Has the end of the road been reached for the cheap shoe? According to new research conducted by Mintel, over the next five years the number of pairs bought annually in the UK is expected to drop by 7 per cent.
Analysts believe women have wised up to the fact that cheap shoes are uncomfortable and liable to disintegrate at the first sight of a puddle.
So although they might buy fewer pairs, in future, they are likely to save up for more expensive shoes: one-third of women questioned said they now pay more. But are High Street shoes really guaranteed to give you blisters, or have we been brainwashed?
We now, on average, own between four and six handbags each, and consider spending upwards of £400 normal. Consequently, accessories have grown to be the most profitable part of any fashion business.
Visit Prada or Miu Miu, and it seems the whole ground floor is just shoes, bags, luggage, wallets and belts; but the strategy has worked. Accessories at Burberry, once famous only for its trench coats, now make up 31 per cent of total sales.
The luxury labels, hit by the credit crisis, want us to keep spending, and while we seem to have reached saturation point with the number of bags on offer, footwear was, until last year, relatively untapped.
Not any more. We are now bombarded with images from the catwalk of multi-coloured platforms and wedges in weird and wonderful shapes, fashioned out of ever more exotic skins. Barely a week has gone by when there hasn't been a new shoe trend - the gladiator, the caged platform, the shoe boot - to swoon over in the pages of Grazia magazine.
Women have begun to learn, for the first time, the names of shoe 'couturiers', such as British designer Nicholas Kirkwood, French maestro Christian Louboutin and American favourite of the stars, Brian Atwood. According to Holli Rogers, head of retail at Net-a- Porter, which sells labels only at the top end of the market: 'We have seen an incredible increase in sales of footwear.
Women are spending more to attain better design and craftsmanship - Bottega Veneta is a great arbiter of this. Also, the rise in status of designer shoes has certainly contributed to this trend.' Net-a-Porter's winter best-sellers included Christian Louboutin's Moro shoe boot for Roland Mouret, which sold out in three colours despite an eye-watering £520 price tag, and for spring the Christian Louboutin Rodita sandals (£430) and Chloé's patent cone-heel shoe boots (£316) are selling briskly.
All the top brands are muscling in on shoe mania. Mulberry, which saw sales rocket after it collaborated with the likes of Luella Bartley for its bag collections, this week launched its first shoe collection - a riding boot, ankle boot, shoe boot, pump and flat lace-up in plum, coffee and grey. Designed by Jonathan Kelsey, who learned his trade at Jimmy Choo, prices will range from £250 to £550.
Trying on cheaper shoes could become a thing of the past
So what about Mintel's claim that women are spurning the High Street because they want something comfortable and lasting? Terry de Havilland, the East Londoner who came up with the platform in the Seventies for the likes of David Bowie, and who is almost singlehandedly (singlefootedly?) responsible for its renaissance, says his shoes, such as the £380 Gold Margaux python sandal worn by Kate Moss for her birthday party last month, are worth the price tag.
"My shoes are handmade in London using mostly Spanish leather, which is the best quality," he says. "I draw the shoe on the last, which means I can be very accurate when it comes to fit, and most of my designs are high, so it is important the shoe is well balanced. My designs have attitude, too: they are for confident women."
Are shoes at the bargain basement end of the market really not worth even the £20 price tag? Malcolm Collins, buying director of footwear and accessories at New Look, now the number one retailer of footwear in the UK, disagrees.
"The feedback from the women who buy our shoes is that they love them. Our shoes are made from leather, and they are as comfy as any designer shoe. We spend a lot of money on research and development ensuring our shoes fit properly."
And while I would dispute the comfort rating of New Look's platforms — I tested a cream patent pair on the cobbles of New York and found them so unyielding I almost lost the will to live — are designer shoes that much better made? The £400 Manolo Blahnik sandals I had flown from Barney's in New York to wear at the Oscars were comfy, but the crystal buckle came off while I was talking to John Travolta, so I had to quickly remove the other one.
Miu Miu's grey suede peep-toes cost £300, but the peep still cut into my big toe. My Bottega Veneta brown strappy sandals with Swarovski crystal heel cost more than my car but have such thin soles I could feel every pebble and wore out after one or two wears.
My new Bottega patent gladiators gave me blistered heels. My Burberry riding boots, which cost £500, were lovely until the little strap you pull to get them on snapped. ADESIGNER bag, if you treat it gently, can be an investment. Shoes, as I discovered when I tried to sell my Bottega Veneta wedding sandals to a snooty exchange store in Kensington, hold their value only if they have never been worn; even the smallest scratch on the sole renders them almost worthless.
If you must have a designer shoe, why not pop along to Gap and try on the collection designed by the hottest name in shoes, Pierre Hardy: no pair costs more than £70 — spring's bestseller is the navy suede ballet flat, for just £35.
While I have, for years, been hugely critical of the cheap shoes at M& S, the new summer collection is a revelation: I love a pair of silver leather platforms with a chunky heel (£25), a pair of soft green patent leather slingbacks (£19.50) and a patent shoe boot (£49.50). The highest platforms even come with inbuilt cushions (Insolias) for the balls of your feet.
I also love the very high-fashion but relatively comfy shoes at Reiss, which hover around £100. If you must have a shoe by a couturier, then go to Bally; the Swiss cobbler has cannily hired Brian Atwood: I love his cork-soled gladiator sandal, at £240.
Then do as the New Yorkers do, and turn up at an event in sneakers, stooping to get your glads out of their little cloth bag at the door.
During couture week in Paris earlier this month, I overhead one Manhattan fashionista wailing: "My shoes don't do pavements!" Neither, at these prices, should you.