I do a lot of my shopping online, partially because I live in a city of relatively little retail merit. Besides, those precious few spots that shine ever so brightly I like to conserve for when I summon the energy to engage in one of the titillating and rather temerarious sport of the shopping spree. Braving retail throngs, waiting for shop assistants to find a shoe in my size, or browsing through racks of clothing all sized between 0 and 4 sometimes prove to be to much for my often fragile psychological state.
Online browsing, however, is minimally physical and mindless as can be. One can do it while polishing one’s mani/pedi, watching re-runs of Monk, or enjoying a glass of Martini. See? I’m already relaxed. As you might have noticed, I’m always on the hunt for shoes and partially rely on the websites I frequent to provide me with accurate pictures and descriptions of their products. A foolish hope if I ever knew one!
I will perhaps address the issue of pictures some other time (and a worthwhile subject that is!) but for now, let me indulge a little bit in looking at the way sites categorize shoes; and by indulge I mean kvetch.
I am aware that shoes come in basically a myriad forms and shapes and types and materials and uses and colors and what not. But sometimes the way they are organized gives me serious headaches. Which is not fair: I’ve got my glass of wine, the re-runs of Scrubs, the pooch by my side, and life should be good. I shouldn’t have to scratch my head over taxonomies that are not far-off from those mentioned in Borges’s famous ‘Analytical Language of John Wilkins.’ Therein, Borges described ‘a certain Chinese Encyclopedia,’ the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which it is written that animals are divided into:
- those that belong to the Emperor,
- embalmed ones,
- those that are trained,
- suckling pigs,
- fabulous ones,
- stray dogs,
- those included in the present classification,
- those that tremble as if they were mad,
- innumerable ones,
- those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
- those that have just broken a flower vase,
- those that from a long way off look like flies.
I swear that’s what I see sometimes in online fashion stores. Yoox (which otherwise I love dearly) is one of the biggest repeat offenders. For how else would one explain that these shoes are all labeled as belonging to the same category, moccasins:
I may not be the world’s leading expert on moccasins (really, I’m not), but you’ll forgive me if I claim there’s something wrong with this picture. You must feel it too, no? Could it be that ‘moccasins’ wouldn’t exactly be the first word you’re looking for when trying to describe these shoes?
Not very helpful is the categorization of footwear into ‘ankle boots, ballet flats, bootees, boots, closed-toe slip-ons, combat boots (?), flip-flops, high-heeled sandals, sandals, moccasins, slingbacks, wedges, sneakers’, etc. An odd assortment of disparate feature- and function- based distinctions.
Zappos, which I take to be the golden-standard of online shoe-stores in many respects, suffers from comprehensivitis, an affliction which causes them to sprout approximately 13,457 categories for women’s shoes. Well, I did not perform an exact count, but that number seems about right. Many of those categories will, of course, overlap, but if you do a search, boy! Can that be overwhelming.
Which is why I tend to favor the simplicity of department-store sites such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. Neiman’s has but a few categories: pumps, sandals, flats, wedges, evening, loafers, and boots. Even these seem to overlap quite a bit, but it’s a more soothing start, you know?
I love Anthropologie’s descriptions, on the other hand. They must be written by a genius copywriter. The taxonomy in and by itself is ok-ish (until you get into the deeper subcategories, which tend to be a tad confusing); the verbal descriptions, however, are priceless. You’re inclined to buy if only because the sandals do not simply have three buckles, but ‘pack a three-buckle punch’; or because red-on-white stripes are not just stripes, but ‘recall cafe canopies in portside towns’; and a multicolor wedge becomes ‘a calypso serenade of turquoise, lemon, and purple leather [which] harmonizes with a raffia-wrapped wedge’. The next thing they’ll say is that they have magical powers! Oh wait, they did say that. And I’m actually tempted to believe it all!
I’d very much like to be friends with this writer. I bet he/she would be a hoot to be around. We’d have fun creating captions for anything and everything under the sun. Windex without ammonia? No problem. ‘Glistening in muted tones of amber, this friendly container will be your trusted companion as you render your household surfaces into a gentle, lustrous, and fragrant glow.’ It would be brilliant.
The more ambitious the site, the more ambitious the taxonomy. Boat shoes merit a whole separate category on a site (Endless), but not mentioned on other sites. Rain footwear may or may not have a category. Wedges can be either a category or a subcategory, as is slingback, depending on the web designer’s fancy.
As for me? I have pretty much two basic categories that I strictly abide by: cute and not-cute. There is a sliding scale, of course (not cute-ugly-fugly-abysmal, for example), but by and large, that’s my main guiding compass. And frankly, that’s good enough for me.