Can You Tell Someone’s Politics by their Shoes?
Why Shoes are the Window to Your Sole
Posted Oct 01, 2018
“The guard simply didn't notice. Neither did I. I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a man's shoes?” – The Shawshank Redemption
They say that “shoes are a window to a person’s sole.” Sounds a bit hokey but before you go dismissing this as poetic nonsense, think about it. Your shoes are often the most expensive part of your wardrobe. So if you’re going to slap down a stack of cash for a pair of shoes, chances are you want ones that really draw you in. Ones that connect to some important aspect of your personality or perhaps even your ideology.
Truth is, you can actually tell a lot by looking at someone’s shoes. Don’t believe it? Then take a quick look at the ones you’re wearing right now. If someone saw a picture of those shoes and nothing else and had to guess your gender, age, income, or personality, do you think they could do it?
That is exactly what a group of researchers at the University of Kansas wondered. So they did something about it. First, they gathered a group of volunteers and did what someone with a shoe fetish might do—they asked the people to provide them with a photo of their shoes. They also asked these shoe providers to complete a bunch of demographic questions (including political ideology) and personality tests.
Next, the researchers coded the shoes on a number of dimensions, including:
- ugly vs. attractive
- round vs. pointy toe shape
- cheap looking vs. expensive looking
- bad repairs vs. good repairs
- new looking vs. old looking
- neutral vs. colorful
So what did they find? It turns out that political ideology correlated with the first four qualities. The more liberal a person was, the more likely they were to have ugly, round-toed, cheap, poorly repaired shoes. Conversely, the more conservative a person was, the more likely they were to have attractive, pointy-toed, expensive, properly repaired shoes. So the stereotypical image of the liberal hippie in shabby clothes and flip-flops may not be so far off. And the same could be said regarding the stereotypical image of the conservative in high-end dress shoes and a string of pearls or a sharp tie.
But why? What do shoe preferences have to do with politics?
Although we don’t know the exact cause, the data does hold some clues. One obvious explanation has to do with income. Wealthy people are more likely to hold conservative views and they are also more likely to have more attractive and expensive shoes. In fact, income correlated with three of the shoe traits that also related to ideology (attractiveness, price, and repair quality).
The second option is a bit subtler. Red Brain conservatives are consistently higher than Blue Brain liberals in a personality trait known as conscientiousness. People high in this trait tend to be neat, efficient, structured, and hardworking. Those low tend to be disorganized, spontaneous, and easy-going.
As you might suspect, conscientiousness is one trait that is often communicated in our clothing. People high in this trait dress in a way that is tidy and well-polished, whereas people low in it tend to be a bit disheveled and prioritize comfort over style.
So back to the issue of shoes. In the study, two of the shoe qualities that correlated with ideology also correlated with conscientiousness (attractiveness and repair quality). Thus, it may be that conservatives and liberals select shoes that match well with this aspect of their personality.
The point is this: when we meet someone for the first time, we often form our first impressions based on their face or handshake. But perhaps we need to lower our gaze and take a look at their shoes too. Chances are, we may just learn a lot about their personality as well as their politics. And who knows, they may even turn out to be your sole-mate!