Late this summer, I saw multiple TikTok posts and articles popping up talking about the Wrong Shoe Theory. The idea is that you can transform an outfit from simple (classic, basic, expected) to stand-out (cool, Fashion with a capital “F”) just by swapping your shoes from the “correct” shoe to one that feels wrong. In other words, choosing a shoe that is so unexpected it somehow goes all the way back around to feel right.
The Wrong Shoe Theory was first called out by stylist Allison Bornstein, who used a recent client experience to explain the difference between functional shoe choices and intentional shoe choices. In her example, she talks about a woman who wore a lot of sneakers for the very practical reason that she lives in a big city and is always walking where she needs to get to, but who felt that the sporty outfits she paired her sneakers with didn’t actually fit her personal style. Bornstein then asked her client to pull out three of her favorite outfits and purposefully pair them with a sneaker instead of whatever shoe she thought they should go with, and suddenly those looks felt much cooler and truer to her client’s personal style. “This is why I think the wrong shoe theory is so important,” she says in her post. “It sort of signals that there is some kind of intention and choice and therefore gives your look personality.”
Now, I love experimenting with fashion—trying weird color combinations, embracing trends that may not feel like me just to see how they work, etc.—so the idea that I may be able to get more use out of my shoe wardrobe without actually creating any new go-to outfits was incredibly appealing. That said, all I could think of when picturing how the Wrong Shoe Theory might work was a sea of ‘80s business women rocking skirt suits and running sneakers, which might make for a fun costume but is not particularly chic for 2023. I anticipated that I may find a limit to how and when this theory actually works. Turns out, I was right. Read on for my findings and a proposed twist on the Wrong Shoe Theory to make this styling trick even easier to implement.