I am taking a break from my regular Accessorized 5 Ways series this week to answer a great accessorizing question asked by a reader about how to build a shoe wardrobe.  Here is her question:

In the past year, I really committed to being more stylish and “pulled together.” I work in a business casual environment (actually maybe even a little less casual that that– I’m in academia) and, at 40-something years old am just starting to enjoy putting outfits together and stepping things up a bit!

As I was reading today, I thought of something I’d love to see you address (not that you’re ever at a loss for ideas, but…)

How to build a shoe wardrobe.

(1) What are key pieces everyone should have (recognizing that it changes by environment- both work setting and geography)?

(2) Where do you choose to have “fun” (like that awesome orange sandals you featured a while ago?)

I am sure you’ve thought about this, or something similar, when shoe shopping.  I think some general guidelines and parameters can be incredibly helpful, especially if you are like me and easily wooed in by all the pretty shoes I have no business owning.

The three things to identify before you shop for shoes

Brian Atwood shoes First and foremost you have to look at your life, particularly these three things: your lifestyle, your personal style, your physical characteristics.  These are important because it can help keep you from purchasing things that you don’t need.  For example, who doesn’t love to look at a gorgeous stiletto?  However, how many women really need them.

Take the photo to the left.  Just this morning an Instagram friend of mine posted these shoes.  Look at my comment.  Of course I want them, they are gorgeous.  But, really, given my lifestyle, even if I could afford a pair of Brian Atwood shoes, I’d hardly have any place to where them.  However, I have plenty of clients, one in particular, who would wear these to death.  This is why, for the sake of money, time and lifestyle, these points are important.

Lifestyle: Lifestyle is important to examine because it helps you identify how you live your life and what percentage you spend doing each thing.  You can read more about creating a lifestyle pie chart here which will give you more tips.  Basically, your wardrobe items should match in percentage to the percentage of time you spend living different parts of your life.  If you’re a stay at home mom, let’s say, it will be likely that you will need more casual shoes than you will dressy ones.  If you are someone who spends a lot of time on your feet you will probably need at least a few shoes from comfort brands or that you know will work for your feet. The more honest you are with this first step the better off you will be.

Personal Style: Personal style is next.  This tip is a bit more obvious, however, not exactly easy when a woman feels she can’t really identify her own personal style.  Yet, when it comes to shoes, women often find themselves clearer on what they like and dislike.  To identify what you are drawn to, try a search on Pinterest and let your gut reaction take over.  Search for shoes on the site, pin the styles you react to and, when you are done, review all the images.  This isn’t an analytical process or one that you should overly think about, it’s about gut reaction and, even if you pull shoes that aren’t realistic for you, don’t worry, this process is more about allowing yourself to get inspired.  You may notice that you pull a lot of shoes in a specific color or you like edgier styles or prints, for example.  These are things to take note of before you hit the stores.

Using that Instagram photo above, while I really don’t need a pair of shoes like that I still like them and would probably pin them to Pinterest and would use the photo as inspiration when looking for shoes I’d actually get use from.  Maybe I would look for a pair of colorblocked flats or sandals in the bold shades that these shoes are in.

Physical Characteristics: Next, it is time to take inventory of your physical characteristics, particularly the physical characteristics of your feet.  Are they wide or narrow?  Do you have foot issues that you need to deal with?  Are you like me, someone who looks horrible in ankle straps?  Any and all physical foot characteristics need to be figured into the equation.

Key shoe wardrobe items that everyone should have

While every woman’s life is different there are some key shoe items that I think every woman should own.  By keeping the three key points from above in mind you will be able to decipher in what types of shoes are smart for you to purchase in each category.  Below you will not only find my suggestions but some shoes from my wardrobe that fit into each of these important needs.

Shoe must-have #1- Nude Shoes

I don’t care who you are, what you do or where you are going.  I think every woman needs to own some nude, tan or beige shoes, particularly for the summer.  For casual, given that women tend to wear more color in the warmer months, a pair of tan shoes will work with everything.  For corporate, no matter what a woman is wearing, tan shoes will instantly elevate the look and will work with just as much as a pair of black shoes will, maybe more.

When setting out to purchase a pair of nude or beige shoes the first step is to review the three points.  What types would you benefit from owning.  Take a look at some of the pairs I own and why.

Nude shoesOn the left, I have a pair of nude pumps from the comfort brand Tsubo.  For my life, there shoes get the least amount of use but it is important that I have them for corporate clients, speaking events and times where I need to be more conservative.  This pair covers my general need and I need no more.  In the middle I have a pair of platform nude pumps.  For my lifestyle I don’t wear these as often either but I keep them on hand for dressier events, particularly when I am wearing a colorful dress and want the color of my shoes to not be distracting.  On the right, I have a pair of nude comfortable sandals from Dansko.   This pair gets the most use out of the three because I spend a great deal of my time on my feet for work and wear a lot of color in the summer.

tan shoes Continuing on with nude and tan shoes, on the left is a novelty pair of sandals from Naya that, while comfortable, I can’t spend a lot of time on feet wearing.  They are for when I want to dress up a day look but have no plans to be on my feet much.  In the middle is  a summer wedge in nude that plays a similar role to the Danskos in the previous photo but are a bit more dressy and a lot less comfortable.  In cases where I don’t want to make such a shoe statement in the summer, but don’t want to wear something as functional-for-standing as my Danksos, these are great.  The last pair is a darker tan that, admittedly, I can’t stand in for that long at all.  They are a richer tan shade and I love them.  I just can’t rely on them all that much.

#2- Metallic shoes

Next, metallic shoes, so important.  In many cases they function just as well as nude shoes but offer just a little more excitement.  Metallic shoes are great with colorful outfits, to give jeans and a t-shirt a punch or for formal evenings.  It all depends on your lifestyle and needs.

Metallic shoesThese are the metallic shoes I currently own.  On the left are my very beat up Birkenstock Gizehs that are in bronze (and in serious needs of replacement).  I love these because they match everything and are super comfortable.  If I am going to be on my feet all day, and need a flat sandal, these never fail me.  Next, is a pair of gold sandals that I really love but don’t have the support I need for walking long distances or being on my feet.  They are more delicate and work with summer dresses where I want a flat sandal that is less clunky.  Next are my Tieks that are really comfortable and go with everything and I can wear from spring to fall.  Lastly, I have a pair of gold pumps that get much less wear but I am happy to have if I ever want to turn more of a day dress into an evening one.

#3- Colored shoes

Next, colored shoes, a definite staple for the summer.  This category is important for two reasons.  First, if you are wearing an all neutral outfit, like in navy, grey or black, colored shoes can add some accessorized pop.  Secondly, they can also be used for color blocking color or bringing out a color found in a print.  They just add something more to a look and I think everyone needs some colorful shoes to make their wardrobe complete in the spring and summer. Colored shoes

Using my shoes as an example of the importance of this category, on the left I have a pair of Naya wedges that are insanely comfortable, even though they might not look that way.  In this bright yellow color I’ve worn them with everything.   I particularly love wearing them in the summer with neutral shades as a pop.  I recently wore them with a grey shift dress and also with a navy summer dress.  The pair in the middle are my Vince Camuto Ellen flats in turquoise.  These shoes have not only added some punch to my neutral outfits and I have also worn them to colorblock and with pieces that have turquoise in the prints.  One of my favorite combinations is a coral dress with these flats.  Lastly, my standby green flip flops that I really only use for the beach or pool.  I chose green for a very specific reason.  No matter what my swimwear colors are these flip flops will work because green is a colored neutral that complements any color you are wearing.

#4- Novelty shoes

The last category is novelty shoes.  I think every woman needs at least one pair of shoes with a fun pattern, texture or interest that will make them more conversational and fun.  It really doesn’t matter what makes them novelty what matters is you have at least one pair that, like colored shoes, can add some more fun to an outfit.

Novelty shoes Here are two pairs that I own.  The yellow and white polka dot pair are flat slingbacks that are just fun (and dirty!).  I love wearing them with a simple outfit to let them stand out.  The second pair is more conservative novelty pair of leopard kitten heels fro Joan & David that are at least 10 years old.  I use these shoes when I want to add some novelty elegance to a more conservative outfit.

If you buy right you really don’t need a lot of shoes.  The problem I often see when women buy multiples of shoes that essentially do the same thing when a “one and done” approach is much more efficient.  This is not to say that you can’t have fun with shoes but before you go crazy make sure your practical bases are covered first.  With these shoe wardrobe tips you should be off to a great start!