New York Times

A Little Shoe Therapy Never Hurt

By MICHELLE SLATALLA Published: September 1, 2005

This time of year, knowing that the comforting rituals of autumn are just around the corner is the only thing that gives me strength to go on. No matter how distant the date may seem, every year I remain unshaken in my conviction that the first day of school will arrive to send certain late-sleeping members of my family scurrying back to the forced productivity of math class.

More important, this is when it's time to buy school shoes - for me.

After my oldest daughter picked up her class schedule the other day, I counted the hours (19 remained) until the first bell and realized it was time to shop. I embarked on a bold two-part plan, requiring online research and offline field tests, to purchase two very different pairs of shoes to carry me through fall.

First, I needed a pair to wear with my daily uniform of jeans. The obvious choice was mules or clogs, with a little heel so hems wouldn't drag, but low enough to make it feasible to walk around town with dogs, kids and groceries.

More challenging was finding a flattering pair for skirts. Following Audrey Hepburn's lead, I embraced ballet flats, a classic whose recent comeback has led to the trickling down of many affordable styles.

The parameters: the shoes had to be cute and very comfortable, and could cost no more than a budget-conscious $100 per pair.

My first stop was the Internet, for some of my happiest hours since school let out in June. I browsed at Zappos.com (where I could click on "Latest Styles") and Jildorshoes.com (which features more than 70 designers, including Sigerson Morrison, Kate Spade and Donald J. Pliner).

With 17 hours before the first bell, I had some promising prospects. They included Born's Trefoil suede flats ($84 at Shoeline.com), Jcrew.com's Barcelona suede ballerina flats (at $118, barely above my limit) and Michael Kors's Wellesley clogs (at $165 at Saksfifthavanue.com, barely more than the J. Crew shoes).

Smug, I headed to the mall. That's when things started to go wrong.

As I stood in front of a full-length mirror at J. Crew, trying to explain to a hovering sales clerk my reservations about the Barcelona flats, my cellphone rang.

"School has been canceled," my daughter announced.

I groped a rack of blazers to steady myself.

"They found mold in a classroom building," she said.

"Mold?" I asked.

"Bad mold," she said. "It can cause nosebleeds."

"No school until next week," I said, to test how the words sounded. They sounded bad.

As she hung up, I realized the problem with the Barcelona flats was their classic cut. Adorable, yes, but they were too low and skimpy for daily mile-plus walks.

The sales clerk asked, "Did I hear you say school is canceled?"

Denial was my only defense.

"Put the brown ones on hold," I said. "I have to get to Nordstrom's fast."

There, upon being drawn toward a display table on which sat the $165 Michael Kors clog in a beautiful shade of brown described as "luggage," I started to relax. The clog was ingeniously designed, with a stubby rounded toe that gave it an unusually diminutive silhouette for something atop a wooden sole. The sole elevated the toe an inch, making the 2.5 inch heel comfortable.

"I'll take them," I said, because it was an emergency, and in an emergency $165 is barely more than $100.

Although no other colors were in stock, the clogs are available online in green, purple and black, from sites like Jildorshoes.com ($165), Zappos.com ($168.95) and Neimanmarcus.com, where they are described as the Kors loafer clog and cost $165.

My cellphone rang again.

Ignoring it, I asked if I could try on every ballet flat in the shoe department.

"Do you want something plain or something with bling?" the clerk asked.

"Something a teenager would never wear," I said.

Half an hour later I knew I wanted a round toe. (More casual than a pointed toe, it's flattering with full and straight skirts.) A bow was O.K., but nothing floppy. And a little heel might be preferable to a true flat.

The bad news was I didn't want the Born Trefoil (at $84, an excellent price for a comfortable shoe, but the kiltie look was wrong for skirts), the Munro Pirouette (it's $119.95 at Shoemania.com, but its awkwardly shaped heel screams of orthopedic support) or Nordstrom's house-brand Rachel flat ($69.95; my foot looked like a pumpkin in the seamed toe).

In a panic I rushed home and phoned Larry Bienenfeld, a senior vice president at Jildor Shoes Inc., which for 56 years has been selling shoes at bricks-and-mortar stores on Long Island.

"I have a straight denim skirt and a flouncy corduroy skirt," I said. "I'm desperate enough to try a moccasin."

"No, no, no, no," Mr. Bienenfeld said. "How long are the skirts?"

"Knee-length."

"You need a ballet for sure," he said. "We have a little Marc Jacobs ballet that's adorable. Take a look."

I clicked over to Jildorshoes.com to inspect the velvet ballet loafer.

"It has a bow," I said.

"It's a nice little detail, subtle," he said. "The shoe has a nice toe expression. It's a pretty traditional cut, doesn't hit too low, but Marc Jacobs's hand is a youthful hand."

"It looks perfect," I said. "But velvet?"

"The material doesn't wear out."

"It's $200," I said.

"Get black," he said. "Order a size up. It runs small."

Unfortunately black was sold out in my size. Although Neimanmarcus.com had the shoe in purple and bright blue(why?), and Zappos had it in yellow and pink (again, what are they thinking?), I decided it made more sense to take a gamble on brown. I ordered a pair a half size larger than usual, but they were too tight. I returned them to Jildorshoes.com, hoping that since it's early in the season, the site will restock black.

In the meantime, at least high school started the next Monday.