Inside a Tween Closet

Middle schooler Sara Kern's shoe collection reflects her many personas.

Thirteen-year-old Sara Kern walks a fine line between childhood and adulthood when it comes to her shoe wardrobe. With a size 5 foot, she has made the move into women’s styles, but often finds the looks to be too mature for her eighth-grade lifestyle. And there’s also the issue of fit. While the New Yorker is never short of shopping options, she often browses for shoes at to find a larger selection of narrow sizes.

As for her favorite styles, they vary by season. Right now, Kern and her friends are all shopping for boots, mainly flats or low-wedge styles that scrunch up. But in the warmer months, she’s all about gladiator sandals, even admitting that she stole a pair out of her mom’s closet.


Pairs owned: About 20

Brands: La Canadienne, Ed Hardy, Nine West, DKNYC, French Sole, Amiana, BP, A-Line, Gravis, Just Libby, Madden Girl, Nike, Steve Madden, Teva, Adidas, Little Eric, Merrell

Personal Style:
“During the summer, I like to wear surfer-style clothing. One of my favorite brands is Roxy by Quiksilver. I have a lot of Roxy T-shirts, shorts and hoodies. During the school year, I like skinny jeans with cute tops. My favorite new items are a brownish-purple fake leather jacket from Uniqlo and tall brown leather boots from Nine West to wear with my favorite jeans.”

Favorite casual shoe:
“I bought a pair of Gravis silver low-cut leather sneakers with Velcro straps in this great new surf store, Los Olas Oceanmarket, while vacationing in Charleston, S.C., last summer. They have a scratch on them, but I think that’s part of what makes them cool. I also love my leopard-print ballet flats by French Sole.”

Favorite dress shoe: “My brown suede and patent leather heels from DKNYC, which I wore to my bat mitzvah. They have an elastic band over the forefoot that makes them really stylish.”

Favorite sneakers: “My broken-up, dirty Ed Hardy canvas low-tops.”

Forbidden styles: Five-inch heels and huge platforms

Celebrity’s style I most admire: “I never think I have to look exactly like a famous person. I like to have my own unique style.”

School restrictions: No flip-flops.

Favorite retailer for shoe shopping:
“I like because I have a narrow foot, and it’s hard to find a store that stocks enough styles to fit me. My mom and I choose a few styles we like and order each in several sizes. We later just box up what we don’t want and send them back. Because of my size, I can also shop in women’s shoe stores and departments. However, it’s hard to find looks that are suited to 13-year-olds. Still, during the past year, I’ve discovered that I really like shopping, so it’s fun to go into stores [and browse]. I’ve recently bought shoes at Nordstrom, Macy’s, Nine West, Harry’s Shoes and the French Sole outlet.”

Dream shoe: “I’d like a pair of high-heeled gladiators that won’t make me look short.”

Shoe style you most like on boys: “I like the Vans Old Skool sneakers.”

Favorite shoe shopping companion: “I like to shop with my mom because she once worked in the accessories industry.”

Least expensive pair: “The ones I’ve stolen from my mom’s closet. I love the gladiator-style black sandals from Steve Madden, and a pair of black suede peep-toe slingbacks from Just Libby. Aside from that, my least expensive pairs are probably my flip-flops and the Gravis sneakers, which were on sale for $25.”

Shoe shopping ritual: “I usually buy shoes when I need them, like sandals before the summer, or sneakers and flats before school starts. During the past two years, I’ve been going to a lot of bar and bat mitzvahs, so I’ve needed more dressy shoes. When I’m with my friends, we don’t usually go window-shopping for shoes because you can’t do it so casually. You need a salesperson to help out.”

Must-have shoe this fall:
“All the girls are buying boots. Most flat or low-wedge suede or leather boots that fall below the knee, but scrunched down in folds.”

Favorite fashion magazine: “I don’t read fashion magazines. At sleepaway camp we share the teen idol magazines and take the quizzes. I do like to look through some retail catalogs, like Free People. Occasionally, I look through Teen Vogue.”

Most important accessories: “Shoes and jewelry would be tied as my most important accessories because either of them can make the outfit. For example, if you have a plain shirt and you want to spice it up, you can just throw on some jewelry and cool shoes. Bags are less important to me because I usually don’t carry one unless I’m at a party. And I like to wear below-the-ankle socks, which nobody really sees.”

Paying the shoe bills:
“Mostly my parents [pay]. [Shoes] tend to be expensive, so I’m more likely to buy less expensive clothing, accessories or makeup on my own.”

Comfort criteria: “Comfort is very important to me. It’s silly to buy a pair of shoes that are meant for walking and have your feet hurt all day. Although, I love pretty shoes, and there’s a way to find a fashionable shoe that’s also comfortable. Why would I buy a shoe that doesn’t feel good?”

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