For months now, consumers have been hunkering down in an economic storm, buying only what they need to survive, like groceries, diapers, medicine - and shoes.
The American public, it would seem, cannot carry on without new shoes. Boots, booties, sneakers, pumps - for the last few months they have all been selling well as the broader economy struggles toward recovery.
Retailing executives and analysts offer varying, occasionally wacky, explanations. The one favored by many of them is that consumers consider shoes more of a necessity than, say, dresses, cuff links or handbags, so people feel less guilt about buying them.
"I would argue you wear out shoes more than you wear out handbags," said Marie Driscoll, an analyst with Standard & Poor's Equity Research who is adept at rationalizing her own shoe purchases. Living in New York, she walks everywhere. "I use the argument, 'If I spend $150 to $300 on shoes, this is my car.'"
Many shoes, of course, can be had for a lot less than that, which makes them a recession-friendly indulgence. Most of the shoes being bought today are moderately priced, according to retailers and market researchers. Executives at Macy's said women's shoes typically cost half as much as a handbag of similar quality.
Also, the cost-per-wear of a pair of shoes is far lower than that of a dress or suit, which can only be donned so many times a week before colleagues snicker. And new shoes spruce up old outfits, a cheaper alternative to buying more clothes.
Another popular theory is that as the economy has inspired a back-to-basics mentality, with families dining and vacationing at home, people are focusing on free outdoor activities that require comfortable or rugged shoes.
Scott Savitz, the founder and chief executive of Shoebuy.com, an Internet retailer, said sales of outdoor and athletic shoes by the likes of Timberland, Merrell and Adidas were robust.
"You could spend thousands of dollars to go away right now, or you can buy walking shoes," said Savitz, whose company added more than 90 shoe brands in the last quarter at a time when most retailers were cutting inventory.
Shoe buyers for major retailing chains said sales were also driven by styles for children and babies, especially during the back-to-school months. Children regularly grow out of shoes, and parents are typically loath to scrimp on their children.