An economic indicator suited to the pandemic: dress shoes

Marielle Segarra May 21, 2021
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The thing about dress shoes: You don’t really wear them around the house. They’re meant to be seen by other people. Fox Photos/Getty Images

An economic indicator suited to the pandemic: dress shoes

Marielle Segarra May 21, 2021
Heard on:
The thing about dress shoes: You don’t really wear them around the house. They’re meant to be seen by other people. Fox Photos/Getty Images
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In economic recessions and recoveries, we often look to indicators that tell us about the consumer mindset. Here’s one uniquely suited to pandemic recovery: dress shoes.

Several shoe companies reported earnings this week, including Shoe Carnival. The shoe store chain said dress shoe sales are up by triple digits compared to this time in 2020. They’re still down vs. 2019, but it’s progress. This is an unexpected sign of optimism, economic and otherwise. 

Rick Lee, who owns a shoe store in New York, Soula, said dress shoes were one of those things that people pretty much stopped buying during the pandemic. “That business for the past year has been basically underwater,” Lee said.

Over the past month, however, he’s suddenly selling heels, ballet flats and loafers for customers to wear to weddings and bat mitzvahs. “So, I think that seems to be a good, you know, indicator that the economy is slowly getting back to where it was before,” Lee said.

Here’s the thing about dress shoes: you don’t really wear them around the house. They’re meant to be seen by other people. And so they could be a sign of how the economy will recover, said Tiffany Hogan at the consulting firm Kantar. “Maybe it’s more of an indicator that, you know, life is returning to more of some level of normalcy,” Hogan said.

That people are buying up dress shoes to wear as they host and attend events, for instance.

Shoe Carnival has been tracking this on a granular level. Cliff Sifford, its chief executive, said the company has seen a big jump in sales of what it calls “social” dress shoes. “That would be all the evening shoes, anything with glitz or glamour. Then you have pumps and open sandals,” Sifford said.

So, shoes meant for celebrations. Like any good indicator, we can track dress shoes over time. And in a couple of months, sales of the more office-appropriate styles could tell us something else: how many people are going back in, and whether they feel the need to dress up anymore.

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