x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Want to know someone's secret? Look into his sole

It seems that, no matter what image you are trying to project, the shoes you wear are the walking confessions of your true inner self

There he was, one of the region's most prominent and ruthless militia leaders in the middle of a dramatic speech, when he shifted his feet and his shoes were exposed - chunky, European-made orthopaedic footwear. Then there was President George Bush, waving at reporters, who nevertheless couldn't take their eyes off his brown rubber Crocs. Meanwhile the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, discarded his shoes altogether and went fishing barefoot.

It seems that, no matter what image you are trying to project, the shoes you wear are the walking confessions of your true inner self. I buy a whole load of shoes once a year because I find shoe-shopping tiresome. I still have nightmares from my childhood, when I was forced to spend hours with my father in the Bally store while he tried on different pairs and bought this or that for some occasion or other.

"People judge you by the shoes you wear, especially women," he would say when I whined that no one needed so many shoes. It was the same with my mother. I guess I am a reaction to my parents' endless love affair with shoes. I go shoe-shopping only when mine are about to fall apart, and the other day I went on my annual expedition. The sales assistant brought me a pair of black suede ballerina-style flats, then asked me: "Would you like to try something a bit more colorful?"

There were pink shoes, leather glittery shoes, shoes with big ribbons, shoes with gems, shoes with a bit of heel. "No thanks, I want shoes that go with everything," I said. Of course, the minute she saw my funky socks as I tried on the shoes, she said: "Aha, I knew there was more to you than simple black shoes." The sales assistant has worked in shoe stores for six years, and says she knows what customers will be asking about the minute they step in. "People usually stick to a certain pattern, and the shoes fit the personality," she told me. "The shoes you wear are reflective of your mood, or sometimes they can change your mood."

I was curious, so I waited for a while, and watched. A couple walked in: the girl wore a pair of noisy, high-platform shoes and her partner wore a pair of dirty Nike sneakers. He was carrying the shopping bags, a lot of them. He didn't browse, he just sat on one of the seats while she looked through the platforms section. She appeared bossy as she walked around, then beckoned her partner to come and pay for the shoes, and left him to carry the bags as they left.

A group of young women came in, all wearing those strappy sandals, and appeared all fun-loving and easygoing as they chatted away and bought new sandals. Their toenails were painted in different shades and they tried on wild colours and laughed at each other's choice of shoes. Another couple walked in. She was in stilettos, which we view as the epitome of femininity, and her partner was in sleek, polished leather business shoes. They appeared to be the perfect couple as they glided through the store.

Whether people were wearing flip-flops (though some designer flip-flops can cost thousands of Dirhams) loafers or even Crocs, they carried themselves differently when they tried on different shoes. One man who came in wearing flip-flops seemed to grow taller and straighter when he paraded a pair of dress shoes in front of the mirror. Hundreds of books and magazine articles have been written about shoes and what they say about you, about your personality, about your career plans, about your dreams and even about the kind of partner that is most compatible with you. Most of them conclude that women look at shoes more than men do: they judge other women and the opposite sex based on what they have on their feet. They make assumptions about a man, his beliefs, his personality and, apparently, even his bank account.

I even came across a shoe compatibility measure similar to those horoscope compatibility tests that tell you if your chosen match is compatible or not. To try out this theory, I bought a pair of red clogs with a cool, flowery design, giving them an almost Eastern European look. I have to admit, I did feel different walking around with them on. And, funnily enough, some of my friends noticed "something different" about me, but they couldn't pin point it down.

"Look down," I said, and they did. "They are so artsy and individualistic, nice!" one of my friends said. "A change from your all-purpose, safe black shoes," she laughed. I guess there may be some truth to all of this shoe psychology, but at the end of the day, I'd rather just walk around in a pair of comfy house slippers. What do you suppose that says about me? @Email:rghazal@thenational.ae