TikTok's 'Shoe Theory' Has Deep Cultural Origins, But Are Its Breakup Predictions Legit?

Shoes are like clothing for the feet. They speak volumes about who you are, what image you're trying to project, and whether you have good taste in fashion. Some people like comfy shoes designed for action, while others go for style. Regardless, there's the right pair of shoes for every setting and occasion, and an outfit can fall apart if it's not matched with the right footwear.

However, while shoes make great purchases, they're dreadful gifts. So say the proponents of TikTok's "shoe theory," anyway. According to the theory, which started trending in December 2022, if you give your significant other shoes as a gift, your relationship will fall apart. 

It sounds strange, but it's a popular idea. As of this writing, the #shoetheory hashtag has over 25 million views on TikTok, where users are sharing their own stories and documenting the theory's relevance in their own love lives — and explaining where, exactly, this belief comes from. Is this a case of some major confirmation bias, or is it really bad luck to send your loved ones shoes? In order to determine the answer, let's go back to the source.

What's with this shoe theory?

This might be the first time you're hearing about it, but the shoe theory wasn't created yesterday. In a video that has garnered over 22,600 likes, TikTok user angela.chaan explains the urban legend. "I have been hearing about the shoe theory from my mom since I was young, and it essentially says that, if you gift someone a pair of shoes, they will eventually walk out on you," Chaan says. "In other words, you don't really want to give your significant others or your loved ones a pair of shoes because that means that you're destined for a breakup." 

A number of TikTok users support the shoe theory. "Shoe theory is 100% accurate [because] one time I bought a man $400 Jordans for Christmas and he broke up [with] me one month later," imalibraacanutell confessed via captions. A video by kksparkleprincess ties the theory to Taylor Swift's 2022 song "Bejeweled," which includes the lyrics, "Didn't notice you were walking all over my peace of mind in shoes I gave you as a present." It looks like the popular singer-songwriter is also a proponent of the shoe theory. 

Other TikTok users expressed concerns about the theory, fearing that their relationships would crumble thanks to ill-planned presents. "I got my man shoes for Christmas and completely forgot about the theory," crystalations_'s captions read over footage of the TikTok user making distraught faces. Like most superstitions, the shoe theory probably isn't true, but you wouldn't know that from browsing TikTok. If it is, though, don't worry. Tradition suggests that there's a pretty quick way to fix things.

The origin of the shoe theory, explained

There's a grain of truth at the heart of almost every myth. In this case, the root of the shoe theory comes from Chinese culture. Gift-giving is no small deal in China, which is why there are many dos and don'ts to watch out for. You want to avoid angering the people receiving your gifts — not to mention the gods. 

According to Cheng & Tsui, in Chinese culture, giving someone a pair of shoes is seen as bad luck because the Mandarin word for shoes, which is pronounced as "xié", is a homophone for the Chinese word for "evil" (the two words are written with different characters, however). Since these words sound similar, shoes are considered an "evil" gift.

Not only does this superstition prevail in Chinese culture, it's also popular in the Philippines. According to TripZilla, sending someone shoes as a gift is akin to saying that the recipient will either walk out on you or walk all over you. To neutralize your bad luck, the person who received the gift is supposed to give you a coin in recompense for the shoes, making it look like a fair exchange.