Shoe shame: 14% of women hide some of their purchases

Line up seven women, and at least one likely has a covert pair of shoes she bought but didn't tell her significant other about because they cost so much.

But oh, shoe shopping certainly makes many women happier. The average American woman owns at least 17 pairs of shoes, though many women have three times that many.

Such are a few of the shoe insights that ShopSmart magazine found in their survey of 1,009 American women, offering something of a window into the female mind, or at least their credit card statements.

In a minute, we'll get to the nitty-gritty of the stats, but for now, a few women have passionate opinions to share on shoes:

"Shoes are like boys and chocolate, you see a pair somewhere that you like, and you can't stop thinking about them," said Sharon Britton of Tampa while opening her closet and guessing she may have three times the average of 17. That puts her in the top 13 percent of shoe fans.

Her latest pair, "These wonderful, golden, glittery, 5-inch Steve Madden formal heels with a zipper up the back … But I can't pick a favorite, I love Michael Kors, Juicy, Vince Camuto, Mark Nason boots."

And there's the flip flops too – fashion versions and just kick around pairs.

Britton has become an avid fan, as they'll often send her shoes overnight.

"Shoes never make your butt look big, you don't have to worry about squeezing into them if you've put on a couple of pounds, and they can instantly make you feel sexier," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart, published by the parent organization of Consumer Reports. "Maybe that's why, despite the economy, we're still buying shoes."

If you're wondering how many black shoes a woman needs, Karen Whetsell has a few around.

"Oh my God, I love shoes, I probably have 20 pairs of just black shoes," Whetsell said. "Buying a new pair of shoes, ah, it always makes you feel better." Whetsell's daughter Savannah chimed in, saying, "I bought this whole outfit, and the shoes, just when I went out for retail therapy."

Tammy Thompson of Tampa said she "absolutely" has gone shoe shopping to improve her mood. "Any kind of shopping, really, but shoes in particular just do something."

She shops anywhere from DSW to Nordstrom, though she's partial to Nordstrom, and she thinks quite fondly of her pair of authentic black Gucci boots her husband bought for her – and unlike many women, she wears that favorite pair all the time.

OK, now for some other shoe insights:

  • Over half of women own more than 10 pairs, and 13 percent have more than 30 pairs. That's not including athletic shoes.
  • Women typically buy three pairs a year, and on average spend $49 per pair, but, nearly one-third have spent more than $100 on a single pair.
  • Almost unheard of even five years ago, online shoe shopping is now a "national obsession," with a third of women regular online shoe buyers., for instance, says some of their top customers "spend well over $10,000 annually."
  • About one in five women go shoe shopping just to cheer themselves up.
  • While 86 percent of women say they tell their significant other about shoe purchases, 14 percent admit to "hiding at least one purchase."

As for the kinds of shoes women are buying, most prefer low-rises, but occasionally go for height. Almost 40 percent say flats are their favorite, 8 percent wear heels over 2 ½ inch high on regular basis, and one quarter of women wear 4-inch heels for a special occasion.

About half of women bought an "ugly" pair for comfort, but more women lately are willing to withstand pain for fashion – 60 percent vs. 49 percent in 2007, and 6 in 10 women carry a backup pair to change into after a party or event.

That fashion can inflict a physical price too.

About half of women have shoe related blisters, sprains or even broken bones, and one in three had "an evening ruined by an uncomfortable pair of shoes" and one in four said they've had a fall.