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Love for shoes an 'affair that never ends'

| Saturday, July 12, 2014, 8:12 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Mary Beth Johnson sits with some of her favorite shoes at her home in Mt. Lebanon.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Jennifer Honig, a self-proclaimed shoe lover, in Shadyside
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Courtney Crawford with a few of her favorite shoes.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Sandy Goldberg, a self-proclaimed shoe lover, poses for a portrait in Shadyside on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Bear Brandegee, a self-proclaimed shoe lover, in Shadyside
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Mary Beth Johnson holds a sculpture that her son, Barry Johnson gave her because of her love for shoes, on Monday evening, June 23, 2014 at her home in Mt. Lebanon.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Mary Beth Johnson's baby shoes that her mother had bronzed along with her son's baby shoes on June 23, 2014 at her home in Mt. Lebanon.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Mary Beth Johnson's shoes at her home in Mt. Lebanon.

The love affair often begins with the first step.

Finding the perfect pair of shoes creates a one-of-a-kind, long-term relationship between the woman who buys them and the outfit she plans to wear with them.

“Putting on different pairs of shoes can make you feel anything — sophisticated, sexy, elegant, smart or even sporty,” says Emily Mack Jamison, shoe designer for the Emy Mack luxury footwear line, with a studio in Shadyside. “They can indicate your personality, sense of style and your mood on a given day. Whenever I ask most women about their favorite pairs of shoes, their faces light up and there's a rush of excitement. It's a love affair that never ends.”

That's true, many women agree.

“Shoes are pretty,” says Bear Brandegee from the South Side. “They just make legs and clothes look better. Shoes are whimsical. They are the first thing that people look at. Shoes are a great anchor. The can also reflect how you feel.”

Jennifer Honig of Shadyside inherited a love of shoes from her mother, Sandy Goldberg of Squirrel Hill, whose footwear she would try on as a little girl.

“Why do little girls try on their mommy's shoes as soon as they can walk?” Honig says. “They just do. It's part of playing dress up. That is when the fascination with shoes begins. Shoes are a reflection of you.”

Honig says on those days she is looking for “skinny” clothes, she never has to worry about “skinny” shoes.

There is nothing better than being stopped on the street by someone who compliments you on your shoes and asks where you got them, she says.

Being 4 foot 11 inches tall, Goldberg was drawn to wearing heels. She also has what she calls “back-up shoes.” If she finds a pair she likes, she buys another exact same pair. She has searched for months to find the right footwear for an outfit.

“I have numerous pairs of shoes, more than I will admit,” Goldberg says.

Courtney Crawford, from Fox Chapel, has a footwear wardrobe. Her love of shoes began at age 15 when she started working in the restaurant business. Owner of Nine on Nine, Downtown, she wears heels daily. Her favorite designer is Jimmy Choo, but she owns plenty of other designer shoes, some purchased by her husband, Bob, who often gives her footwear as gifts.

“They make a difference in how you look,” Crawford says. “They are an essential part of my wardrobe, one that I make sure is right before I leave the house.”

Shoes are a way of showing your style and personality, says Mary Beth Johnson of Mt. Lebanon, who has purchased shoes from Pittsburgh to Paris.

“They can be the focal point of an outfit,” Johnson says. “Or, they can complete an outfit. What makes shoes fun is you can have different pairs of shoes for the different aspects of your life.”

Finding designer shoes is a passion of Rebecca Whitlinger of Blackridge. Shoes are works of art, she says. She buys high-end shoes such as Chanel and Prada on eBay or at consignment stores so she doesn't have to pay full price.

“Do shoes have sole or do they have soul?” says Whitlinger, whose third bedroom is a closet for shoes and clothes. “They are certainly a key part to my wardrobe. Shoes finish the fashion statement. The trunk in my car holds shoes instead of a spare tire, because I might not always have time to change my outfit, but I definitely have time to change my shoes, especially if I am going from work to evening. There is the saying — ‘the higher the heel, the closer you are to God.' Shoes are fun, and they should be fun.”

Shoes may be the last thing you put on, but they are the first thing people notice, says Caitlyn Hess, owner and designer of a luxurious footwear brand called Schee (pronounced SHE-ay), based in Cranberry, which donates a portion of sales to charity.

“Shoes literally lift you up, physically and can emotionally, as well — especially shoes that make a difference,” Hess says.

They are a style element that conveys a message of how a woman may feel at the moment, she says — sexy in a pair of stilettos, or more relaxed in a pair of ballet flats.

Shoes are a statement piece, but they also are so versatile, Mack Jamison says. You can have one fabulous pair of shoes that go with 10 different outfits.

It does not matter if you are tall or short, thin or thick, you can always find fabulous shoes, she says. “Cinderella is proof that one shoe can change your life.”

Nancy MacDonell, author of “The Shoe Book” ($50, Assouline) has always been interested in the relationship women have with their shoes.

“Shoes ostensibly exist to fulfill a practical purpose, i.e. protecting the foot,” MacDonell says. “No one really needs more than two or three pairs but need doesn't enter into the equation when it comes to shoes. Women don't need shoes. They want them.”

As noted in the book, the average American woman has 20 pairs of shoes, almost twice as many as she did a decade ago.

According to, a typical female will own about 268 pairs of shoes during her adult life. The average woman will spend more than $20,000 in her lifetime on shoes, according to a recent poll of 2,000 American and British women.

“Shoes are an item you will be standing in all day, so it is nice to have pair of shoes that are both good looking and comfortable,” says Justin Sigal, co-owner of Littles Shoes in Squirrel Hill with his father, Joel. “When women are having a bad day, they go shoe shopping because they can find a pair of shoes that brighten their day or add to an outfit.”

Jill Rubinstein, owner of Footloose in Shadyside, says there are many reasons women love shoes, but the first is that shoes appeal to more than one of your senses.

“They appeal to your sense of sight and your sense of touch and your sense of smell if they are made of a really high-quality leather,” Rubinstein says. “They also transform us to a different place … They can also transform your mental state. And what is nice is that, for women, for most of our adult life, our shoe size doesn't change, and we can't say that about other sizes.”

It's kind of like the Cinderella effect where, if they shoe fits, wear it, says Mosha Lundstrom Halbert, fashion editor of Footwear News.

“Shoes can cause an adrenaline rush, and they appeal to a woman's desire to adorn herself,” she says.

Footwear can be an ice breaker and a conversation starter. Sometimes, shoes can be the most practical or most impractical choice you can make.

“Shoes can get better with age and they can become a part of you,” Lundstrom Halbert says. “There are various price points, so a woman can dip her toes into whatever trendy style she wants regardless of price. She can choose a $15 pair or a $1,500 pair.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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