So many women avoid wearing heels. Maybe they don’t know how to walk in them, cannot find a comfortable pair, or always end up with blisters and aching feet. What if I told you there’s a way to shop for and wear heels that eliminates most if not all of these issues? Well, there is! In this post, I’ll be breaking down what makes (or breaks!) a comfortable heel and my pro-tips for wearing them. I’ll have you wearing all the elegant heels you’ve ever dreamed of!
First, a few disclaimers. You can find plenty of information about the long term effects of wearing heels. If this is a concern you have, consult with your physician if not also your physical therapist. I’m not here to tell you that you must wear high heels, but rather to help you go about it in a way that maximizes your comfort!
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Selection Criteria for High Heels
Analyze Heel Placement
A heel is made or broken by where the actual heel itself is placed. Heels placed too far backward toward the actual heel of your foot are difficult to walk in! Mind not only where the heel comes out of the shoe, but where it meets the ground. Where is that point in relation to your actual heel and the arch of your foot? Does the heel slope inward, or just point straight down? Generally speaking, its best to select a heel at least 1/4 of the way forward of the back of your heel. The more angle the better.
For me this has been the most important selection criteria when shopping for high heels! It comes above heel height, heel thickness, platform height, and all other elements of shoe construction. Adopting this evaluation method alone should drastically affect how easy it is to walk in the shoes you purchase, how long you can bear wearing them, and how comfortable you are while doing so!
While adorable, this shoe sucks. Not only is the heel pin straight, it’s placed so far to the back of the actual heel it may as well be behind it! The actual footprint of the shoe won’t be much shorter than your flat-footed footprint, which will make this heel an absolute nightmare to walk in. Also, judging by the thickness of the sole, it’ll be extremely inflexible, making your already clomping steps even more rigid and unnatural.
Consider yourself actually running barefoot on tiptoe. You can do it, but running in heels can seem a far greater challenge. Its actually entirely possible to run in heels, but only if the arch of the heel is suited to the flexation of your actual foot. Shopping for this is nuanced based on your own foot structure, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to it. Consider the slope from the highest part of the shoe down to the ball of the foot. Note how long that slope is. Also consider if the arch is curved or straight. If the overall footprint of the shoe is equal in square inches to your actual bare footprint, you’ll have a hard time walking in that shoe (let alone running!) so be sure to size this up and try before you buy!
Feel free to skip this entire guide and go straight for the money, the ultimate cheat code in high heel shopping: a professional dancing shoe. There’s mesh between the straps to ensure none of your toes sneak out of bounds. See how far forward, and angled, the heel itself is. Also look at the angle, distance and length from the top of the heel down to the ball of the foot, as well as the upward angle from the ball of the foot to the toe. Dancers put their shoes through substantial strain, and need to have the most optimal range of motion. It’s a no brainer that these shoes will perfectly suit the average woman’s needs for comfort and mobility. Of course, dancing heels often have suede outsoles, so select for a color and style where this is less overtly noticeable!
Other Structural Elements
A platform under the ball of the foot actually decreases the heel height. This creates a more comfortable and wearable shoe. Keep in mind this relative heel height as you shop!
Note how the platform on this heel adds significant height. Find the delineation between the true base where the ball of the foot would rest and the beginning of the platform and draw a horizontal line straight back through the heel. This shows you a truer picture of the heel height as well as the arch.
Consider how flat or sloped the ball through the front of the toe is, especially if it has a platform. The cusp of the toe dictates how easily it will roll over and forward as you prepare to take your foot off the ground. Experiment with different slopes to determine which is most comfortable for you depending on heel and platform height!
High heels with more to them are usually more comfortable than a slip on heel. There’s a lot more structural support in a caged heel, a boot, or a wedge than a delicate strappy sandal or a stiletto. The pressure is equalized all over the foot in shoes with this kind of structure. In my experience caged heels in particular often have better arch shape and heel placement but your mileage may vary!
Keep Material in Mind
The material of the shoe makes a big difference when it comes to comfort. A suede heel will normally have enough flexibility to move with your foot while retaining shape, strength and support. Patent leather and faux leather are normally a bit more rigid than real leather. This of course depends on how thick the material is, too, so be sure to experiment!
Sticky Things That Will Save Your Feet & Ease Discomfort from Heels
There are two adhesive products you will want to keep on hand for wearing heels. I recommend keeping them in your bag anytime you’ll be going out! They make a MAJOR difference in comfort and drastically lengthen the amount of time you can spend in your heels!
Prevent Blisters with Moleskin/Moalfoam Padding
This is a cushioning product that will prevent your shoes from abrading and rubbing the skin. One side is a rather sturdy though impermanent adhesive, and the other is a compressible, fleecy suede-like texture. It should be adhered to the inside of the shoe anywhere you might get blisters. I put it at the back opening, on any surface that contacts the pinkie toe, and on harsh edges/seams. This works best preventatively to head off any hot spots or blisters before they start! When I fail to put it on initially and start blistering, I’ll apply the adhesive side directly to my skin.
Avoid Foot Pain by Taping Your Toes
Use some Nexcare Absolute Waterproof Tape or a similar product to tape your third and fourth toes together. Any stretchy adhesive will work! You don’t want to tape them together too tight, but they do need to be incapable of moving entirely independently. I’m not sure if this works because it limits use of the adductor hallusis, provides support around the metatarsal nerves, or affects some other mechanism. Nevertheless, its effective! I’ve also used kinesiology tape, electrical tape, and bandaids in a pinch. Doing this about doubles the amount of time I can comfortably stand and walk in heels.
My Favorite High Heel Brands
In general I recommend shopping for heels with European sizing. They are much more consistently fitted from one style to the next. So far, I’ve had success with heels from BCBG lines, Calvin Klein, Chinese Laundry, Jimmy Choo, and Christian Siriano. This is only based on particular shoes and isn’t indicative of every shoe made by those brands. Still, those brands might be a good place to start looking! Here are a few shoes I specifically recommend for building a complete and versatile wardrobe!
This nude patent leather d’Orsay heel is nicely arched, the heel is placed well forward and is wider at the juncture of the sole than at the base. Also, note the iconic d’Orsay style, where the midsection of the foot is left exposed. It’s my favorite heel for a subtle feminine touch while extending the visual line of the leg. I wear these heels OUT and replace them with a new pair almost yearly, since they’re ideal for so many scenarios! They’re a favorite for professional environments, church, and daily wear.
Here’s another dancing heel, hybridized for daily wear! These have enough structure around the ball of the foot and back of the heel to be extremely comfortable, much more supportive than the thinner ankle strap heel options out there. I wear these for social occasions when open toed shoes are acceptable, and love wearing them with more refined day dresses and sundresses.
This slim black ankle strap heel is a must-have staple! It’s simple and feminine, the shoe equivalent of a little black dress! Best for social and romantic outings, it looks great with cocktail attire and anything more formal. I would certainly advise a dark gray version for true spring through true summer, if not bright spring through soft autumn, depending on the composition of the ensemble.
Let’s go to the more elegant and refined end of the spectrum, to what I lovingly refer to as my sexless funeral shoe. This is the classic staple for job interviews, business professional events, and other sedate and formal scenarios! It’s comfortable and flies under the radar in a tasteful and ladylike way.
A casual summer heel is also a must! Select something with raffia, cork, wood, jute, or another rougher hewn natural fiber to pair with casual sundresses and other breezy outfits. I also recommend a platform wedge of any sort to be worn under maxi skirts, maxi dresses, and wide leg pants to cheat your way out of any hemming you might not have time to address!
In winter I love wearing these suede over the knee boots on a daily basis for semi-casual occasions. I wear black with denim, and camel or nude with white denim. They’re also great under maxi skirts and any length dresses for added warmth! I find they stay up best with a thick pair of over the knee socks to cling to, though sometimes I’ll safety pin them if I need them to stay right in place! I’ve looked forward to cool weather since buying them, they’re so comfortable and cozy and regardless of if they fall out of favor, they’ll always be my favorites!
A calf height boot with a shorter blockier heel is another must have shoe. This style, unlike many others, doesn’t have any overt traces of Western style. Ideal for wearing over pants, I love these for casual social gatherings, especially outdoor ones during the fall!