There are two types of shoes. The kind that you turn to again and again, year after year, occasion after occasion (ok, you get it), and the kind that are utterly thrilling in their beauty, embellishment or flat-out trendiness that sometimes it just makes you happy to stare at them in your closet. But while the latter category certainly elicits more excitement, it's the former that's really going to get you through life. If we were to put it in food pyramid terms (and who doesn't love a good food pyramid analogy?), a neutral J.Crew ballet flat represents the carbs, vegetables and fruits, while those candy-colored Sophia Webster heels would sit at the top, squarely amongst the dairy, meat and sweets.
So for those of you who suffer from footwear-specific "I have nothing to wear" syndrome, we've broken down the only five pairs of shoes you'll ever need for anything that comes your way. You probably already have a lot of them in rotation, but if you've been putting off finally pulling the trigger on a pair of seemingly ho-hum black ankle boots in favor of the latest slide, mule or neon Air Max, consider this a friendly reminder to do so. It'll definitely save you time getting out the door in the morning in the long run.
Without further ado...
1. Sturdy Ballet Flats
These are probably the most versatile of the bunch. You can wear them with anything and they always seem to impart a bit of polished charm. Very Audrey Hepburn with a Breton striped top and cropped jeans, or just regular girl with a job who doesn't want to look too sloppy when worn with an easy summer dress. They'll even pass at weddings and evening events — especially with a pretty detail, as seen on Chloé's scalloped version — as long as you keep it fancy up top. As far as color goes, black is obviously the best choice in terms of wearability, but picking another shade that goes with most of your wardrobe is a smart move too (tan, red, silver, etc.). Also, look for a somewhat substantial sole to provide support and ensure they don't wither away after three wears. One last thing: Splurge on a Chanel pair if you can. The old-lady-seeming cream ones with the black cap toe look so baller with cutoffs and a tee in the summer.
2. Pointy Toe Black Pumps
Ah, bless the day when people stopped wearing those awful 6-inch platform stilettos. Indeed, the single-sole pump has been back for a while now, and it's never looked more sophisticated. Throw these on with a simple shift or cropped skinny jeans and you instantly appear more polished. The pointy toe, with its whiff of bitchiness and hint of sex appeal, acts like a forcefield that keeps any matronly or conservative connotations at bay (see Emmanuelle Alt and her "ALT-ernates"). If you can swing it, this is another good place to splurge — Jimmy Choo's heels are so alluringly slender it's a wonder of physics and one fashion editor once described Manolo Blahnik's BBs as being so comfortable she could "run a marathon in them." We don't know about that, but we do like how you can customize their height here. (Pro top: three inches is all you really need).
3. Black Ankle Boots
What did we do before black ankle boots became such a thing? No, really, we're thinking back to around 2002 and literally can't remember what we wore when we wanted a footwear option that was at once put-together and also very cool. Hmm, maybe we just wore ankle boots. Anyway. While these are obviously denim's favorite dance partner, we also love them with tights and a dress come winter. And, whooo, one piece of "flair" is allowed (any more and you're running the "going out of style" risk). That can mean a slight equestrian feel, a rocker-y cuban heel or exposed chunky zipper, depending on your personal taste.
4. Minimalist Sandals
The key here is to just picture Sofia Coppola vacationing in the South of France. Even if you've never seen a picture of Sofia Coppola vacationing in the South of France, you just know her sandals would be the most perfect, pared-back and tasteful things you've ever beheld. So tasteful that they could even transcend casual, beachside scenarios and make their way into dressier situations, like a day at the office, when paired with a printed full midi skirt and neat short-sleeve oxford. Hardware should be barely noticeable and safe color bets include black, tan or a metallic, which will read as a neutral in this case. The overall effect should be one of having had said shoes custom-made by a village cobbler during a jaunt to Greece or Italy. On your way to vacation in the South of France. With Sofia Coppola.
5. Classic White Sneakers
Even before the Stan Smith explosion of 2013, classic white sneakers have long had a place in many a fashion person's wardrobe. Phoebe Philo and Marc Jacobs (pre-muscle-y makeover, that is) have been showing us how nonchalantly cool they look with trousers and a slouchy button-down for years, and stylists have been known to show up on set wearing a covetable uniform of white T-shirt, vintage Levi's and worn-to-shreds Supergas or Adidas Rod Lavers. Go for a sleek leather pair — Common Projects and Saint Laurent have this category on lockdown — if you want to dress them up, or opt for canvas if you want to pull a Lauren, who wears her Tretorns with the cutest flippy skirts and laid-back tees for a look that's very "cultured American abroad who's always up for an adventure."
Above: Nike Court Majestic sneaker, $43.99, available at Zappos; Rod Laver sneakers, $65, available at Adidas; Woman by Common Projects Achilles Low sneaker, $409, available by pre-order at La Garconne.