Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.

― Marilyn Monroe

Fashion footwear―boots, shoes, sandals and slippers―no longer captures the bulk of consumer spending in the footwear category, according to retail analysts.

“Athleisure”―sneakers, flats, slip-ons and flip-flops―has walked off with it.

The reasons for the shift lie deep in women’s psyches.

I suspect they’re taking over the world, and need the proper gear.

But who knows where this will end?

Will women acquire even more pairs of shoes?

The average American female, surveys show, already owns 17 pairs of fashion shoes; and many own three times that number.

How many pairs of world-dominion footwear will they buy?

Psychologists, of course, have puzzled for more than a century over women’s shoe-fetish.

Sigmund Freud thought shoes symbolized vaginas; and feet, penises. So for Freud, trying on shoes was a sex act.

Jacques Lacan thought buying shoes represented an act of domestic defiance. You’re proving to yourself you’re a master, not a slave. (If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Nancy Sinatra’s hit song.)

Psychologists today are more apt to point to the physical “high” that buying shoes triggers.

Trying on shoes releases a flood of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin; and paying for them tickles the part of the prefrontal cortex psychologists call our “collecting spot.”

But I think the mystique assigned to women’s footwear is overblown.

Most women, if you asked them, would say that buying lots of shoes is simply practical. 

Like belts and purses, shoes are a cheap way to stay abreast of fashion trends without replacing your whole wardrobe every year.

Which leads me to Vincent van Gogh…

In the year 1886, Vincent bought a pair of old shoes at a flea market in Montmartre and took them home to use as prop.

That prop turned into one of of art history’s most renowned paintings.

Vincent van Gogh, A Pair of Shoes, 1886

Philosophers in particular have celebrated “A Pair of Shoes.”

In “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1935), the Existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger―who exalted German peasants―claimed Vincent’s painting was the very embodiment of the peasant’s fate: food insecurity, ceaseless poverty, over-size families, and premature death.

The shoes, Heidegger wrote, are “pervaded by uncomplaining anxiety as to the certainty of bread, the wordless joy of having once more withstood want, the trembling before the impending child-bed, and shivering at the surrounding menace of death.”

Heidegger’s interpretation came under fire 30 years later in “The Still Life as a Personal Object” (1968), by the philosopher Meyer Schapiro.

Schapiro―a Marxist who exalted the urban poor―claimed that “A Pair of Shoes” didn’t depict a peasant’s shoes at all.

It depicted the artist’s own shoes.

Vincent always painted peasants’ shoes in a “clear, unworn shape,” Shapiro wrote, because (like Heidegger) he believed peasants were noble.

But Vincent depicted his own shoes as rumpled and ratty, because―down and out in Paris―he was rumpled and ratty.

Shoes don’t star only in paintings, however.

They star in countless fairy tales, story books and motion pictures, as well.

Just think of all the plots that feature shoes: CinderellaThe Old Woman Who Lived in a ShoePuss in BootsThe Red ShoesThe Wizard of OzThe Absent-Minded ProfessorThe Devil Wears PradaKinky Boots, Barefoot in the Park, Forrest Gump, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Get Smart, to name but a few.

That’s a lot of shoes!

Above: A Pair of Boots. Oil on canvas. 16 x 12 inches. $290. Add it to your collection!