Shoe's that girl?

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What your footwear says about you

Beware, ladies - your shoes may be giving away your secrets.

No matter how coy you are with your boss, colleagues or clients, your footwear speaks volumes. And it might be saying things you'd rather not be broadcast.

According to a Lancaster University researcher, the style of shoes or boots that you choose communicate hidden messages to the rest of the world.

Dr Andrew Wilson, a senior lecturer in linguistics, is particularly interested in how shoes function as a non-verbal language in everyday life. In the course of his work he showed a range of autumn/winter shoes to more than 150 people in the UK, Germany, Poland and Russia, and asked for views on the typical wearer of each style.

He said: "Although there may be some grain of truth in the claim that shoe style preferences are linked with your actual personality, what is important in everyday life is not so much what your shoes are saying about you,but rather what other people think they are saying.

"It is all about building an image for yourself. Once you know what the basic code is, you can choose your shoes so that others will see you how you want them to."

Women who wear knee-high boots are seen as dynamic and confident. But different styles give different messages. Sharp toes and thin stiletto heels make others think you are abrasive and dominant; classic low-heeled riding boots suggest a much warmer and more approachable character.

Court shoes and ankle boots are viewed by others as boring and conventional. Although judged to be elegant and feminine by some, the wearers are not seen to have the same dynamic drive that a woman wearing knee-high boots has.

Dr Wilson, who is planning a book on this theme, says wearing a spiky-heeled ankle boot greatly improves the perception of dynamism, but cannot achieve the unique balance between dynamism and personal warmth that is possible with lower-heeled knee-high boots.

"Popular books and TV makeover shows often make assertions about shoe styles but it is rarely clear what the basis for these claims is.

"This research is based in a fairly large number of ordinary people responding to the same shoe styles. It tells us what the majority of bosses, colleagues and clients are likely to be thinking. It is also a cross-cultural study, and shows that a woman's business shoes will tend to communicate the same basic message anywhere in Europe."

Mary Janes by Accessorize

The round-toed Mary Janes suggest someone who is rather quiet, conservative, conventional, probably somewhat older than the women who would wear the other shoes you have shown me. She is a follower rather than a leader, not very dynamic.

Court shoe by French Connection

A court shoe would normally signify someone who is rather quiet, boring and conventional. However, the very high heel and platform on this style rescues it from sending that message. It suggests someone who is confident, successful, feminine, sexy, and business-minded. A tall sharp heel can signal a certain degree of arrogance and abrasiveness, but this one is fairly solid, so probably doesn't send out that message so much. These would be an ideal business shoe as an alternative to boots.

Knee-high boots by Shellys

Both these boot styles suggest someone who is young, self-confident, fashionable, and friendly. She is dynamic, but also a nice person to relate to. The riding boot carries additional overtones of someone with a practical, down-to-earth attitude, which are not normally present in our data with higher-heeled boots. The combined message of dynamism and warmth that these boots transmit suggests that they would be ideal work shoes for someone whose dress code allows a slightly more casual style.

Red high-heeled platforms by Faith

The high-heeled red platforms suggest someone who is young, self-confident, and trendy. They have a very tall heel indeed, which suggests that the wearer has a very dominant personality. This is backed up by the colour red. Red is a very active, dominant, and "sexy" colour and suggests that this person is in control of both herself and her environment.

'Passby' shoe by Dune

Without the bow, these high heels would send out a broadly similar message to the court shoes as detailed above. However, the bow makes them look rather too "fussy" for business wear. Perhaps they would be more appropriate for socialising for than work?

Purple high-heeled boot by Evans

Sharp-heeled knee-high boots suggest a person who is trendy, self-confident, sexy and rather dominant. The colour marks them out as special. Research on colour preferences showed that people who liked purple were very fashion conscious. Purple also has strong royal connections, which perhaps supports the dominance message - and in colour psychology it is considered to be linked to enchantment and mystery. If you wanted a "soundbite" you could perhaps call this person a "dominant queen of enchantment". An excellent choice for a party.