In the past two weeks, I have spent nearly twenty dollars on shipping for shoes I no longer have.
This is, of course, due to the shoe conundrum that I first outlined over a year ago. The problem, in a nutshell, is that I can almost never find shoes in stores that fit both my odd-sized feet and my ecofrugal principles. I can try to keep my old ones going with Shoe Goo and new insoles, but sooner or later, they wear out beyond repair, and I spend weeks hunting all over for new ones. (Since I don't care in the least about fashion, I'd be perfectly happy to replace the old pair with an identical new pair from the same manufacturer—but invariably, whatever shoes I bought last are no longer available by the time I need to replace them.)
Now, these days, if I can't find something in a store, the most obvious solution is usually to look on the Internet. (If it exists anywhere in the world, you can find it online if you look hard enough.) And indeed, there is no shortage at all of vendors selling shoes online. Many of them, such as Zappos and ShoeBuy.com, even make it possible to search for shoes by material, as well as size and width—so I can quickly narrow down the thousands of available choices to the few that meet my fairly strict criteria. There's just one snag: when you shop online, you can't try things on before you order them. With clothing, this may not be crucial; as long as the site provides a size chart, you can usually get a pretty good idea of which size will fit you. But with shoes, two pairs that are theoretically the same size can feel completely different on your feet, and the only way to know for sure is to put them on.
With the first pair of shoes I ordered, I thought I'd found a way around this problem; I had bought the same kind of shoes before from the same seller, so I thought it was safe to assume that another pair in the same size would still fit. Turns out, I only thought it was the same kind of shoes; they'd actually been redesigned, and part of the redesign apparently involved changing the fit so that it no longer worked with my feet. And while I'd paid nothing for the shipping from the seller, shipping them back to the seller ate up $6.50 of my refund.
Sadly, I don't have a similar excuse for ordering the other two pairs. I was just getting a little desperate at that point, because I can practically feel the sidewalk through last year's shoes, and I was ready to try anything that looked like it might meet my criteria. To give myself credit, I did at least try to find the shoes in a store; Brian and I drove all the way out to Iselin, about half an hour away, to the nearest shoe store we could find that carries Grasshoppers (a fairly popular brand with a lot of leather-free styles). I figured that even if they didn't have the style I wanted in stock, they should at least have something that I could try on and verify my size. Unfortunately, while they did indeed have several styles of Grasshoppers in stock, they didn't have anything in a 6 wide. So I just took a gamble and ordered it anyway—and it was too small. And the 6 1/2 wide was too big. Two more $6.50 return shipping fees down the drain, and still no shoes that fit.
At this point, I was getting sick of paying $6.50 a pop just for the privilege of trying on shoes that turned out not to fit. So I did what I probably should have done in the first place: I headed over to ShoeBuy.com, which offers free shipping in both directions. That eliminated the risk of being socked with return shipping cost if the shoes I liked didn't fit, but there was still the potential problem of lag time: having to wait for each pair to arrive before I could try it on, and then, if it didn't fit, having to order another pair and wait for that one. So this time I decided to order not one pair, but three pairs of Skechers (which also has a large selection of vegan styles), each in a different size. That way, I figure, at least one of them is bound to fit, and I can return the ones that don't at no charge. Yes, it means spending $120 all at once, but I expect to get about two-thirds of it back, and anyway, there are some women who think nothing of dropping that much on just one pair of shoes.
Of course, there is one potential complication here: the three pairs of Skechers I ordered are all different styles, so there is a remote possibility that all three of them will fit and I won't be able to decide which ones to keep and which to return. But frankly, if that happens, I think I might just be better off keeping all three—since with two extra pairs stashed away, I might not have to worry about this whole Cinderella business again for another three years.