It may come as no surprise that I’m a bit of a shoe-holic. 😉 I’ve collected quite a few pairs over the years, and love how they can really make an outfit sing. However, it’s taken me a while to figure out why some pairs work better with some outfits than others.
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There used to be a lot of hard-and-fast rules about which shoes to wear with what outfit:
- Match levels of formality: pumps with a dress or skirt, sneakers for working out, etc.
- Ideally match the color of shoes to pants, skirts or tights. If not matched, the shoes should always be darker
- Shoes and bag should match, or be the same color (black with black, brown with brown, navy with navy).
- Certain materials or colors were limited: patent leather or velvet for dressy outfits only, white and other lighter colors for Spring and Summer only, etc.
- Metallics, sequins, jeweled embellishments for evening wear only.
I’m sure you can think of a few more. We’ve mostly left those rules by the wayside over the past couple of decades. And while more choices mean more ways to express personal style, they can also be confusing.
I once heard footwear described as “the exclamation point on an outfit.” I love that, and find that shoes are a great way to inject some personality into a simple outfit.
In addition to comfort, style, color, and function, there’s one more factor that I’ve found helps determine which shoes work best with an outfit: visual volume.
How to choose the best shoes for your outfit using visual volume
What do I mean by visual volume? In terms of clothing, it’s what has visual “weight” in an outfit, or what the eye is drawn to. A chunky, oversized sweater will have more visual volume than one in a fine knit that’s more fitted. A wide or flared leg pant will have more visual volume than a slim leg. A long jacket has more visual volume than a shorter one. Color, pattern, texture, and layers also tend to add visual volume.
To my eye, an outfit is most “flattering” when it looks balanced. And you can use the visual volume of your shoes to help achieve that balance.
When it comes to footwear, there are several ways to add or reduce visual volume:
Platform, chunky or wedge soles will create more visual volume than thin ones.
Heels (especially block or stacked heels) will give a shoe more visual volume than flats. (IMO that’s the reason we often think that an outfit “needs” heels; it needs the visual volume for balance.)
Usually, the more the foot/leg is covered, the greater the visual volume. A ballet flat will have less visual volume than a loafer with a higher vamp. An oxford will have less visual volume than an ankle boot, etc.
(Caveat: the level of contrast with your clothing can also impact visual volume. For example, a black boot worn with black or dark wash jeans might be lower volume than if worn with white jeans)
Toe shape, size of hardware, strap width on sandals…all of these can add to or subtract from the effect of visual volume.
Of course, the interplay between all of these factors will determine how much overall volume a shoe has. My suggestion is to try shoes with varying levels of visual volume and see what looks best to your eye.
Your own shape and proportions may also factor in. For example, because I’m broad-shouldered, I find shoes with more visual volume work best to keep my outfits looking balanced. That used to be easy to achieve with a bit of heel, but since I stopped wearing heels over 2″ I’ve had to rely on other ways to add volume.
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Do you factor in balancing volume when creating your outfits?