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What is Wrong Shoe Theory? The Viral Styling Trick Explained

So wrong, yet so right.

Last Updated on October 6, 2023

What is wrong shoe theory? If you’ve ever worn a pair of trainers with a cute dress or paired heels with a tracksuit, you’ll be familiar with the concept perhaps without even knowing. If not, let me tell you what wrong shoe theory is and how to try it yourself at home to transform your outfit in seconds.

Wrong shoe theory was coined by stylist Allison Bornstein after she posted a viral video on TikTok explaining that by teaming a shoe that’s a little “off” with an outfit than actually elevate it. You might not have had a name for this before, but you’ll have seen it time and time again in person and perhaps worn it a few times too.

I know I have. I often add trainers or chunky loafers to dresses to avoid them looking too girly or add heels to a laidback outfit. While I didn’t really think too much about it, Bornstein has explained the concept so perfectly.

Woman wears cowboy boots and jeans showing wrong shoe theory

Earlier this year, she told Vogue, “In working with clients and breaking down the style of our favourite celebrities, I realised what makes a look feel interesting and personal is the addition of accessories that feel slightly ‘off’ or mismatched with the vibe of the rest of the look.”

There’s nothing wrong with wearing the right shoe, but if you’re aiming for the effortlessly cool aesthetic seen on stars like Kendall Jenner, the Olsen twins and Emili Sindlev, it’s the key.

I’ll go into the theory in more detail below. Next, read more about the biggest trends for AW23, and if it’s shoes you love, read our AW23 footwear trend report too.

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What is wrong shoe theory?

Wrong shoe theory is a styling trick that can elevate your outfit instantly. Instead of wearing a pair of shoes you’d instinctively wear with an outfit, go for a pair that look a little ‘off’. This might be a pair of chunky flip flops with wide-legged trousers or a pair of dad trainers with a summer dress. It might even be a pair of heels with a laid-back outfit like a tee and cargo pants. The trick is to pick a pair of shoes you’d think would never work. Turns out, they do.

What is an example of wrong shoe theory?

Looking for concrete examples of wrong shoe theory? I’ve found a few…

I wore this old H&M dress on holiday recently and instead of heels I wore chunky Dr Martens sandals instead. Sure, heels would have gone really well with the dress and given it a more formal aesthetic, but these sandals dressed it down and changed the whole vibe of the outfit.

I’m obsessed with how Liulland styles everything. Here, she offers an amazing example of wrong shoe theory. When you see jeans and socks, you think trainers, right? But here, Liulland adds a pair of slingback red heels and instantly makes her outfit even cooler.

I say bodycon, you think heels. Lucy Williams teams an amazing asymmetric mini dress with flat denim sandals. You wouldn’t think it works, but it really, really does.

Jeans are synonmous with trainers, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Elle Delphine teams her denim with strappy black heels in a fine example of wrong shoe theory.

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