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Graeme Demianyk: Never judge this man by his choice of footwear

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 01, 2012

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You can judge a man by his shoes, the old saying goes. It may have been Forrest Gump. But now science – or at least research – appears to support the notion. So, yes, boffins at the University of Kansas were this year tasked with finding out what footwear reveals about a person. It's not a cure for cancer, but it's findings kept me mildly entertained for half an hour.

The study went something like this. Some 68 people were asked to say what they thought of photos of 208 subjects wearing their favourite pair of shoes. How old they were, their gender, an estimated income, and whether they were a nice or nasty person. And do you know what? They got it right 90 per cent of the time. So you make an instant, accurate judgement on nine out of ten people based on what they wear to avoid accident by standing on a rake, or whatever evolutionary reason we started wearing shoes in the first place. Amazing.

Some of the specific conclusions are most amusing. Liberals wear shabby shoes. This rings true, bringing to mind an earnest university lecturer with a penchant for Bob Dylan. Long hair, corduroy and habit of reciting war doggerel.

Extroverts wear colorful shoes. Again, predictable. But I'm immediately thinking of Christopher Biggins and any other larger than life television personality. Or a circus clown.

Wealthy people tend to wear expensive shoes. Stands to reason. If you can afford to buy good footwear then why not? Though, and I'm basing this entirely on hearsay rather than life experience, the rich tend to earn a pile by being careful with their cash – knowing when to invest and spotting value when they see it. So why lavish shoes? Though, if you own a floating gin palace of a yacht, say, what's £500 on a decent pair of loafers?

Conscientious people? They wear shoes that are not box fresh, but look immaculate. This is someone who can't stand waste, and is probably known to have the sobering thought that the less fortunate than themselves don't have any shoes at all. They could also just be a bit thrifty, of the school that believes if you look after a pair of shoes they will last you a lifetime. Either way, these are shoes kept spotless.

Agreeable people sport practical and functional shoes; aggressive people ankle shoes; and calm characters wear shoes that look uncomfortable. I don't really understand the latter, unless there's a Zen-like transcendence to getting blisters. It's somewhere I've yet to reach.

It makes me pleased, therefore, that I've spent an ungodly amount of time buying a pair of shoes. As the sartorial equivalent of walking around the streets wearing a sandwich board that reveals your annual income and political outlook, you must be careful, it appears. Moreover, the shoes are for my wedding, a day when the spotlight cannot be avoided. Nearly one hundred people will be staring at my feet – or at least glancing at them at some point in the day – so you can't pitch up in carpet slippers.

Sallying up to the local department store, I assumed I could be done within the hour. How hard can it be? Well, there's brogues, Oxfords, patent leather, soft leather, rounded toes, pointed toes. Shoes that cost £475 and what look like an identical pair for £40. They say shoes that are brown "never in town", but we're getting married in the country. What's more, my long, wizened feet – blame years of wearing trainers, which are just plastic and glue – make conventional sizes an awkward fit. Before I know it, I've been to more shoe shops than Imelda Marcos could stomach.

Eventually, I come to my senses. Who am I kidding? I'm the junior partner here, the shoes will be second fiddle somewhat to my bride- to-be's dress. And everything else she's organised with little constructive input from me. As long as I don't wait at the alter wearing flip-flops, I can't be in too much danger. This is why people like me – men, mainly – are given as little responsibility as possible. Potential meltdown.

So black brogues, no funny business. They don't look like they'll fall apart in a light shower, but nor did they cost the same as a small sports car. People will look at them and say: "He seems like a dull bloke." But that's fine because, actually, you can't tell anything about someone from their shoes.

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