You know what they say about a man’s feet

The first thing a woman notices about a man, I read the other day, is his shoes.

Right. And the first thing a man notices about a woman is her personality. My mom used to tell my sister that when she cried about wearing braces.

Or maybe it is right. I’ve been married a long time; as far as I know, the first thing a woman notices is whether I have dinner ready.

That shoe information is suspect, though: I got it from a GQ magazine while I was waiting for a haircut.

I hadn’t seen GQ in years, but it hasn’t changed. Like Playboy and Esquire, it’s a how-to for wannabes. Reading any of them gives me the same self-conscious feeling I used to get as a kid after I took the Sears catalog into the bathroom for a private moment with the lingerie ads.

The hair place had a copy of Esquire, too, with a story titled “Recession Special: Poor Man’s Guide to High Fashion.” It buttressed my opinion that Esquire is a rulebook for people who’ll never play the game. If you’re trying to look good on the cheap while the global economy crumbles, it said, you can carry it off with a $1,200 DKNY overcoat, a $115 Gant cotton shirt and a $775 Cole Haan briefcase that “holds its own against cases twice as expensive.” Way to tighten those belts, capitalist piglets.

This guide to hard times also recommends shoes for the bargain shopper: Grenson Rushden “Range” models. They’re described as “casual,” though they look like weddings and funerals to me, and come in at “about half the cost [of grown-ups’ shoes, apparently] with the same character.”

A story that attributes character to footwear is suspect, but let that go. “Half the cost,” in this case, is $315. So it follows that before the Bushconomy hit, fashion-forward men were spending close to $650 a pair for their casual kicks.

Now, I’m a discriminating shoe buyer. A large guy with large feet, I learned years ago not to scrimp on footwear. My most expensive shoes cost about $200, which might be semi-respectable—but they were made for bicycling. A woman certainly would notice them. Under most circumstances, the impression wouldn’t be favorable.

My No. 2’s (in cost, not frequency of wear) are cowboy boots. I paid $160 for those back when $160 was a lot, but haven’t worn them since the Reagan administration. Then come some old three-pin cross-country ski boots that no longer have skis, a pair of good hiking boots (clearance sale at Babbitt’s at the Grand Canyon), various running shoes and some Sorel snow boots, all pricier than the shoes I wear every day.

None of these, I realize now, is likely to encourage a new female friend to breathe heavily or entertain fantasies. At best, she might not smirk openly.

If, that is, GQ has this right. But does it?

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a woman express an opinion of a man’s shoes. The most memorable moments in my own male-female relationships have involved no shoes at all. So I asked around, and here’s what I heard:

“His shoes? That’s silly.”

“Shoes? No way.”

“Teeth. I notice teeth” (from Reno’s hottest female dentist).

“Nooo—well, if he wore, like, hiking boots.”

“Yeah, probably shoes first. Unless he was dressed really weird.”

“No. Fingernails. Long nails are creepy.”

“Shoes? Who looks at shoes?”

“I guess maybe in summer. In winter, you wear what’s warm.”

And the clincher:

“He can wear Birkenstocks with socks, as long as he doesn’t leave them where I’ll trip over them.”