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Dress shoes are back, sort of

High heeled shoes on display at the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition called Items: Is Fashion Modern?
Reuters/Stephanie Keith
Sales of dress shoes like high heels are growing, but that doesn't mean they're back to stay.
  • Marc Bain
By Marc Bain

Fashion reporter


Sales of dress shoes are growing again in the US, buoyed by Americans rediscovering the joys of dressing up. Even so, it may be premature to proclaim a lasting revival of the category. After suffering a dismal 2020 due to the pandemic, dress shoes had nowhere to go but up, and they’re still pressured by the long-term trend toward more comfortable, more casual clothing and footwear, in the office and pretty much everywhere else.

“Sales of dress footwear are rising,” said Beth Goldstein, the accessories and footwear industry analyst at NPD Group, a research firm. But, she noted, that doesn’t mean they’ve recovered. In April, sales of dress footwear were 200% higher than the same month last year, according to NPD’s data, but that was still 40% below their level in April 2019. In 2020, sales fell so far that “really the only direction is up,” Goldstein said.

Some retailers, such as Steve Madden, have noted an uptick in dress-shoe sales on earnings calls, but again, the context matters. Shoe Carnival, which has 383 stores across the US and Puerto Rico and does roughly $1 billion in annual sales, saw its sales of women’s dress shoes surge in the recent quarter compared to their level during the same time in 2020, Carl Scibetta, chief merchandising officer, said on a May 19 earnings call. But they were still below their pre-pandemic levels. “We expect this trend to continue throughout the year,” Scibetta said.

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