These days I try to do better. I’m not a shoe conoisseur, but I tend to go by feel. I look to see if the sole has been well attached, if the stitching is straight, if they have a nice weight to them. I read reviews if I shop online. I ask friends for advice. I make my best judgement. 
2. Comfort: 
All of the shoes in my closet are more or less comfortable. I no longer buy shoes that are uncomfortable just because they’re on sale.  It’s taken me thirty years, but I’ve finally decided that I’m a size 6, not 5.5 and acknowledged that I can’t wear ballet flats or pumps without an ankle strap, because my heels will flop out.* Being honest with myself is usually the first step in this process, practicing letting go is the second. Heh.
3. Repair: 
I have strong feelings about good cobblers. Getting to know one should be at the top of your list if maintaining those shoes you splurged on is a priority. I’ve reheeled my cowgirl and riding boots multiple times each (and have added super slim rubber soles to help protect them from the biggest enemy of leather shoes in this city: sidewalk salt).
growing a minimalist wardrobe | shoes
For the curious:

Clogs: My clogs are made by Sandgrens. They’re affordable—and have really great sales—and they make some nice classic versions which I especially like (Disclosure: Sandgrens have given me clogs in the past, but I have also purchased their shoes on my very own.)

Chelsea boots: John Fluevog just started making these chelsea boots again. I wore them more than anything else last winter. They are a decidedly casual shoe.

Cowgirl boots: My boots are made by Lucchese. They were hand-stitched in Texas. They’re the real deal. Be prepared for some sticker shock.

Frye: I have invested in three pairs of Frye shoes over the course of my adult life (these and these and these) and I’ve found them to be of consistently good quality. And they make a good quality ballet flat with an ankle strap, which: thank goodness.

Saltwaters: Saltwaters are super durable and my very favorite thing for cruising around the city in the summer. So sturdy. So comfortable. And they’re good in a rain storm, too!

Pons: My Pons Avarcas were indispensable this summer with a new baby. I could get myself all strapped into baby carrying mode and not have to worry about bending over to buckle up a sandal.
Sneaks: Have any of you guys bought sneakers at Paragon Sports? It’s the most awe-inspiring, intimidating experience. Those guys know their sneakers. They were disappointed that I chose mine based primarily on looks. But still, a good spot to go if you’re in New York and on the hunt.
*To clarify: I am not so much of a comfort-fiend that I care to eschew style for fit entirely. I do believe in the power of a good heel, I just happen not to own any right now. Suggestions for beautiful, classic, heels (with an ankle strap of some kind, please) are more than welcome. Come one, come all.
**I’m a vegetarian and I sometimes get questioned about wearing leather shoes. I wear them in the name of longevity and style. 
Where I keep my shoes, HERE.

More about Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe, HERE.

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  • Reply Katharine Paljug October 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    I've started buying a lot of my shoes at Planet Shoes:

    They're a pretty eco-conscious company: initiatives to offset carbon emissions from shipping, shoes made in the US or UK, shoes made with recycled or eco-friendly materials, etc.

    Not all the brands they stock fall into the sustainable or ethical category, but they're good quality, which means they last longer, which is always a plus. And the company itself looks pretty good!

    • Reply Erin October 23, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Thanks for the resource!

  • Reply Sarahbeth October 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Man I like you & this series – I'll be so sad when it's over! & I like your honest to goodness worn shoes (I've never understood how folks keep their shoes pristine and cared for like fluffy bunnies). I'm with you on quality not quantity. Side note/ question – do you use a specific leather conditioner on your kicks? Having moved to Colorado I've started to rub a beeswax concoction on my leather winter boots like mad. I'm not so sure it's helping…

    • Reply Erin October 23, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Thanks so much for your note, Sarahbeth! And no worries…I think it'll stick around for awhile!

    • Reply Theresa October 24, 2014 at 12:20 am

      Frye's leather conditioning cream works wonders on smooth and dark leathers (it makes lighter ones darker so be careful if you don't want that).
      It has helped my boots survive the NYC salt and slush and revived several pairs where the leather started to crack. Highly recommended!

  • Reply Jana | One Drawing A Day October 23, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    So have you added a thing rubber sole to your Fryes? I just wish I could wear mine in the rain 🙂

  • Reply Mrs. White October 23, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    My Lucchesse boots have been worth every penny of the $400 they cost. Best boots I've ever owned.

  • Reply Jill October 23, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    I'm super proud of myself for wearing my tall riding boots for a good 4 years now. I used to buy a new pair every year but now I've had these repaired a couple times and they're still looking good. I bought them at Aldo, so they're kinda mid-range in terms of quality, but having the zippers replaced and soles glued back together a few times has still been way cheaper than replacing them.

    • Reply Erin October 23, 2014 at 6:07 pm

      Awesome! Should have said I'd had most of these shoes for many years running! (My riding boots just turned 5 and will no doubt outlive me…ack!)

  • Reply Kate Harvey October 23, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Fryes are my favorites and I was so lucky with the two pairs I own. The first is a pair of red leather boots that I got at TJMaxx for 50% off! (Still expensive, but 50% off!) The second is a pair of crocheted boat shoes and I got them for $20 at a thrift shop on Capitol Hill. They retail for $120 and they were brand new, my size!

    • Reply Erin October 23, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      Good finds!

  • Reply Anonymous October 23, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    How do you style your Lucchesses? I have a gorgeous pair, but I never know how to wear them with jeans– your styling aesthetic matches mine, so I'm curious how you wear those guys. 🙂

    • Reply Erin October 23, 2014 at 6:04 pm

      I just tuck my skinny jeans right into 'em (mine are too wide on my calf to wear with the jeans pulled over them).

  • Reply Alexa October 23, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Ugh, sidewalk salt. Warm water and white vinegar have become my best friends when it comes to keeping my Fryes clean. City life is certainly rough on shoes and I've learned lesson after lesson in getting what you pay for!

    • Reply Alexa November 21, 2014 at 5:46 pm

      Follow up question: How long have you had your Frye riding boots and how many times have you had to re-sole them? Bonus if you can tell me a cobbler in the city you recommend 🙂

      I've had mine 3 years and am facing my second re-soling, but I don't know if that's to be expected here in the city where I walk so much and shoes get put through the wringer.

  • Reply Anna October 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    I'd like to second the Saltwaters. I just bought a new pair this summer, since my old ones, nearly 15 years old, were finally giving up the ghost (one of the straps had worn through and torn). Comfortable, simple, and lovely.

    And I too probably need to winnow out the shoes. I got rid of several pairs over the summer, but have since noticed odd gaps. Several pairs of Converse, but no dress shoes in brown when that's a lead colour in my wardrobe.

  • Reply Kate October 23, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Erin! These wardrobe posts are just so good. Looking forward to the next already! Hoping for one that will help me sort out my purse, bag, backpack, etc etc situation. Thanks!

  • Reply Julia (Color Me Green) October 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    I have the same narrow heel problem necessitating ankle straps. I rely on two pairs of comfy heels, wherein I smugly keep dancing while all the other girls are whining about their feet and removing their shoes.
    a Camper mary jane kittenish heel
    and Mohop wedges, which are sustainably made in the US

  • Reply Genny October 23, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    Love your blog, commenting from Ireland. I have to recommend LK Bennett shoes as the most comfortable dress (high heeled) shoes I have ever worn. Whilst I'm normally a flat shoe/ boot wearer, with similar styles to yours, I also have narrow feet/heels (and thus given up on ever finding comfortable pumps/ballet flats) but I have LK Bennetts in 6 different styles and colours and heights, for work, nights out and even wore them on my wedding day! Probably pricy on your side of the ocean but they have lots of outlet sales. pS im a genuine lover of their shoes not a brand promoter!

  • Reply chris October 23, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    My two bits on the beautiful, classic heel conundrum:

  • Reply Anonymous October 23, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Kork-Ease are very comfortable and can be dressy (not many heels, wedges mostly, but isn't that better for feet anyway?) And according to their website, they started in Brooklyn in 1953.

  • Reply Erin October 23, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    Erin, I've really enjoyed this series, and actually purchased the Frye Mary Janes after seeing them on your blog a few months ago. They are the most comfortable and wonderful shoes!

    Speaking of purchases, what I find so interesting about this turn towards minimalism in general–not your blog, but a pattern that I'm seeing across fashion/lifestyle blogs lately–is the unclear, fuzzy boundary between minimalism and consumption. These two concepts seem to contradict, but in other blogs I get the sense that "minimalism" is repackaged consumption–buying the perfect shirt, shoes, bag, etc. at higher and higher prices while discarding perfectly functional and beautiful clothes. What I really appreciate about your blog, and this series in particular, is that it *isn't* focused on consumption, but on clarity of fashion's purpose and function for one's life. Kudos, from one Erin to another!

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic October 24, 2014 at 12:17 am

    I like clogs, because they're comfortable and they go with most outfits. I often wear ankle boots when it gets colder, especially because they help me deal with puddles from the rain and snow. It's hard to keep my shoes in good condition, though, due to the harsh Chicago winters. I wish they made shoes specifically for certain regions, like the Midwest.

  • Reply Joann L October 24, 2014 at 12:54 am

    Erin, did you find the Chelsea boot true to size?
    As in, if I'm a true 6.5 but often wear a 7 in boots, what do I do?!?

  • Reply Amanda Delp October 24, 2014 at 4:32 am

    Have you considered character heels? They're generally used for theater productions, or have taps attached for dance, but for some reason it struck me that they might fit you… Generally mid-range height, leather, classic aesthetic, etc…

    Here's one of many many vendors:

  • Reply canadianjulia October 24, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I just bought a pair of very comfortable but stylish Clarkes. 3 inch heel, but you wouldn't know it!

  • Reply janeray1940 October 25, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Three words: Aurora Shoe Company… who I think may be (or may have been) a sponsor here at some point? While their styles might be a bit too "granola" for some, I think they're fantastic – counting the pair of boots the postman is about to deliver today, I'm up to 6 pairs in various configurations: mary janes, sandals, and now their new ankle boots. I love that any of these can take me from work to the beach to an easy hike to dinner, all in the same day.

    The remainder of my minimalist shoe wardrobe includes 2 pairs of Vans (black and white), my "dress-up" Gentle Souls ankle-strap ballet flats, and a couple pairs of Tevas (hey, I live at the beach).

    Man, I've been loving your Minimalist Wardrobe posts. It's really helped me to see where I do it right (layering basics), and where I have room for improvement (um… I have a jeans problem!).

  • Reply jessica October 28, 2014 at 6:13 am

    nice collection

  • Reply tors grantham November 4, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    I have a crazy shoe collection that has recently expanded with a bang of flats but I've also jumped in the same boat of investing in good quality pieces (and not just shoes). Really interesting to hear your views on this and some great tips that I could certainly do with following!

  • Reply boots brands December 5, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    These shoes are extremely comfortable. The foot bed and the back of the shoe are cushioned. I had no need to break them in, they felt comfortable from the first wear.

  • Reply EWO December 30, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    hi erin–

    which cobbler do you use? i have tried several around brooklyn and haven't had any success. thanks!

  • Reply Tatiana March 9, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Hi Erin,
    I just bought some Sandgrens after learning about them here. Did you find that the leather stretched out much/that they were true to size? Thanks!

    • Reply Erin Boyle March 10, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      Yes to both!

  • Reply [email protected] September 10, 2016 at 9:20 am

    I love this series! I’ve found Paul Green’s shoes to always be a great investment. 9 times out of 10 they are extremely comfortable and classic styles. Not sure you’re still in the market for heels with a strap, but this is a cute pair:

    They also come in black an a sable color.

    Anyway, thanks for all the inspiration!


  • Reply [email protected] September 10, 2016 at 9:31 am

    one more thing… several of the links appear to be broken. Thanks!

    • Reply Erin Boyle September 10, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Ah, I’m sure! Super old post! Will work on updating!


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