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TAKE IT SLOWLY -- YOUR FEET WILL THANK YOU

Shopping for new shoes shouldn't feel like a marathon. Or even a footrace. The best advice for finding footwear you can live with is to slow down.

"Take a lot of time. Walk around the store in them while you are still looking at other shoes. Don't just slip them on and off," said Tricia Kelly, owner of Tricia's shoes in the Walker Center, 5110 Main St., Williamsville.

That means not dashing into a shoe store 20 minutes before attending a wedding to find a pair of shoes that matches your floral dress.

That means not trying on the right shoe only and, if it doesn't pinch, stuffing it back in the box and stating, loud and clear, 'I'll take them!' "

That means not merely pushing down on the tip of the shoe to see where your big toe ends (sort of the shoe department equivalent of kicking a car tire in the showroom, perhaps?).

And that means not buying a pair of clearance shoes a half-size too small because you love the silver buckles and figure they'll loosen up eventually.

Bad move. Don't count on tight shoes to stretch with wear.

When it comes to buying shoes, what woman doesn't want to find a shoe that's both comfortable and stylish?

To help you find them, here are some other tips from a variety of sources -- on everything from proper fit to smart style.

Fashion-wise, don't let your outfit compete with your shoes for attention -- and vice versa.

"If my outfit is plain and conservative, I like to choose a funky shoe to go with it. If I wear an outfit that is flashy, I tone down the shoe," said Leslie B. Haber, owner of the Wellesley Dress Shop Inc., 5436 Main St., Williamsville.

Similarly, if you are passionate about shoes, build your wardrobe around simple clothes and minimal jewelry. Shoes will become your fashion trademark.

Be sure to check out the latest looks in "comfort" shoes. They've gotten more fashionable the past few years, and cushion technology has come a long way.

Easy Spirit, Nine West Spa, Naturalizer, Aerosoles, Life Stride and other manufacturers all design "comfort" shoes.

Balance is more important than height. "When you try on a shoe, the heel should feel solid under your foot -- it shouldn't be wobbly or pitch you forward," writes Pamela Redmond Satran in "Dressing Smart: The Thinking Woman's Guide to Style" (Doubleday).

Skinny ankles look best in low-cut shoes.

Avoid shoes with ankle straps if you have thick ankles.

For conservative business dress, image consultant John Molloy suggests a traditional closed-heel, closed-toe pump in a conservative color with 1 1/2 - or 2-inch heels. No open toes or sling-backs or shoes with very high or spiked heels, please.

Don't fall into a size rut. Just as dress size often changes with age, so, too, does shoe size.

"As the foot ages, the arch tends to drop a fraction and the foot spreads and becomes larger, increasing by as much as three width fittings between the ages of 12 and 55," explains Deborah Hutton in "Vogue Beauty for Life: Health, Fitness, Looks and Style for Women in their 30s, 40s, 50s" (Crown).

Another tip from Ms. Hutton, who writes about women's health issues: "Avoid wearing high heels on a continual basis, since these shift the balance of the entire body forward onto the ball of the foot, causing the back to arch, the belly and chest to come forward, and the tendons at the back of the leg to shorten to a point where wearing flat shoes may become uncomfortable."

Wear heels for only short periods, and alternate with flats, she suggests. And for everyday wear, choose shoes that outline the shape of the foot and allow room for it to spread. (Some experts even recommend tracing your foot on a piece of paper, then placing the shoe over the image. If the shoe is narrower than your forefoot, choose other shoes.)

Finally, never underestimate what a new pair of well-made, stylish shoes can do for your wardrobe.

As fashion designer Diane Furstenberg recently said: "(Shoes) are the fastest way to make a statement and personalize any look. New shoes and boots immediately update everything you own."
-- Susan Martin

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