Shoes: How many pairs do you really need?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

There's something about shoes. The right pair can elevate and complete an outfit and the wrong ones can stick out like a sore thumb.

Marilyn Monroe said, "Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world."

And thus the chase begins. We want "the right shoes" for every outfit and occasion to complete every look perfectly. The quest for perfection takes over and we find gaps in our shoe collections. The familiar voice in our heads says, "If only I had something to go with this outfit, it would be perfect".

Shoes: How many pairs do you really need?

Chasing Perfection 

Since childhood, we are conditioned to chase perfection. Whether in school or work or even in our personal lives, perfection is the gold standard we use to measure ourselves and others. Don't get me wrong. Perfectionism is not necessarily a negative attribute. However, when extended to some aspects of our lives, the results can be less than desirable.

Our wardrobe is one such instance where seeking perfection can be counter-productive. The urge to find gaps in our wardrobe and fill them up with things we don't need or use regularly takes over. Eventually, we end up with cupboards full of things that we think are needed to complete our outfits, while simultaneously having that sinking feeling of "I have nothing to wear".

Our collection of shoes are prone to this behaviour as much as clothes, handbags and other accessories. 

Shoes: How many pairs do you really need?

Read more on how to approach minimalist fashion as a beginner here

Recognizing the problem

When I was selecting pieces for my 10x10 microcapsule wardrobe, I focused only on clothes and excluded shoes, outerwear and handbags. Compared to my bloated wardrobe of clothes, the others did not seem like a problem. My shoe rack appears pretty small and balanced when placed against my clothes. So I assumed that it did not require attention.

Read my review of the 10x10 microcapsule wardrobe challenge here.

Two things changed my mind recently. 

1. While researching the slow fashion movement for my last blog post, I began thinking of minimalism in conjunction with sustainability. The imagery of waste generated from clothes and shoes we buy and dispose of without much thought haunted me. Reducing waste requires a lot of conscious thought and it broadened my purview to include shoes in my minimalist fashion wardrobe.

2. As you may be aware, I share minimalist fashion tips on my social media pages. Some of them revolve around optimising outfits with a limited collection of shoes. This got me thinking about how many shoes do we really need to put together a complete outfit that can work on multiple occasions and clothing types.

Working on the solution

The answer, of course, does not lie in some magic number that will work for everyone on this planet. Rather, we should look for some guiding principles that can help in creating an optimised shoe wardrobe that is minimalistic and sustainable.

My 4 steps to creating a minimalist shoe wardrobe

Shoes: How many pairs do you really need?

Step 1: 

Start by thinking about your lifestyle and health needs. When it comes to shoes, comfort is key because ill-fitting shoes can lead to shoe bites, blisters and a bunch of gross problems that no one wants. 

Similarly, the wrong type of soles or height of heels can create health risks like knee pain, twisted ankles, backaches and more. So put your lifestyle and health first and shop for what you need today rather than some aspirational lifestyle that features in your dreams.

Step 2: 

Think about the type of clothes and colours you wear most often. If you wear formals to work then you need only a couple of staple formal shoes for work. If you wear casual dresses or jeans most often then you are good to go with a couple of comfortable footwear options. If the gym or sporting activities are a regular feature of your life then you would want to add a pair of appropriate shoes. 

To decode your personal style for an optimised and minimal wardrobe, read this blog

Step 3: 

Be cognizant of all the weather appropriate shoes you need. I live in Mumbai so a pair of rainy shoes are a must for the monsoons, while I can work with the same collection of shoes for the remaining months. In places with more extreme weather variations, you may need to accommodate for each season. Keep these factors in mind but be honest with yourself about your actual rather than perceived needs.

Step 4: 

Finally, put together a list of all the other occasions that feature less often in your life. For me, these include weddings, parties or picnics and the very rare hike or resolution to hit the gym. You already know what you like wearing to such events and keep a maximum of one option each for those rare occurrences.

My optimised wardrobe for shoes

Formal - 1 Black stilettos + 1 Nude Coloured Heels
Casual - 1 pair of slippers
Semi-formal - 1 pair of multi-coloured heels
Special Occasions - 1 strappy metallic coloured high-heels 
Rare Activities - 1 pair of sneakers
Monsoons - 1 pair of rainy shoes

That brings me to a grand total of seven pairs of shoes that can cover all the possible scenarios in my life. 

I then decided to count the number of shoes I actually own today. 

Formal - 1 pair each of black stilettos, black sling-back heels, nude kitten heels 
Casual - 1 pair each of black pumps, nude pumps, yellow strappy slippers
Semi-formal - 1 pair each of multi-coloured stilettos, multi-coloured kitten heels, powder pink heels, Indian slippers
Special Occasions - 1 brown ankle length boots, 1 sling-back metallic stilettos
Rare Activities - 1 pair of sneakers
Monsoons - Yellow strappy slippers mentioned above

This brings my total to thirteen pairs of shoes. That's six pairs more than I actually need. It is not a horrendous number, which is why it didn't seem problematic to me at first. But when you whittle down to the most basic question of whether you really need them, the answer is a resounding no. 

Shoes: How many pairs do you really need?

So what should you do with the extra pairs?

Honestly, at this point, my thoughts were, "ok I really need to keep this in mind for the future but is there anything that I can do now?" There are a few things that you can do, although they may not seem like much at the moment. 

No shopping

I will start with the obvious, don't shop for shoes until you work your way through your current collection. This simple step will reduce wastage and make your wardrobe more sustainable. 


You can ask siblings or BFFs if they want anything from your collection and give them away if that suits you. I am lucky to share the same footwear size as my mother and sister and the three of us swap or giveaway our shoes to the other at times.


If there are any pairs that you don't foresee yourself wearing in the long-term future but are in wearable condition, then figure out if you would like to give them away. To be honest, I could not bring myself to giveaway a bunch of expensive shoes right away, so I did not take this route.


Carefully store the shoes you need only for rare occasions so that they don't get damaged by moisture and dust. The sneakers that I bought two years back when I joined a gym are carefully stored in a cloth bag with moisture absorbers so that they can be pulled out and used when I go on vacations and need comfortable walking shoes.

Do you think that your collection of shoes are more than your needs? How would you approach the problem? Let me know in the comments below.

Shoes: How many pairs do you really need?

This post was originally published on 10 December, 2017 on my first blog. I have migrated it here and made some minor updates. 

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