There are few accessories that excite women quite like shoes. Not only are they the key to transforming an outfit, but is there any item in your closet that can make you feel sexier? Of course, there’s also a flip side: Is there any accessory that can cause as much pain as uncomfortable footwear? And hobbling around in misery isn’t exactly cute.
So, here’s the dilemma I have had to face; my feet are getting old(er) and they have begun talking to me, and not in a pleasant tone of voice. It seems, according to any podiatrist you talk to, that we have been ruining our feet since we slipped into our first pair of Mary Jane’s.
Since women are affected by foot problems four times more than men, Dr. Suzanne Levine, celebrity podiatrist and author of “My Feet Are Killing Me ” stresses the importance of taking care of our tootsies — and not just for the sake of looking good. “Our feet are a foundation,” she says, “and the way we dress them influences the way we feel.” With an entire chapter devoted to shoe sense, Dr. Levine walks us through how different sole styles affect our health and why many of us are shopping all wrong.
I can remember judging, rather harshly, the women I would see on the sales floor of any department store wearing orthopedic like footwear and making a VOW to never, as in never, ever, wear that type of shoe. I would remain faithful to my heels regardless.
I hate it when I realize that I am now “that women” and that there is nothing sexy or beautiful about aching feet or the physical changes that take place.
Shoes (can) hurt your feet. They change how you walk. In fact, your feet—your poor, tender, abused, ignored, maligned, misunderstood feet—are getting trounced in a war that’s been raging for roughly a thousand years: the battle of shoes versus feet. So what’s a girl to do? I sat out on a shoe finding mission after suffering a stress fracture of the metatarsal, a very painful injury that can render you hobbling. According to the docs, the flip-flop is the worst possible shoe you can wear. It does not provide any support causing the foot to spread, the arches to fall and leaving the foot exposed to the elements. What to do?
I decided to embark upon a shoe finding mission. I ventured into Nordstrom’s, known for their vast selection of shoes. I told the clerk what I was looking for and he led me to several tables of, well there’s no other way to put it, UGLY shoes. I gasped and shook my head violently and said,” Oh, no. I can’t possibly wear those!” He rolled his eyes. I guess he’d heard that before.
Nonetheless, I put my pride aside and pointed to several styles. As he placed them on my feet I wept unashamedly, unabashedly, big tears of sorrow. I can’t believe this is me, my foot, in these horrible shoes. Then I took a few steps. What’s happening? My feet didn’t cry, they didn’t twinge, and they didn’t talk back. WOW. Maybe I was onto something.
It was still a harrowing experience and I did buy two pair of fashionable, comfortable, supportive sandals. With a little investigative effort I have discovered a few things I will share with you.
Designers—from those at established labels such as Roger Vivier to young guns such as Paul Andrew—have begun to make a single style of shoe in as many as three or four heights, from teetering stilettos down to breezy flats. Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman even offer classic Manolo Blahnik BB pumps in—count ’em—five different heights. Heel versatility has become the new black.
Whether women are buying for comfort, for fashion or for a bit of both, designers are noticing that medium heights are a sweet spot. “When you design something that’s fashion-forward on a mid-heel, it’s always successful,” said shoe designer Paul Andrew, who made footwear for Donna Karan and others before launching his own brand in 2013.
From top, left to right: Heels with Embellishments, $1,695, Mini Heels with Embellishments, $1,245, and Flats with Embellishments, $1,145, Dolce & Gabbana, 212-897-9653; Aquazzura Belgravia Flats, $695, Pumps, $725, and Pumps, $725, Saks Fifth Avenue, 212-753-4000; Décolleté Sexy Choc Pumps, $775, Kitten Heels, $725, and Flats, $695, Roger Vivier, 212-861-5371; Tabitha Simmons Juniper Espadrille Sandals, $725, modaoperandi.com, Leticia Sandals, $695, barneys.com, and Nola Sandals, $875, editorialist.com Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas
Believe it or not, “a shoe with no heel is not always the best heel,” says Levine, “the ideal shoe is the lowest heel you can wear with comfort.” From ballet flats to loafers, it can be tricky to find shoes that are supportive and chic, but overall, Levine advises that shoes with rubber soles in a breathable fabric are what your feet really want. Regardless of the style, remember this: You should never have to break in shoes — if they don’t fit right away, don’t leave the store with them in tow.
With an average height of three to five inches, stilettos can surely lengthen your legs and even make them appear thinner, but Levine warns that they shouldn’t be worn for an extended period of time. “Since there’s not a lot of structure, your weight can’t rest on the heel, and that puts pressure on the ball of the foot,” she explains. Not only do your feet start to hurt, but you’ve got a greater chance of falling. “Stilettos are limousine shoes,” advises Levine, “walk into a party or wear them to dinner, but they’re not the type of shoes that should be used long distance — they’re not the type to function.” Her tip: Go for high-fashion shoes, but always bring a backup pair. Alternating heel heights will ensure you’re not overusing any one muscle group.
Pumps may be a bit more practical and offer more support than stilettos thanks to a thicker and often shorter heel, but they’re still not exactly an all-day shoe. In addition to having a change handy, Levine suggests above all else to be certain the shoe fits … because no matter how pretty it is, sporting the wrong size can get nasty — from hammer toes and bunions to ingrown toenails and blisters. “Shoes are supposed to match the anatomy of the foot,” adds Levine, “the ball of the foot should rest on the widest part.”
While your feet may feel flatter and more secure in platform shoes than in heels, the danger with these is that you’re far from the ground and one false step could lead to an ankle sprain. To be safe, Levine points out that there should be a half-inch of space between your longest toe and shoe’s edge, so do check for that when trying them on. “Stand up, make sure you can wiggle your toes and definitely walk around the store in them,” she says, including that your best bet to determine your shoe size is to be measured by a professional.
Mules can be open or closed toe, high heeled or flat — but they are always backless. “They shouldn’t be anyone’s go-to shoe,” notes Levine. From cramping to heel cracks, this style can be problematic because there’s nothing in place to hold the heel bone in the proper position and you’re forced to grip the shoe with your toes. When shopping, Levine says it’s important to be honest with yourself: “The most gorgeous pair of shoes can easily make you forget your common sense, so be careful.
Nothing screams summer like a pair of sandals that let your toes have their moment. Although a warm weather staple, Levine recommends you “save them for the beach and pool” instead of rocking shoes like flip-flops in the real world. Not only do they offer little arch support, but their open design leaves feet vulnerable to hazards from the street … and nobody wants cuts and bruises, bacteria and fungus or dryness and callouses to cloud an otherwise sunny day
Perhaps Levine’s most solid advice through it all is to simply ask yourself if the shoe feels good. “Sometimes it’s the last thing we consider!” she says. Since no one shoe is appropriate for every occasion, stick by the old saying: “If the shoe fits, wear it”… in moderation.