‘Sole sisters’ in study

Pictured at Sheffield Uni dept of Social Studies Professor Jenny Hockey, with her team.
Pictured at Sheffield Uni dept of Social Studies Professor Jenny Hockey, with her team.
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“I NEVER put on a pair of shoes,” said the legendary American film producer Samuel Goldwyn, “until I’ve worn them at least five years”.

Footwear, it seems, is this important. It doesn’t just keep our toes warm, it tells the world who we are.

Which is why a team of doctors, professors and graduates from Sheffield University are to spend the next three years researching what our trotters say about us.

“Whether we like it or not, the shoes we wear send out a message,” says Professor Jenny Hockey, leader of the project and proud owner of 51 pairs. “What we are trying to establish is what that message is.

“We’re also interested in how changing your shoes helps change who we are. So you wear formal footwear for work but then slip on trainers on holiday. The shoes are symbolic of us becoming a different person. The change is real and metaphorical.”


And here was your Diarist thinking his battered old brown things were just there to stop his socks getting dirty.

Seems not.

“Certain footwear has undeniable connotations,” says Dr Rachel Dilley. “White stilettoes, for example, are associated with Essex girls, so we’ll be trying to find out how those stereotypes came about.”

She is wearing old trainers as we speak.

“They show I value comfort over style, and that when I like a pair I wear them to death,” she says.

The wide-ranging project will also look at the shoe’s place in popular culture - think Cinderella, think Puss-in-Boots, think multi-million pound Nike adverts - their use as mementos and accessories, and the sustainability of the industry.

The team - Rachel and Jenny, as well as Dr Victoria Robinson and postgraduate researcher Alexandra Sherlock - will interview more than 100 volunteers. Twenty will then be asked to meet with the team at regular intervals for more questioning and perhaps a bit of shoe-shopping.

But why do it?

“As sociologists, we are always striving for a greater understanding of who we are as human beings,” says Alexandra, a former fashion designer.

“Shoes form such an important part of our culture yet no-one has ever carried out a study like this. Most research tends to focus on fetishes or people who have hundreds of pairs. This is about how ordinary people interact with shoes. We’re sure the findings will be useful for a whole range of people from academics to designers and economists.”

To volunteer to be interviewed call 0114 222 6408, email r.e.dilley@sheffield.ac.uk or visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/iftheshoefits

what your shoes say about you (possibly)

Winkle pickers: You have fashion ideas above your station. You think you look retro, others think you look like a student.

Stilettos: You’re confident, you’re sexy, you’re comfier in the battered old slippers you have at home.

Adidas Sambas: Pele, Socrates, Garrincha? You’re not as good at football as any of them. Sweet trainers, though.

Armani Brogues: You’re successful and going places. Tonight, for example, you’re going for cocktails with colleagues, then to a strip club.

Converse pumps: You’re 14 years old.