Anna Bailey pays a lot of attention to her appearance. She considers herself fashion-conscious, stylish, occasionally even "the best-dressed woman in the room."
Until she puts on shorts.
"I become a brain-dead zombie," says the Detroit teacher. "It's like every bit of fashion sense I have goes right out the window, especially when it comes to the shoes."
When shorts were strictly a weekend-wear item, Ms. Bailey's problem wasn't such a big deal. She figured, correctly, that sneakers or boat shoes were pretty much always appropriate for such casual times.
But shorts aren't worn only for casual outings anymore. Fashion designers have turned practical and comfortable shorts into a warm-weather fashion statement and made them in styles and fabrics ranging from youthful denim and casual khaki to chic linen and city-smart silk.
Suddenly, shorts are as much about fashion as they are about summertime. And that makes selecting the right footwear crucial to the overall look.
"It's a real challenge for a lot of people, because shorts have different attitudes these days," says M. J. Burns, manager of the fashion office at Hudson's, a Detroit-area store. "Most people aren't yet trained to team up the proper heel height and shoe style with shorts that aren't casual."
In addition, legs and feet seem somehow more obvious when one is wearing shorts.
"Even if your legs are covered with stockings, and even if you're used to short skirts, shorts seem more bare," says Kit Spoelstra, sales promotion coordinator for Jacobson's, another Detroit store. "So what you're wearing on your feet is more noticeable."
The most common mistake people make when selecting shoes for shorts, says Ms. Burns, is "assuming that casual shoes like sneakers or huaraches or espadrilles will carry them through any situation. Shorts are so versatile now, they require more attention than that."
In an effort to help avoid that kind of shorts-shoes tunnel vision, we asked the two to help us compile a tip list for shorts wearers.
Here are tips from M.J. Burns and Kit Spoelstra:
Bare legs are the easiest and coolest choice, but not everyone can go with the no-stocking look, whether it's a matter of dress code or personal preference.
Ms. Burns and Ms. Spoelstra both recommend sheer stockings in soft shades, perhaps one shade lighter than skin tone.
Otherwise, match the shoes and socks or stockings to the shorts.
When you're dealing with colors that are hard to match (or if you just don't want to match), the shoes should be darker than the shorts and/or socks.
Drapey shorts, such as silk or rayon, reaching to mid-thigh or longer take the dressiest shoes: patent leather, stiff kid leather or a spectator flat. This is also the time for any fancy shoe decoration, such as grosgrain ribbons or gold buckles.
Semi-dressy fabrics that don't drape -- such as linen -- look good with supple kid leather, nubuck, suede or other fabric shoes.
Denim and casual cotton shorts are the most versatile, working well with almost any shoe except the dressiest styles. Depending on the mood (and often, the age) of the wearer, they might be worn with Keds-style sneakers, woven sandals, fabric flats or cowboy boots.
Both Ms. Burns and Ms. Spoelstra advise avoiding heels higher than an inch or so. Even low heels work best with the dressiest shorts outfits. Generally, flats or a very small heel (think 1/4 -inch) are better choices.
Ms. Burns says a pet peeve is women in backless shoes who haven't bothered to groom their heels, which she calls "the most neglected part of the body." A little lotion or cream rubbed into the heels each night, and an occasional session with a pumice stone, will do the trick.
Likewise, sandal-wearers would be well-advised to consider the current state of their toenails.