It’s the Shoes. Trust Me.

Shoes are your foundation. Choose wisely.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

I was in high school when I stopped wearing shoes. There was probably a reason, as far as reason goes when you’re in high school, but I can’t imagine any reason beyond pushing my mother’s buttons.

My feet were tough and thick with calluses from the moment the snow melted in Colorado until the first frost hit. I would carry my shoes, just in case I needed them to be allowed into a store or restaurant. From my sophomore year of high school until I graduated from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, I was known for my bare feet. As an exchange student my sophomore year, I even hitchhiked by myself through New Zealand with bare feet.

I’m pretty sure I was the only business major with bare feet and cut-off jeans. When I was walking through Moby Gym with my father, getting ready to graduate from Colorado State University, we ran into a few of my professors and I was happy to introduce them to my dad.

Well hello! We were just placing bets on whether Sarah would wear shoes to cross the graduation stage.

When I think back on that interchange, I like to remember my dad smiling patiently, and not totally embarrassed, but I really don’t recall his reaction. I smiled and lifted my graduation robe enough to show some pretty pumps. It was December, I was definitely wearing shoes.

I moved to Washington DC for a paid internship immediately following graduation. My father drove with me across the country in my little Chevette with my cat on the floor under the passenger seat. Of course I wore shoes every day to my job with the US International Trade Commission; as soon as the weather warmed a bit, you could find me wandering on weekends through the District, shoes in hand. I think back on that time and I’m totally disgusted. Really, Sarah? Barefoot in Washington DC? It didn’t take long for me to change my ways. Not only is it gross to walk barefoot on the streets and sidewalks in a big city, it gets very, very hot.

Shoes were simply a function of getting dressed back then. I had my basic pumps in black and navy for work, and my casual sandals and tennis shoes for weekends, and that was about it. I absentmindedly put on two different colored shoes on my first day of work at a new job… but that story is all it’s own.

Shoes didn’t become anything important — or even more than a passing thought — until I took my first job in sales.

As the director of sales at a downtown boutique hotel, I had the opportunity to dress up and be a little creative in my style. In my time working with clients and staff at the hotel, I noticed a distinct difference in how I was being perceived and treated when I wore shoes with a heel height of two inches or more. Observation has always been a strength of mine, and I took notes about the phenomena for a few weeks; it wasn’t a serious scientific study, but the conclusions were obvious to me.

Shoes come with attitude for some of us. When I was struggling with a difficult boss in a difficult job, my dear friend sent me a package with this note in it:

Wear these bright yellow sandals and bring your own sunshine to work this week! — Let the haters hate!

They were three inch platform strappy yellow sandals and yes, I did wear them to work once. My attitude was decidedly improved that day. Sometimes a little cue to catch my eye can work wonders on my internal dialogue. It’s like a little spark of distraction; a reminder of who I am, and that while I cannot control someone else’s behavior, I won’t let it define me and my behavior.

I read an article describing financial advantages of being tall; there are other studies to show that tall women are generally more successful in business. (I like to point out that at 5' 2", I am one of the most comfortable people on an airplane, a distinct advantage when traveling a lot.)

Though my titles haven’t included the word “sales” since then, I’ve continued my observations about the differences when I’m a little bit taller, in how I believe I am perceived based on the treatment I receive by others.

I’ve come to some conclusions that have helped me, and I’m hopeful that those observations and strategies will help others. Here’s one that I’ve shared a lot recently and have heard some great reviews following experiences by those who’ve tried it:

When you are planning your wardrobe for an event, meeting, or other important date, start with your shoes. Your shoes are the foundation of your wardrobe. Find shoes that make you feel good about the way you walk, the way you stand, the way you carry yourself. Invest in shoes that are comfortable AND that offer an indication of your style. Build your outfit around your shoes.
Gogo boots a go-go!

Try this strategy, and please comment to let me know your thoughts after you do your own experiment!

I know it sounds like a small detail, and it IS a small detail in the scheme of things. Like many other small details, like the grip of your handshake, the wrinkles around your eyes when you smile, and holding a door open for someone behind you, this one matters.

Originally published at elkinsconsulting.com. Sharing stories is a great way to communicate. Listen to my podcast to learn more about me and the work I do to help people communicate through storytelling.

Sarah Elkins is a professional coach and consultant, helping people and businesses improve their communication through the art of storytelling. She’s also the President of Elkins Consulting, the company making a splash with small, face-to-face, affordable interactive conferences called No Longer Virtual.

Listen to my enthusiasm while talking to Chris Spurvey, author of It’s Time to Sell, about NLV: