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January 27, 2004

Style with Diana Michelle Fox

Readers: welcome to my style column! My aim at the beginning of each column is to take a common problem of the college student and attempt to solve it quickly, easily, and on a budget. And lately, my main problem every morning is with my shoes. Each day, I look out the window, notice the slushy condition, look at my shoe rack, and sigh. There is an incredible conflict between what I desire to wear on my feet and what can possibly survive the 15 minute walk to Classics undamaged.

I am a great lover of the stiletto; there is no higher high or quicker pick-me-up than slipping into a fabulous pair of high-heeled boots. I'm convinced that a woman's confidence, power, and poise rise exponentially with the height of her heels. Thus, I am indeed saddened when outrageous weather conditions force me to leave my tan, pencil heels, ankle-length leopard boots, or brand-new suede kitten heels on the shelf.

I suffer from an especially rare and intense form of Seasonal Affective Disorder: low energy and self-esteem. This is not due to the cold temperature and early sunset, but rather due to the absence of height and sophistication that my usual footwear lends me.

Knowledge that I'm neither ruining my shoes, nor in danger of slipping on the way to class does little to fill the void in my heart left by wearing old clunky boots or sneakers. "How can I solve this?" I ask myself. The answer is simple—locate shoes that are cute, robust, and actually make me want to put them on in the morning. So for the first time ever, I set out to buy a pair of sensible shoes.

My mother, via telephone, is shocked. My friends are surprised. Even I can't quite wrap my head around the notion that I'm going shoe shopping with the express purpose of bypassing the pointed, spiked shoes that I would normally drool over. However, I am haunted by memories of last winter, when I mistakenly thought the ice and snow would make a special exception for my footwear. I killed two pairs of boots tramping around in the slush that winter. That's why it is to the shops I go, and I sincerely hope my search for a weather-appropriate shoe will help you gals in a similar predicament.

First stop: Marshall Fields in Water Tower Place. I rush to the suede boots and question the salesman on the relationship between suede and snow. As anticipated, it doesn't look good, so I rule out suede and ultra-soft leathers to avoid the pain of watching yet another pair of shoes go to waste.

I move to Lord & Taylor, where a salesman suggests patent leather as a waterproof material. Patent leather, I think, would fulfill all objectives—cute, girly, and wearable with the majority of my clothes. I first look at a beautiful pair of moderately heeled Bandolino boots (on sale for $65), but the store is missing my size. Steve Madden Clash is a pointy, ankle-length, kitten-heeled creation that comes in patent leather black, red, pink, blue, and even metallic silver. They are a steal at only $40, but the beyond-skinny heel forces me to leave them on the shelf.

My next stop is Nine West, where I try on two fabulous pairs of boots: Nwaldis in black leather ($77) and Niwakili in black patent ($65). Though both are comfortable, the bottom is a slippery plastic, and the heels are four inches high (though much, much thicker than my stilettos.) There are also two cute pairs of actual snow boots (Fictional, $42) with treads and furry insides in either black or red. These are perfect for the girl who wants true function. However, pure function just won't satisfy me.

Still fixated on patent leather, I run to the Steve Madden store on the fifth floor. I see more of Clash, but I also spot Empyre—a tall patent leather boot in red, white or black. I reject it for the heel height and then discover a mid-calf length boot at just $25 in both black and white patent. The heels are two inches high and chunky—I very much doubt anyone would slip in these things—and they also have a big, gaudy buckle near the top.

I notice that Stevie is stocking two wildly-colored, cool pairs of galoshes called Splish and Splash, in orange/yellow polka dot and green/blue stripes, respectively. Cool, I think, but I'm not going to sit through class looking ridiculous in them, and the $60 price tag seems a little unreasonable for mere shoe covers.

Having exhausted Water Tower, I make a beeline for Aldo, the mecca of the boot lover. Once again, I question a saleslady about the effects of the elements on suede and leather. Both, she claims, can be protected with a special defense spray (which I fortunately happen to own).

But I'm still wary of suede in snow and decide to continue confining my search to thick or patent leather. I spot a pair of boots with treads and rhinestones at $25, but I reject them for being completely flat. I cannot, I decide, live without at least a little height.

The saleslady shows me a few pairs of kitten heels, but I've already ruled out kitten heels for fear of slipping. Then I spot a pair of knee high, three-inch chunk heeled black leather boots. I'm not wild about the rounded toe, but the height and the awesome lace-up front (just like an ice skate, in fact) make up for the toe dilemma. I try them on, and it's immediate affection. I feel tall and confident, yet stable with the treads keeping me firmly on the ground.

When I lift up my jeans, the sexy tie-up portion of the boot makes me long to wear a skirt to show them off. The tough leather will need to be sprayed and cleaned every two weeks, but this seems a small price to pay for having such cool yet functional boots. And with that, the boots go on hold to await my final decision.

After an unproductive run to Nordstrom, I return to Aldo, where my goal is realized. I leave the store wearing Aldo's model #11540197 and truly feel like a renewed woman as I walk into the wind. Every time I look down and see rounded-toe heavy boots rather than my trademark stiletto, I wonder briefly if I did the right thing by yielding to Chicago's wintry conditions. However, I've bought a pair of functional, cold-weather shoes, added three inches to my height, and retained some of the sultriness of the stiletto by choosing the lace-up variety.

My conclusion: yes, it is possible to find cute and utilitarian shoes, though it does take some work and a bit of sacrifice. As I finish this very column, I look out the window and notice the snow coming down. I sigh and smile. Ladies and gentlemen, this time I know exactly what I'm wearing.