Perhaps you covet the scarlet Louboutin soles, or maybe you're in the market for a sturdy work boot. If you're shoe shopping, you should be thinking about more than price and wiggle room - critically assessing your potential purchase can help you save money in the long run by taking home well-made shoes that will serve your feet well.
Don't assume that a higher price tag denotes higher quality, especially if the shoe in question carries a designer name - in most cases, you're paying a premium for that name, and the shoe itself isn't made any better than shoes at half the price.
Of course, this rule isn't necessarily true for the super-bargains - if you walk into a $9.99 shoe store, don't expect to walk out with a lasting pair. These shoes are considered throw away shoes, and generally won't last more than a few months. This may be okay in some cases - the very trendy styles are generally only meant to be worn for a single season, so there's no reason to invest a week's pay. Likewise for the shoes you have to buy to match the hideous bridesmaid's dress for your sister's wedding - if you plan to ditch them on the way out of the reception hall, bargains are best.
Again, super-trendy styles are not meant to walk through life with you. For shoes that are single-season stars (knee-high metallic gladiator sandals anyone?), do your bargain hunting. When the trend fades, you'll be happy that you're not still paying off the shoes you can no longer stand to look at.
On the other hand, there are those shoes that transcend fads and look good with everything, at any age. Your four-inch black stilettos, your red suede ballerina flats, your Mary Janes. These classics are versatile enough to be worn to the office or out on the town, and they never go out of style. They can take your pumps when they pry them off your cold, dead toes. In this case, go for quality. Spending a few hundred dollars doesn't hurt so bad when the shoes will last you a decade or more.
Quality doesn't matter as much with the bargain-basement throw away finds. If it's cute and doesn't pinch too badly, consider it a score. Hey - it's only ten dollars.
Investing in big girl shoes, however, requires a more discerning eye. Pick up the shoe and feel it. Run your finger along the opening and through the inside. If you feel any rough or sharp areas, put it down - this shoe will give you blisters and calluses.
Try to twist the shoe - you shouldn't be able to. If you can, it means the shoe is too flimsy to provide much support. This might be typical and okay for some flats, but it can be very dangerous in heels.
Inspect the area where the upper meets the sole. Cheaper shoes are glued, but high-end shoes should be hand-stitched. If you're already slightly uncomfortable with the price and you don't see stitches, take it as a sign of a rip-off.
Place the shoe on a flat surface and look at how the sole rests against the floor. The toe area should have a slight upward curve - this allows you to step naturally and roll through the foot instead of clomping around. If the curve is large enough to roll a pencil under, it may force your toes into an unnatural position. If there's no curve, the shoes won't be comfortable for more than a short time.
The fit is the most important factor when it comes to shoes, and it even trumps style if you enjoy healthy feet and no back problems. If you haven't had your feet measured lately, do - your feet change as you age, and pregnancy can increase your shoe size permanently. Have both feet measured because they're generally slightly different. Buy shoes to fit the larger/wider foot.
Put the shoes on both feet (never try just one), and stand up. Bend over, stand on your tiptoes and crouch for a second, and feel for any pinching or pulling. If the sole twists to the side of your foot when you stand on tiptoe, it's too narrow. Make sure there's room to wiggle your toes.
Walk around the store to make sure the shoes stay securely on your feet. If your heel slides out, the shoes are either too wide or too long. Make sure the back of the shoe doesn't dig into your ankle. Note any pinching or toe-squishing that occurs as you step - sure signs of a too-narrow or too-short shoe. If your feet slide to the front of the shoe, they're too big or too wide.
The perfect pair of shoes should fit like a glove. There should be no movement inside the shoe, and you shouldn't have to modify your foot or the shoe to make the relationship work. Your arches should have support, and you shouldn't be able to feel the texture of the floor through the soles. Wearing them should be the joy, not taking them off after a long day.
Of course, the perfect shoe doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it just might move you to tears.