TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Organizing More Than 100 Pairs of Shoes
Meghan Cleary, who makes her living speaking and writing about shoes, contends that the current economic downturn is a great time to shop for and buy shoes. "I can't afford to get five new suits, but I can afford a new pair of shoes," she says.
To gauge value, Ms. Cleary suggests thinking about "cost per wear" -- spending the most on shoes you'll wear several times a week, and the least on trendy styles that might go out of fashion by next year.
Ms. Cleary, author of "The Perfect Fit: What Your Shoes Say About You," shops online at merchants that allow free returns, orders the style she wants in two sizes, and keeps the pair with the best fit. She continually canvasses for price reductions. "Be a little open to something that's off the beaten path -- such as a pump in forest green rather than black -- and you'll get the best deals," she says.
Her biggest challenge is organizing. Ms. Cleary owns about 120 pairs, which she keeps in her one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan's West Village and her office nearby. According to a 2007 poll by the Consumer Reports National Research Center for ShopSmart magazine, the average American woman owns 19 pairs of shoes (excluding sneakers), with 15% of women owning 30 or more pairs.
She rejects many of the obvious organizing tools, like storage bins and over-the-door hangers, which she says take up a lot of room, cost too much and can be impractical for large collections. She also dismisses the oft-suggested tactic of keeping shoes in shoe boxes with Polaroid photographs taped to the outside. "It's too complicated: You take out one pair of shoes and the entire thing falls down," she says.
Ms. Cleary, who worked as a marketing consultant to the investment-banking division of Deutsche Bank Group before beginning to write and blog about shoes, incorporates her shoes into her décor. For instance, she recently leaned a 9-foot ladder against the wall of her foyer and hung about 15 pairs of stilettos on it. In the past she used a pair of red sparkly Dries Van Noten slingbacks as a table centerpiece because she thought they were too beautiful to use immediately.
She has other "special occasion shoes" on display in her bedroom dresser and windowsills. "They are beautiful pieces of art -- like beautiful sculptures," she says. She says she has been obsessed with shoes since she was 5 years old, when she bugged her mom to get baby-blue wedge espadrilles with flower embroidery at Kmart.
To help her shoes last, she stuffs the toes of her better pairs with white or pink tissue paper. (Newspaper, she notes, will leave ink marks.) Ms. Cleary's radical tip for "very cantankerous" new leather shoes is to get the shoes completely wet. She spritzes her more-delicate leather shoes just until they are damp before wearing them until they are completely dry. But if the leather is thick, she runs the faucet over them.
In coming weeks, she says, she plans to do her annual spring "shoe edit," in which she donates to charity all shoes she hasn't worn in the past year (except those she really can't part with). Her goal, she says, is to get the number of shoes she owns back to around 100.