Oxfords, Docs,

Converse, crocs.

Peep toes, pumps,

Mary Janes, clogs.

Jellies, Wellies,

Combats, Chucks.

Manolos, Maddens,

Sandals, stilettos.

Kitten heels, mules,

Birks and wedges.

A new study reveals that our soles are the window to our souls; these tongues do tell.

The research finds that you can judge 90 percent of a stranger's personality just by the shoes the person is wearing. In the study, a range of detailed demographic traits, including age, income, political affiliation, and emotional stability, were guessed from the wearer's shoes. As the researchers explained in the Journal of Research in Personality, "Shoes serve a practical purpose, and also serve as nonverbal cues with symbolic messages. People tend to pay attention to the shoes they and others wear." According to the study, my shoes would reveal me as extroverted, aggressive, and conscientious, but not calm or agreeable. Hmmm. Maybe so.

At any rate, I was surprised to learn recently that a study conducted last year found that the average American woman owns 17 pairs of shoes.

17 pairs.

That's all?

I'm not exactly Imelda Marcos, but if you consider my various roles—professor, stall mucker, runner, rider, and regular person—then multiply that by four seasons, well, you do the math: I need a lot of different foot coverings. Even so, I have far more than I need—and yet still have a wandering eye. I can't even try to rationalize it. But still, I am curious about why something that so clearly serves an essential function (barefoot advocates notwithstanding), pleases so much through such variety in its forms.

It's not all pleasure, though. We shoe lovers apparently withstand a fair amount of pain for our shoe obsession: that same study from last year showed that 59 percent of American women surveyed have gotten blisters from their shoes, and 46 percent have experienced foot pain from them; 35 percent have had an evening ruined by uncomfortable footwear; and 24 percent of have fallen because of their shoes.

Theories to explain such inexplicable love for shoes abound. The same study above says that some women go shoe shopping to cheer themselves up. Perhaps that's true for some, but I'll happily shop for shoes in any mood. Another explanation the study offers is that "no matter how much weight you gain, you can always fit into your shoes. They're friends through thick and thin." Maybe. Some experts say buying new shoes stimulates an area of the brain's prefrontal cortex termed the collecting spot, and according to Suzanne Ferriss, PhD, editor of Footnotes: On Shoes, "Shoes are a collector's item, whether women realize they perceive them that way or not." Another sees shoe savvy as a way to boost one's career. A new book by Rachelle Bergstein, Women From the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us, postulates that shoe styles and sales reflect the economic times: sky-high platform heels became popular when the economy collapsed, and at the recession's height, when most retail sales were in decline, the sales of shoes—a more meager form of luxury—thrived. Within most of Christian culture (happily for me), shoes, for the most part, dance under the radar of the modesty wars, which are pretty narrowly focused on the three Bs (bust, belly, and butt).

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But perhaps there's more to what meets the eye when it comes to what covers our feet.

For a great pair of shoes is a work of art. One shoe scholar says shoes are like sculptures. I think shoes might be likened to poetry. In fact, the rhythmical unit of poetry is called, not-so-coincidentally, a foot and, just like the shoes that adorn human feet, the poetic foot comes in various shapes and sizes, with a different term for each foot-tapping pattern: iambic, trochaic, anapestic, spondaic, dactylic, pyrrhic. At their best, shoes, like poetry, are the perfect marriage of form and function. But bad shoes, like bad poetry, are torture, unbearable to both feet and eyes. As Bergstein writes in Women From the Ankle Down, "Shoes, like works of art, are inextricably bound to the world in which they're produced, and yet they also rest agelessly outside it, like bursts of beauty that defy the mundane."

My taste in shoes, like that in poetry, is broad but tends toward heft rather than delicacy and favors texture more than smoothness. Perhaps this obsession with shoes is the symptom of a prosaic age. The human heart, with beats all its own, was made for poetry: poetry will out, one way or another.

Both poetry and shoes have come to be forms of self-expression although they didn't start out that way. Ultimately, for me, with shoes (if not for poetry), it is all about self-expression. I can't sing or dance or paint or sculpt or play a musical instrument. But I can punctuate a great outfit with a fabulous pair of shoes. As that dandy Oscar Wilde once quipped, "One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art."

This love of shoes is surely extravagant. But when I look around at God's world and observe his perfect balance of form and function—in other words, the how and the what of things, like the pleasure food provides as it sustains us—I note a bit of extravagance in his creation, too: the neck of the giraffe, the spark of the firefly, the quills of the porcupine, the dirge of the mourning dove, the glow of the sunset. All of these qualities serve essential functions in nature's economy as God has designed it. But, oh, in what lovely forms those functions are fulfilled.

Another pair of shoes? Why, yes, please.