Shoes are more than just laces and leather - for some women they may have therapeutic qualities, a new study suggests.
Research led by University of Canterbury PhD student Jessica Boyce has found that women who feel more insecure after exposure to "body ideals'' own more attractiveness-conferring accessories such as shoes and handbags, but not trousers.
"What the research suggests is that shoes and handbags are more appealing to insecure women because they increase physical attractiveness without drawing attention to one's figure. Trousers, on the other hand, tend to draw attention and that is why they are shunned by this group of women,'' she said.
"Some women may see shoe advertisements in stores, negatively compare themselves to the models and consequently purchase a pair of shoes. Given the increasing size of the average woman and the decreasing size of models, threats to appearance are likely becoming more frequent.''
Ms Boyce said the average number of pairs of shoes owned by women who participated in the study was between 17 and 18, while a few women owned up to 70 pairs.
The study involved 286 students from the University of Canterbury and 922 students at the University of Alberta, Canada.
The results of the study would probably have been different if they hadn't used only students.
Ms Boyce said she was a handbag and shoe lover, but not on the same scale of Filipina politician Imelda Marcos (1000 handbags and 3000 pairs of shoes) or Sex in the City's Carrie Bradshaw.
Worldwide the female shoe industry is enormous. In the United States alone, 886 million pairs were sold in 2008 compared with 144 million dresses, skirts, trousers, cotton shirts and blouses combined.
Angela Cleary took her shoe fanaticism to a new level and got a job at an inner-Auckland shoe store.
She estimates she owns more than 100 pairs of shoes and has spent some $8000 on her collection.
"I just really love shoes,'' she said.
One pair of shoes in particular were her favourite item.
"They're like these blue and white suede wedges and they're just like this most gorgeous cobalt blue, like this (Angela strokes a nearby pair of blue sneakers adoringly).
She agreed with the research that some women's love of shoes stemmed from idealised images of women in the media.
"The women that are pictured in the media are like the perfect woman, and how many women would fall into that category? That's not necessarily attainable but shoes and handbags are. They can make you go from feeling bluh about how you look to feeling fabulous. That's why I buy so many shoes because I love the way I feel when I'm all dressed up.''
Shoe enthusiast Ayla Surtees has precisely 86 pairs in her collection.
"I just like how you can have all different shoes for all different outfits. I love my heels mostly, especially out-there high-heels, ones which are seven inches high and things like that.''
She was convinced of the benefits of "retail therapy''.
"If I'm ever stressed out or whatever, shopping always makes me feel better. It's just nice having new things, pretty much,'' she said.