If you are a woman who works, chances are you have struggled with footwear.
Maybe you’ve commuted in one pair and then changed into another when you got to your desk. Maybe, over the years, you’ve built a collection of not just shoes, but also tiny socks of different shapes and sizes – socks that barely cover your toes, that aren’t supposed to peek out of your shoes but inevitably do, that are like tiny little stockings, or with a glue bit on the back heel to hold them in place.
Maybe you’ve stared at the feet of the women you see on the train or in your office and wondered, “Did she actually walk here in those shoes?”
Maybe you, like many women, have actually stopped several of these women to ask them that question, and if the answer is, “Yes, these are comfortable enough to walk in and they look good with my professional attire,” followed up with another inquiry: “Who makes them? Would you spell that, please?”
Climbing the male-dominated corporate ladder is hard enough on its own. It’s even worse in bad shoes.
Women looking for the right pair have no shortage of options. The US women’s footwear market was $33.9 billion ($50.1 billion) for the 12 months to April, according to the NPD Group/Consumer Tracking Service. The most growth is coming from the sport leisure category – but even fashion, which had been declining, is now levelling out, thanks to those brands incorporating comfort.
While there is no single “perfect” work shoe, Debra Wittner, of Wittner Shoes, says you need the three ‘f’s: feel, function and fashion.
“Choose a style of shoe that you know you enjoy wearing,” Wittner says. “Think of your job and what you need from a shoe to get through the day with ease. If you’re rushing around and want additional support, try a style … which has a secure lace-up fastening, a stable sole and mesh cutouts for added breathability.”
So what other brands are doing it best? There is no single answer but there are three broad categories that get rave reviews.
There is a reason Chanel flats have been so ubiquitous for so long. If you are ready and able to spend more than $1000 on a single pair of shoes, no one style comes more roundly recommended than the lambskin. The supple leather makes them comfortable right away, without the dreaded rubbing that can happen with the fashion house’s other styles and leathers.
For those looking to spend less money, Pretty Ballerinasare about half the price of Chanel (about $400 for new styles but there are regular sales). And if you want to spend even less, try Witchery or Country Road for dependable, seasonal styles. Australian cult ballet brand Sambag recently closed its physical stores but the brand is still operating an online store, with most classic styles hovering about the $200 mark in a range of colours and prints. Our pick is the burnt orange suede Tina; the colour is set to be one of the standout hues for this summer.
No shoe quite says “ready for business” as a loafer. The classic Gucci menswear style is recommended by Erica Russo, vice-president and fashion director of accessories and beauty at Bloomingdale’s. “I love this style because the leather will give over time, making this a great fit,” she explains. Every Gucci loafer-wearing woman who we spoke with praises its immediate comfort as well.
For something a little more fashion-forward, try the Noelle loafers from The Row but they will set you back about $1000. “The soft suede makes them really easy wearing, right out of the box,” says Rati Levesque, chief operating officer of luxury consignment site RealReal.
If you’re not a fan of running with the Gucci pack, Bally’s loafers, which feature a fold-down back, are as luxe and, best of all, can be bought on sale a couple of times a year. Other classic brands include Tod’s, whose Double T style will last for years and have a comfy rubber sole. For Australian labels, try Bared, whose shoes are designed by a qualified podiatrist (don’t worry, they’re not dull orthopaedic shoes) or Habbot, whose slip-on loafers have just enough heel height to make them more work than weekend.
Clogs are not always flats, but they are comfortable enough to have migrated from nurse wear to streetwear and stayed put for some years. They may not be suitable for long walks to the station but they are a good choice for anyone who logs many hours on their feet. Go-to brands include Dansko (available in Australia via The Walking Company), Swedish Hasbeens, No.6 Store, Nina Z, and Rachel Comey. For a clog with a fashion-forward lean, try Swedish emporium Funkis, which has stores in Sydney and Melbourne (also available via The Iconic), or Nordic Fusion.
Finding the Right Fit
When it comes to shoes, many women don’t realise that, as with the rest of their bodies, sizes can shift. As women in particular age, their feet can tend larger, wider and longer, meaning that the size number is less important than the feel of the shoe.
Kate Bellman, director of Nordstrom’s fashion office says: “It’s important to know the shape of your arch and work with a certified shoe fitter to identify the best support for your foot.”
“Foot pain often comes from improper arch support, but there are many shoes available that provide architectural arch support technology that alleviates discomfort. Lastly, a flexible sole will encourage proper movement and gait.”
The right fit means that there should be a thumbnail’s worth of space between your toe and the front of the shoe, felt by someone else. A little bit of heel slippage at the beginning is to be expected. A snug fit is not the goal.
For those logging the most miles, a slip-on flat is not the right choice. Shoe retailer Adam Farber says such people need a “seatbelt”, “something that’s going to keep the shoe on your foot so you’re not scrunching your toes up. That can cause heel pain known as plantar fasciitis.”
In addition, he cautions, even the best shoes aren’t necessarily perfect for you right out of the box. Farber says a good shoe can take as much as a week to break in. Start with an hour on day one, two or three hours on day two, and so on.
Remember, most retailers won’t accept the return of a shoe worn outside. So choose your store with its return policy in mind and wear a shoe indoors before you take the leap into the great outdoors.