Gather round, friends, while I explain to you the Wrong Shoe Theory, the hot new doctrine sweeping the fashion universe. Wrong Shoe Theory is – well actually it is exactly what it sounds like. Wrong Shoe Theory is a philosophy which posits that to make an outfit look right, you should wear the Wrong Shoe.
The Wrong Shoe is an unexpected shoe. The Wrong Shoe is a chunky loafer with a slip dress. It is a flip-flop or a pair of Crocs peeking out from under tailored trousers. It is a kitten heel with jogging bottoms or trainers with a sundress. The theory went viral after stylist Allison Bornstein posted a video on TikTok showing how a shoe that is deliberately a little “off” can elevate an outfit, because “it signals that there is some intention and choice and therefore it gives your look personality”.
The lady is on to something. I have been trialling it, and it works. For instance, if I get dressed in pleat-front trousers and a shirt, I would usually reach for a loafer, but yesterday I swapped them for chunky Velcro-strapped sandals and the fact of the shoes being too casual for the clothes made it look cooler. More sophisticated, not less so.
Then, today, I put on a shirt dress, which I tend to wear with pointed slingbacks that finish the line with an elegant full stop, but instead I went for a pair of round-toe ballet pumps. It looks less tidy and polished – and more interesting. It could be as simple as a black shoe with an all-white outfit, or a bright red one with neutral tailoring. Instead of dotting the Is and crossing the Ts of your outfit, an unexpected shoe is a signoff with flair.
The Wrong Shoe Theory is not new. Miuccia Prada has had it at the heart of her formula for offbeat chic for decades: a slinky skirt with a clompy shoe, a heavier dress with a boudoir sandal. Lily Allen did it in vintage pink satin and bouncy Nike trainers back in 2006. We all did a watered-down version of it when, for a few years, we wore floral midi dresses with white trainers.
You know that thing when you haven’t registered the person sitting next to you on the train or in a cafe and then they pull out their phone, and you catch a glimpse of their home screen – a baby, a cat, a wedding – and they become a person to you rather than just a stranger? An unexpected shoe choice catches your eye in the same way, makes you think, so that instead of gliding right over an outfit, your gaze is a little intrigued by what it sees.
The Wrong Shoe Theory is about surprise, not deliberate ugliness. You can still look nice; you don’t have to look weird. If you put the Wrong Shoe on and you feel as if it’s making you look like you got dressed without looking in a mirror, sometimes another accessory can help to pull the look together.
I applied the Wrong Shoe Theory to tailored shorts, wearing them with chunky loafers rather than sandals, and it looked cooler but it felt a bit bottom-heavy, so I added a black leather belt for balance, and it worked.
Wrong Shoe Theory has reminded me that my outfit doesn’t have to be sensible just because my shoes are. I walk everywhere, and fast, so that limits my daytime shoe options, and as a result I had got into the habit of wearing practical, sensible clothes that seemed to “match” practical, sensible shoes.
You know what’s much more fun? Wearing sensible shoes with fun clothes. This theory makes more sense than you would think. If the shoe fits – and it’s the right kind of wrong – wear it.
Hair and make up: Carol Morley at Carol Hayes Management. Model: Suzanne at Body London. Suit: filippa-k.com. Top: allsaints.com. Shoes: crocs.co.uk. Necklace and ring: both pilgrim.net