Why some women can’t own enough shoes

Lesley TerBorg fell in love recently. She first laid eyes on her sweetheart at the Forum Shops at Caesars and, not one to waste time, brought him home the same night. The way she saw it, her bed had plenty of room for her, her fiance and her new Donald J. Pliner boots.

Yes, her beloved is a pair of shoes. Yes, she vowed to sleep with them on her feet. No, she’s not insane.

TerBorg just has a passion for footwear. A passion that runs so deep you might have to loosen your collar when she describes a pair. She slows her pace and purrs every detail (“cinnamon suede, over-the-knee boots,” “straw raffia taupe open-toe heels”) as if it rocked her world the night before. There isn’t much she’d trade for her 121 lovers, aka shoes.

“I’d rather go without sex than shoes,” she says.

Just getting over a broken foot, she’s finding creative ways to stuff her still swollen foot into Jimmy Choo sandals and, although her fertility doctor advises against heels, the 40-year-old refuses to convert to flats. “They just don’t excite me,” she says.

Not all women have a shoe obsession that would make Imelda Marcos proud. Likewise, not all shoe-loving women interpret stumbling upon a pair of Fendi sandals as a “sign of God” like TerBorg. But, if your closet runneth over with shoes then there’s a reason and, believe it or not, the reasons are as diverse as the shoes.

When trying on a pair of jeans can easily end in a tearful sprint through the mall parking lot, many women turn to the shoe department for solace. Amy French turned to it eight years ago and never turned away. “(My feet) were the only thing on my body not changing size,” says the 41-year-old.

Through exercise and healthy diet choices, she lost 10 dress sizes in the past year. Shopping these days isn’t quite the experience she endured over several years of weight fluctuation, which is what spurred her shoe shopping habit.

Today it takes two walk-in closets to accommodate her shoe collection of 173. Take a walk through her Summerlin home and the shoe love spreads from her closets to her kitchen (stiletto martini glasses, shoe cake cutter) and office (shoe tape dispenser and door stopper), too.

On average she’ll spend $200 on a pair, but forking out $700 isn’t unusual. Why? “It just makes me feel good,” she says.

Leora Tanenbaum, author of “Bad Shoes and the Women Who Love Them,” believes that footwear has that effect on some women because it’s directly connected to sexuality. Forget the Freudian foot fetish theories, Tanenbaum points to modern day examples to support her claim. “Any femme fatale in a movie always wears stilettos, but ‘Sex and the City’ is the best example,” she says.

The hit franchise made no secret of its candid, raw approach to sex or its fixation with footwear. A shot of Samantha Jones’ Manolo Blahnik-clad feet in the air with headboard-pounding sounds in the background never seemed to get old. Nor did references to Carrie Bradshaw’s mountain of shoes that caused a mountain of debt.

Tanenbaum swore off painful high-heel shoes after seeing the first signs of bunions, but acknowledges why some women won’t do the same. “One thing is obvious,” she says. “High heels give us a sexy gait, change our posture, make us more curvaceous.”

That’s exactly why Catherine Elizarraraz, 27, owns 100 pairs. “Women notice shoes,” she says, “but if it’s a really great shoe then guys notice.”

Her penchant for limited-edition Christian Louboutins and Jimmy Choos drove up her number and caused her to transform an extra bedroom into an oversized walk-in closet. When she finds a pair she likes, Elizarraraz buys them in every color and can tell just from the shoe’s arch if it’s worthy of a try-on.

What’s more impressive, on a recent Friday afternoon she had already fielded four photo text messages from a local shoe salesperson trying to entice a credit card swipe. As a regular shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York, she’s used to the backward-bending customer service.

And Saks Fifth Avenue Personal Shopper Marsha Miller is used to the madness a hot platform can incite. She’s watched clients buy shoes that don’t fit simply because they can’t imagine leaving without them. She sees some of her regulars once a week and has “extremely close” relationships with them.

“We’ve had dinners in each other’s homes and celebrated family occasions,” she says.

When you have a shoe lover’s size and preference down pat, it’s easy to become their best friend. She also credits the “emotional buy” that comes from shoes.

Crystal Heeg knows the emotional aspect well. Although — at the urge of her boyfriend — she’s started getting rid of a pair for every new one she buys, Heeg has to put her foot down on some of them.

“The ones that have memories and sentimental value,” she says. “Like the pair I wore on my one-year anniversary with my boyfriend.”

She’s so loyal to her 80 shoes that even her e-mail address is a reference to it. The 25-year-old can’t yet afford red-sole caliber shoes, but she travels to a secondhand Sacramento store frequently to snag Coach, Bebe and Steve Maddens at $12 and $15 each.

Heeg says her shoe obsession developed the minute she graduated high school, when she got a job and could afford all the shoes with which her mom refused to indulge her. Heeg’s collection could be a nod to the attachment she has a habit of developing or just because she likes owning things in bulk. “I used to collect snow globes,” she says. “Then I sold them and bought shoes.”

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