Samantha Critchell wearing her winter suede-leather riding boots in Ridgefield, Conn. Critchell writes about her search for the perfect pair of summertime shoes. Seth Critchell~AP
Somewhere between my favorite workhorse winter boots and the flip-flops I’ll wear on my summer beach vacation is the shoe that would fill in the gaps. It would take me to work and through weekends, and out to dinner afterward.
But for all the time I spend staring at the floor of my closet, I still don’t know which shoe that might be.
Maybe I don’t own it yet. Yes, that must be it. It’s a perfect excuse to go shoe shopping — and what woman doesn’t love that?!
Unfortunately, I’ve been on three retail excursions since then, and I’m still mostly alternating between some old tan ballet flats and a pair of brown cork wedge sandals. I’ve also had on espadrilles, woven-leather flat sandals and patent-leather peep-toes. Not the one-size-fits-all solution that I was hoping for — and not the one-size-fits-all solution I feel like my dark brown riding boots give me half the year.
“Shoes are important to creating an image of yourself,” says stylist Laurie Brucker. “Nothing makes you feel better than when you are wearing a fantastic pair of shoes.”
I’m on the right path with neutral tan shoes, she advises, but there needs to be something to jazz them up: a bright contrast color, a print or some sort of embellishment.
That might seem counterintuitive, but, she says, that special detail is what a shoe needs to draw you to it. A boot’s appeal is built-in: Think of all that beautiful leather, not to mention what it does to lengthen the wearer’s silhouette.
But there are warm-weather options. She suggests a light beige patent leather pump, maybe with a peep-toe, as an almost surefire option for someone who dresses up for the office — and then might be going out afterward. Any shoe that’s a similar color to your skin tone should be particularly flattering, advises Brucker, part of Stacy London’s Style for Hire network.
That one isn’t going to take me to the sidelines of my children’s soccer games or even a Saturday night party with my mostly casual crowd, however.
I am not the only one having this problem. Last week alone, at the very tail end of spring, I saw three people on a single day in their high-shaft leather winter boots. The boots looked lived in and loved, even if they appeared a little wrong against the sunny sky.
A cap-toe ballet flat with contrasting colors would give a lot of mileage, Brucker explains, because it can be grounded in a neutral camel or black and then tipped with a pop of color or a flash of metallic. A pointy-toe front is probably a little more fashion-forward and will live into the fall season and beyond, she says. (I’ll be back in my boots by then.)
I took a spin through the Nordstrom shoe department armed with Brucker’s advice, and I admired lots of things from Uggs thongs to Tory Burch open-toe ballet flats to Jimmy Choo platform wedges. All had their pluses, but they came with minuses: The thongs would make that clack-clack sound in the office; the flats were too similar to something I already own; and the Choos were out of my price range.
There was a pair of almost-winner Cole Haan-Nike Air wedge-heel sandals, but they were in black, and I wasn’t sure if the dark ankle strap would work with enough of my lighter-hue summer wardrobe.
Jennifer Gosselin, senior vice president and general manager of online retailer Piperlime, later tells me that I probably was wise to be a little wary of black, especially if I’m wearing a lot of brightly colored bottoms.
“I tend to avoid black. Skin tone matters here, but I feel like black stands out on me and can make a sharp line,” she says.
She doesn’t worry about that as much with a brightly colored shoe — perhaps orange, yellow or an ocean blue — against a black bottom, especially if the shoe is fairly bare, like a simple leather thong.
But her first suggestion for a go-to shoe has a hint of shine to it. A sandal like the Sam Edelman Sophie sandal, with its metallic buckle and moderate 2-inch wedge heel, easily transitions from weekday to weekend, she says.
“The height makes it a little more polished, but it’s not quite as dressed up as a pump or high heel,” Gosselin says. “You could wear it all day.”
Generally, she’d stick to a modern, minimalist style, but, again, she also mentions the one element of pizazz to keep me out of the sensible-shoe habit that I fear crossing into as a 40-year-old suburbanite.
Flat sandals — but not flip-flops — are enjoying a comeback, especially if they’re in the brown family. Since I do like ballet flats, she asks, what about the ones by Rachel Zoe with chain-link detailing on the back?
And, Gosselin says, the quintessential summer shoe is a canvas-top espadrille.
“An espadrille says summer like nothing else. It can be dressed up or down,” she adds, noting there are open-toe versions but that a closed-toe canvas shoe sends an appropriate warm-weather vibe and hides toenails that haven’t had a recent pedicure.
“Pick one with a little bit of sparkle or a tie around the ankle,” she advises. “I can just picture it with a summer dress, or kicking back in white denim and bright T-shirt.”
Hmmm. I can imagine it, too. Maybe we’re onto something, especially with the ribbon going up the leg, which gives a little nod to the ever-popular gladiator.
I think I’d at least still need the caramel-colored, slightly elevated sandal or the nice metallic flat, but I’m feeling like I have wearable options.