That is the amount American women spent on shoes in one recent year (2004-2005) according to the retail and consumer- information firm NPD Group.
That's the amount of many an Eastern European country's foreign debt.
There's no denying the shoe's place in popular culture. They inspired the title of a recent film, In Her Shoes, starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette. They figured prominently in the television show "Sex and the City" whereby millions of women suddenly became aware — and desirous — of Manolo Blahniks, shoes that could easily cost more than my monthly mortgage. And who could forget when Imelda Marcos' collection of thousands of pairs of shoes came to symbolize the cruel and backwards rule of her husband over the Philippines, a country of people more accustomed to overwhelming poverty than luxury footwear.So, what belies this shoe obsession?
While it might be tempting to turn toward a Freudian view of shoes — seeing the particularly pointy stiletto-style pumps as some sort of phallic symbol, whereby donning them, woman can reduce the inevitable "penis envy" that so consumes them according to the theory — this would be far-fetched.
Actually, I don't think it is that far off. Shoes can signal power, and they certainly have something to do with sexuality.
Consider the power that comes with wearing high heels. They add inches of height — as much 2 or 3 inches. Chimps and other animals' hair stands up when they are in the throws of a dominance show. Humans have largely lost this ability to instantly look more bad ass when the situation calls for it. Instead, we women can use high heals. Afterall, people still ascribe higher status, dominance, and even income to people who are bigger — specifically taller. If men gain power and influence with their height (41 of the past 42 winners of the U. S. Presidential race have been the taller of the two candidates*) who's to say women don't gain power when they elevate their height with high heels? They also make noise - a ton of noise. Primates, like other animals, make a raucous display when they compete for power. Shoes do this for women.
The great irony here is that although high-heels make a woman feel more bad ass, they would be a huge handicap if she ever had to defend herself. They throw balance off. Each step requires the utmost concentration until heel-wearing becomes so well-practiced it's like riding a bike. The fact that women can walk perfectly adroitly in stilettos and their relatives may indicate a certain kind of superiority. In the biological world, functioning well with a handicap signals greater health — and fitness — in a Darwinian sense. It's called Zahavi's handicap principle. You can read more about it here. It's fascinating and explains some species characteristics that baffled even Darwin.
Shoes are not simply linked with power, influence, and status — which of course the rarity and price tag add to — they are also wrapped up with sexuality. High heels shift posture - forcing the chest and derrière out, making each more prominent. They increase the definition of muscles in the thighs and calves. And, they make the wearers feel sexier.
While all of this explains the obsession behind high-heeled shoes, it does little to explain why some women must have so many of them. For that, I blame the conspicuous consumption that pervades our country and leaves us falsely believing our possessions indicate our self-worth.
* Al Gore was the only one who was taller and did not win, though he did win more of the popular vote.