What Your Shoes Tell Others

According to some research, we can discern a person’s attributes/characteristics by looking at their shoes!

From Medical Daily:

Do your shoes reveal your personality’s characteristics? What do my Birk clogs tell the world about me?

You can accurately judge a person just by looking at their shoes, psychologists say.

Researchers at the University of Kansas found that people were able to correctly judge a stranger’s age, gender, income, political affiliation, emotional and other important personality traits just by looking at the person’s shoes.

Lead researcher Omri Gillath found that by examining the style, cost, color of condition of the shoe, participants were able to guess about 90 percent of the of the owner’s personal characteristics.

The study, published online in the August 2012 edition of the Journal of Research in Personality, consisted of 63 students who looked at photographs showing 208 different pairs of shoes that belonged to volunteers in the experiment.

Researchers had asked each of the volunteers to fill out a personality questionnaire and to provide their most frequently worn shoes for the experiment. 

The 63 observers were then asked to look at each pair and guess the gender, age, social status and different personality traits of the owner, like whether the owner was an extrovert or introvert, liberal or conservative and the degree of their emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness.

Researchers found that observers did well in guessing characteristics of the volunteers in almost all categories, and concluded that people do wear shoes that reveal their personality, whether they intend to or not.

Expensive shoes belonged to high earners, flashy and colorful footwear belonged to extroverts and shoes that were not new but appeared to be spotless belonged to conscientious types.

While some of the clues like the ones already described were obvious, other clues were more surprising.

Practical and functional shoes generally belong to agreeable people, ankle boots fit with more aggressive personalities and uncomfortable looking shoes were worn by calm personalities.

Participants were able to most accurately judge a person’s age, gender and income followed by their emotional stability and agreeableness.

In psychology, emotional stability is an umbrella term that includes a person’s fear of abandonment, rejection issues and the ability to handle different kinds of relationships.

People with “attachment anxiety” or people that were most worried about their relationships generally had brand new and well-kept shoes. Researchers suggest that this may be because they worry so much about their appearance and what others may think of them.

Not surprisingly, liberal thinkers, who many think of as flip-flop wearing hippies, wear shabbier and less expensive shoes.

“Shoes convey a thin but useful slice of information about their wearers,” the authors wrote. “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.”

However, researchers noted that participants were not able to accurately judge that volunteers who wore the most boring looking shoes found it hard to form relationships.

Volunteers who had boring shoes described themselves as ‘aloof and repressive’ in their emotions and do not care what others think of them so they do not stand out in their general appearance.

“Shoes have great variety of styles, brands, looks, and functions. Because of this variety, shoes can carry individual difference information, but do they? We suggest that the answer is yes,” they concluded.

However, psychologists noted that rarely some people will purposely choose shoes just to convey a certain public image that is different from their real personality.

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  • This is great! I’ve always said that you can tell these types of things by a persons shoes. Maybe that’s why I’m so picky with mine. My shoes always have to be non-flashy, a little quirky, minimalisticly simple, and not too popular, which is actually a pretty good description of me.

    Same is true with sunglasses. Haven’t found any that suit me yet.

  • RJS

    Well the shoe in the picture may tell us the wearer prefers not to waste time with unnecessary tasks, like tying knots or bows. But then again it may not.

    My preference is sneakers – and I will wear black ones as much as possible when white are inappropriate. What that says about me I won’t venture to guess.

  • A friend of mine who grew up as a mission kid in Africa and has lived around the world commented to me, “You can always tell who the Americans are, because they always have on clean, new shoes.” Her observation is that most people around the world wear shoes for quite a few years, and let them get aged. It’s the Americans who have an expectation that they should be constantly getting new ones.

  • If the shoe fits, wear it? And wear it, and wear it, and wear it, and …. I know someone whose wife went and bought them some new shoes because they kept wearing the old ones until the soles were coming off and he had wrapped duct tape around them. And he had to remove and save the shoelaces before he could throw the old ones away. This alien also fixed their glasses earpieces with paper clip wire and heat shrink tubing. Good thing this study had a 10% “no fit – you don’t want to know” category.

  • Terry

    What do Birk clogs tell the world about you? The same thing they tell the world about me: I appreciate style, class and comfort! I wear Birks exclusively, primarily clogs (Almanors, Oklahomas and Bostons) during the wetter months, but am now thankfully moving into one of my pairs of Arizonas for the summer. I wear Birk hiking boots (Alpines and Calgarys) and Birk casual shoes (Torrance and Tacoma) and I finally broke down and bought dress shoes (Wexfords) so I don’t have to wear clogs at funerals and weddings anymore. Some of my Birks I’ve had for 15+ years, resoled multiple times.

    Of course, they also tell the world I am from Eugene, Oregon; I am thankful for all the closet Eugenians from all over the US.

  • Trisha Burlison

    Hmmm. I like colorful shoes and I’m an introvert. But I am also a creative person who like clothes that have flair and flow.

  • Jeremy

    My choice in shoes will tell you two things about me:
    1. My wife’s tastes in shoes.
    2. What stores carry in my size.

    I’m not a big shoe person…heck, I’d keep it to 2 or 3 pair if I could!

  • John Inglis

    Interesting study, but anecdotally true at least for the people I’ve observed. And I can certainly relate to the fact that perceptions are formed on the basis of footwear. For example, I don’t think I could stand to be in the same conversational space as a person who not only wore birkenstocks exclusively but was also proud of the fact. I suppose I’m one of the few that chooses shoes according to the situation. Power shoes–new, black, highly polished–for meetings. Funky shoes for social gatherings. Complete beaters for working in the yard or doing carpentry. Ankle boots and cowboy boots to declare both aggression and a I don’t care what you think of me attitude at work and negotiations (or power shoes). And my choices and expressions are limited compared to what my wife can do (and interpret) with shoes! I pay attention to what she observes and says, and in regard to shoes I’m constantly impressed at how much she can tell about a person (and I’m learning from her), and how much I subconsiously had the same opinion about the person (on who’s shoes she is commenting). So I’m not surprised at what the researchers found.

  • Mark E. Smith

    Words I’m learning to despise: “According to research…”

  • Terry

    I don’t know John, we’re enjoying the same conversational space now, though I’m actually not wearing my highly-polished go-to-meeting Birks (which lace up and tie like big-boy shoes) which are safely in their box awaiting their next travel opportunity. If you had size 14 extra wide feet you too might enjoy more this side of the conversation.

  • BradK

    So Mars Blackmon was right? 😉