Fashion “Influencers” Paid Thousands of Dollars for $40 Shoes

In a crazy publicity stunt, Payless Shoes changed the label on their shoes, marked them up 10x, and invited fashion “influencers” to their private launch event.

The influencers went on to spend thousands of dollars before Payless revealed the truth (and refunded their money).

a red high heeled shoe with a bow
A pair of Christian Siriano heels, currently retailing for $19.99 at Payless.

From the Washington Post:

“I would pay $400, $500. People are going to be like, ‘Where did you get those? Those are amazing,’ †a woman said as she tried on a pair of bright-gold sneakers with leopard prints.

The woman was not actually buying a Palessi because there’s no such brand, and there’s no Bruno Palessi.

The video testimonials are gold.

And while it clearly raises questions about fashion “influencers” and how easily they can be… well… influenced, I think it raises more questions about the value of luxury goods these days.

Those who know me well know I’m a huge fan of shoes.  What’s traditionally made a good shoe is its fashion, construction, and comfort.

Usually those align with the price (though, Beverly Feldman, I love you but those sparkly sling backs destroyed my feet).

For fashion, usually cheaper companies cannot afford high-end designers who can work with cheaper materials.  Payless has partnered with people like Christian Siriano, Martha Stewart, and Isabel Toledo to do just that with their shoes.

Me at the Points Guy Awards in my $34.99 Isabel Toledos.

a woman standing in front of a wall of plants

I think Christian Siriano is an especially good addition to the Payless team because during his time on Project Runway, he was challenged to make couture level dresses out of cheaper fabrics.  And he brings that talent in.

So then there’s comfort.  This used to matter to me so much with shoes. Which I think could go without saying.  You don’t want to destroy your feet whenever you decide to wear something cute.

And more expensive shoes tend to not pinch and destroy your feet (though still throwing shade at you, tbh, Bev).  But I found a much cheaper way to avoid that pinch.

I’ve started using a product called PreHeels that you spray on your feet to create a barrier between them and the pinch parts of shoes.  And it has been fantastic (aside from the times I’ve accidentally melted my toe nail polish, please read the instructions if you get them).

Fun fact: spray on sunblock also melts your nail polish.

Which leads me to construction.  While that’s important for day to day things like boots and work pumps, I don’t really find myself wearing my special occasion heels too many times.  Instead, they are on display in my bedroom.

And while they look really pretty (I’d attach a picture if I weren’t traveling), I’m paying a lot of money for shoe art.

Plus, I do have a slight habit of sometimes losing a shoe.  For example, one of my shoes is lost somewhere between a soiree at the French Ambassador’s house and my own place.

You call it trashy.  I say I’m a freaking Disney princess.

a black and red high heeled shoe on the street
A photo a friend snapped because it reminded her of me.

All in all, this publicity stunt is making me wonder what we actually pay for when we purchase special occasion heels for hundreds of dollars.  Does the quality per dollar scale evenly as it goes up, or are the shoe companies influencing us the way Payless tricked the “Palessi” shoppers?

Just some shoe for thought.

a dog lying on a bag

Please note, this post contains an Amazon link and a Payless link. If you purchase anything through Amazon or Payless links on my blog, I may receive affiliate credit.  As always, I appreciate the support!

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter


  1. While pretty amusing stuff on a certain level, this story doesn’t say anything good about social media as a whole.

  2. Unilever did the same thing with their Suave brand. The created Evaus (get it) as a high end hair care brand and they fooled the influencers.

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