Here’s What Happens When You Spring for Your First Pair of Designer Shoes

Warning: It's incredibly validating.

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Behold, my first pair of designer shoes. | Photo by Lauren McGrath.

Until very recently, I considered designer shoes, clothes, anything, completely out of the realm of a possibility for me to own (unless found in a rare vintage shopping moment of glory). Let’s face it, I’m a broke millennial with student loans that eat my paychecks faster than you can say “I know guac is extra.” However, a recent trip to New York ended somehow in a euphoric train ride home clutching my first pair of designer shoes like a newborn baby, and no one was more surprised than me. 

It’s all Emily Goulet’s fault, really. I guess that’s what you get when you go to the Big Apple with a shopping editor. One minute I was at a showroom in Chelsea taking notes for a story, and the next I was falling truly, madly, deeply in love with a pair of embellished black booties. The location was Jeffrey, a non-threatening alternative to Bergdorf Goodman, with a cool selection of luxury brands—far too luxurious for me to be shopping there.

But there they were, the most beautiful boots I’d ever seen. “Dries Van Noten,” the salesman cooed, watching me quiver with joy as I ran my fingers across the funky iridescent stitching. I tried to play it cool, stealing a glance at the price sticker, but I lost all control of facial expression when I saw the number. And then I realized that this number was the markdown price—a 70 percent discount from the original four-figure cost. Emily told me to try them on anyway. (“If you were a shoe, you would be those boots,” she said.) I slipped them on, audibly sighing. They were dreamier than any man, ever. 

I tried to talk myself down from every angle: Where would I ever wear them? They’re deceivingly high; I can hardly walk in these. I don’t really like them that much. (False.)

Emily was my shoulder devil, shouting out the things she knew I needed to hear: “They’re insane,” and “Just do it; just rip the Band-Aid off.” I started breathing faster. I’d never paid this much for anything besides my iPhone. And my student loans each month. Which then reminded me: Hey, I work hard to make those payments on time—isn’t it time to treat myself a little bit? Or a lot? Also, when did these pit stains happen?

And then, something inside me snapped: I was doing it. Emily burst into applause. I closed my eyes as I handed over my debit card, hand shaking. The salesman swiped it like a sword being drawn for battle. How does one breathe again? He handed me my new shoes, all wrapped up in the beautiful Dries Van Noten box, with a giant smile. I exhaled for the first time in 20 minutes. Those booties were all mine—I’d never felt so alive!!! 

What I gained from that blood-pumping, metaphorical-Band-Aid-ripping experience is far more than a pair of hot shoes that make me feel like a badass. My purchase at Jeffrey commemorated my fateful trip to NYC with Emily for life. As I see it, those shoes mark a major rite of passage into adulthood: Investing in something major that I will treasure and care for, instead of blowing the same amount of money over the course of six months on crap that’ll be donated by next season. I now understand what they mean when they say fast-fashion isn’t worth it: Wait to buy great things that set your heart aflutter—you’ll keep them in tip-top shape and have them for life. 

Most of all, I proved something very important to myself: Those luxury brands that seemed out of my league my whole life aren’t so unattainable anymore. Sure, I may have to shop the sale rack until I die, but Dries Van Noten (or any other designer for that matter) can be mine—so long as I work hard and shop smart. And never get a credit card.