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These Are the Shoes You’ll Be Wearing This Fall, According to Fashion Buyers

There was no shortage of shoes at the recent Atlanta Shoe Market, held Feb. 15–17, however, retailers agreed that there were few fashion surprises. Short boots and sneakers continued to take top billing, with buyers shopping for fresh takes on these tried-and-true categories.

Building on her athletic business for fall ’20, Dawn Poole, manager/buyer for Be Shoes in Winston-Salem, N.C., is moving forward with sneakers on white bottoms juxtaposed with uppers in colorful leathers. “[The category] is evolving, and we’re seeing funkier sneaker patterns,” said Poole, citing styles that are picking up chunkier athletic soles.

“Athleisure is not going away,” agreed Charlie Slaton, owner of Carla Shoes & Accessories in Ponte Verde, Fla., adding he’d like to see consumers consider adding more casual brown shoes to their wardrobes in place of sneakers.

Camper fall '20
Camper’s sneaker picks up a white platform bottom.
CREDIT: Dwayne Bernard

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Like Slaton, Abe Rogowsky, owner of Shoe Parlor in New York, agrees sneakers have been cutting into the store’s brown shoe business. “Sneakers are good, but it kills brown shoes,” he noted, a once solid category for retailers.

Indeed, retailers, were looking at anything but brown shoes at the show, with color no longer reserved for spring. Catherine McLeod, owner of New Horizons Trading Co. in Pittsboro, N.C., is moving away from the more expected seasonal black and brown. “These don’t work anymore,” she said. “Color is [now] trickling down into shoes all year.”

Stand-out colors for fall include yellow and teal, said Lester Wasserman, owner and buyer for New York-based Tip Top Shoes, who expects color to be important even in fall.

Color continues to sell, at Elm Shoes in Greencastle, Pa., according to owner Loren Martin. “Sometimes it sells better than the basics,” she noted. Moving into fall, Martin is focusing on reds and burgundies, in addition to mustard yellow.

It’s not only dark, rich tones that are garnering interest. Lindsay Smith, general manager of Judy’s II in Brookhaven, Miss., was instead shopping for lighter colors including blush, mint green and baby blue.

Pops of color are also part of fall’s mixed media story. Haleigh Newbeck, manager and buyer for Orleans Shoe Co., New Orleans, was shopping for styles with material interest, such as boots that combined animal prints with solid leather and a colored heel.

While animal prints are still going strong, Stanley Eisenman, president of Stanley Eisenman Fine Shoes in Dallas, said he’s weary of animal prints as an allover look. Like Newbeck, he prefers them as an accent on shoes and boots.

If there was a one category retailers agree on for fall, it is the continuation of short boots. According to Dee Dee Perkins, owner of Moose Tracks Footwear in Brevard, N.C., “It’s still the bootie; it’s tried and true,” citing brands such as Blundstone. “Chunky is in,” she said about the brand’s signature Chelsea style.

Oobash fall 20
Oobash’s Chelsea boot in gray camo.
CREDIT: Dwayne Bernard

Blundstone is also a key brand for Milwaukee-based Shoo, according to owner Kate Blake, rounded out by combat and lace-up styles. “We have a ton of [these looks] and will continue with them,” she said.

Like Perkins and Blake, Danielle Zimmerman, buyer and line leader for Scheels, Fargo, N.D., is behind the Chelsea boot. “We had them for fall ’19 and are going to exploit them [this fall],” she said, noting styles from Sorel.

“Short boots are still valid,” added Wasserman, who had success with more casual styles for fall ’19; and it’s a category he plans to build on this fall.

“We don’t know if short boots will ever slow down,” agreed Lindsay Smith, general manager of Judy’s II Shoes & More in Brookhaven, Miss. “They’re easy for most ladies to wear with jeans to dresses.”

However, Smith does see renewed consumer interest in flats and mules. “They’ve made a comeback,” she observed. “It’s been a few years since ladies wanted to wear a flat.”

Paul Mayer fall '20
Attitudes by Paul Mayer adds quilting and a lug sole to a moccasin.
CREDIT: Dwayne Bernard

At The Shoe Market in Hingham, Mass., buyer Joanna Radding was also on the hunt for flats, namely loafers. “They’re coming back,” she said, in versions that include tassel and penny loafers, in addition to ballet flats.

Styling, however, is not all that drives fall sales. Footwear that functions remains a priority for consumers. Noted McLeod, “The outdoor world [consumer] wants versatility and high quality [products],” she explained. “They want shoes to serve two and three purposes — something that works from travel to table.”

Waterproofing is coming out a front-runner when it comes to functionality, showing up in everyday to performance styles. “It’s expected and assumed,” said Wasserman. “It can be a deal breaker.”

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