As more women move up in the professional world, many see a stylish wardrobe as a key part of their workplace image. Appropriate yet fashionable outfits also include footwear. Many women wear high heels or ballet flats when going to the office. Both can cause discomfort and foot pain. Be assured that stylish and comfortable shoes for professional women do exist. Here's how to choose the right work shoes and take care of your feet.
High heels are consistently named as a leading cause of foot pain among adult women. High heels cause pain due to the structure of the shoe. The heel height shifts your body weight forward. This puts increased pressure on the ball of the foot and on your toes.
As Neal M. Blitz, Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) and foot and ankle surgeon says, “It’s important to recognize that walking in high heels itself is unnatural.” In fact, your body and feet will gradually begin to compensate for your unnatural gait, leading to:
- Tightness in the calf muscle and Achilles tendon
- Weakness of the toes
- Instability of the ankle
One of the best ways to prevent future foot problems is to reduce the amount of time you wear your heels. As Matthew G. Garoufalis, D.P.M. and past president of the APMA contends, “With high heels, moderation is key. It’s best not to wear them every day.” What are some practical ways to wear heels in moderation if they are part of your work attire?
- Wear sneakers or other supportive shoes during your commute. Do you walk to work? Drive or take the train? Wearing supportive shoes (with insoles) will help keep your feet happy. Change into your heels when you get to the office.
- Try not to wear your heels everyday. If you have work-appropriate flats, vary your daily shoe choice. Make sure you are putting insoles in your flats to provide added support.
- Modify your heels. Bring in your favorite pair of heels to your cobbler and ask her to add rubber soles and heel tips to your shoes. This will increase the thickness of the sole, providing more comfort. Rubber will also prevent slipping.
As Garoufalis states, “Daily heel-wearing can cause the Achilles tendon, the strong tendon at the back of your ankle, to shrink. This increases your risk of an injury while doing activities in flat shoes, including exercise.” It is important to take care of your feet when wearing heels to prevent injury.
High Heels and Foot Pain
The APMA says that women should “Treat heels like dessert. Don’t wear them all the time, just on special occasions.” If you have been wearing high heels too much you might begin to experience what is often called the “high-heel hangover.” If your feet are consistently in pain after wearing heels, even when you switch to sneakers or flats, then you probably have “hungover” feet. There are some ways to relieve foot pain after a long day on heels:
- Stretching. You need to make sure you are stretching your Achilles tendon and calf muscles, both of which shorten when wearing high heels. Try poses like downward dog that stretch the calves and standing balances that help stretch and strengthen your foot.
- Range-of-motion exercises. Try moving your foot to the left, right, up, down, and then in circles. Another option is to trace an imaginary alphabet with your foot. Repeat on the other side.
- Epsom salts. Soak your feet in Epsom salts for 30 minutes twice a day. The magnesium and sulfate in the salts are absorbed through the skin and help repair tissue. This can also alleviate ingrown toenails.
Pain can vary according to your specific foot structure and any other underlying foot issues like bunions or plantar fasciitis. If you have severe swelling and pain after wearing heels you should visit a doctor.
Choosing Fashionable and Comfortable Shoes For Professional Women — High Heels
Here is some practical advice you should take into account when purchasing heels:
- Choose heels 2 inches or lower. The higher the heel, the more stress on the front of the foot.
- Make sure the shoe has a wide toe box (the part of the shoe that surrounds your toes). Avoid pointy-toed heels as they put added pressure on the front of the foot.
The following heels should be avoided:
- High, pointy stilettos. Because pointy-toed heels narrow around the toes, they will cramp your toes. Their height will put extra pressure on the front of your foot.
- Peep-toed heels. In the summer months it can be tempting to show off pedicures at the office while still meeting dress code. However, heels with a small opening in the front at the toes can push toes forward or even cause them to overlap. Sometimes they can force the nail into the skin, causing ingrown toenails.
- Very high wedges or platforms. These stylish shoes may appear to provide more support than heels as the platform is often the same height from ball to heel. However, they can often cause problems with balance and stability, leading to ankle rolls. If you do wear wedges, choose a lower height and one with ankles straps to provide extra support.
So with all this advice on avoiding high heels, what are some of the best options out there for comfort and style? We recommend trying shoes on in a store before purchasing. Walk around. Wear your work suit or slacks to see how the heels fit with your hem.
- Clarks. If you spend any time in a law office or court room, you will find many of the female attorneys wearing Clarks. With lower heels, thick soles, and wide toe boxes, these heels provide comfort with a conservative style that meets professional dress codes without appearing dowdy. $100.
- Michael Kors. The Women’s Flex Mid Pump is consistently touted by women’s fashion sites as “the most comfortable work shoe ever.” With its lower heel and supportive foot bed, this shoe will keep your feet supported throughout the day. $99.
- Kork-Ease. Once known solely for their cork wedge sandals, Kork-Ease has expanded into boots and booties. With thick, rubber soles and comfortable footbeds, these boots will provide day-long comfort. We recommend the Estella or Helene booties, priced at around $150.
- La Canadienne. If you are looking for comfortable winter boots with a heel, La Canadienne provides stability, style and comfort. They have a variety of heel heights and styles to choose from. And they now have heels. These shoes are expensive, ranging from $300 to $600.
Flats: A Viable Option to High Heels?
Stylish flats should be any part of a woman’s professional wardrobe. We recommend having a pair of black flats — your staple shoe — as well as others in brown and maybe even a fun color like red or blue. These are often the most comfortable shoes for professional women available.
Unlike heels, flats distribute your weight evenly over your foot. However, they lack any type of arch support and thus can lead to increased overpronation. To increase support in your flats we recommend the following:
- Choose durable leather. While you may think the sole is the most important part of your flat, the shoe itself needs to provide support to the sides of the foot. A strong leather will keep your foot from wobbling around.
- Make sure the flat has a rubber sole. Like heels, flats with rubber soles will provide extra cushion and prevent you from slipping (and falling).
- Put a Tread Labs Stride insole in your shoe. Insoles can greatly improve the fit and comfort of a ballet flat. Our new, thinner and more versatile Stride insole can easily slip into a flat. We recommend using full-length insoles (and not ¾ inserts that don’t provide forefront support). The best way to make sure your insole will fit inside the flat is to try the shoes on in a brick-and-mortar store. Bring your insoles with you. Going up a half a size might be necessary, but the insole will prevent any slipping.
The Best Flats for a Professional Woman
Like heels, flats must be purchased wisely. We recommend the following:
- Naturalizer. These flats have thicker, rubber soles and a wide toe box. Try the Maude or Jaye styles. Coming in at around $50, these are an affordable option.
- Clarks. We can’t get enough of Clarks. Like their heels, their flats provide comfort and support. Check out the Alitay Susan (coming in black and a variety of fun colors, this line can provide year-long fashion options) or the Grayson Erica. $100.
- Calvin Klein Gailia. These stylish, patent leather flat consistently rates as top pick. The toe box is not very wide, however, so if you have wide feet, this might not be the option for you. $99.
It is possible to combine style and comfort in the workplace. You don’t need to sacrifice comfort for fashion. Wearing proper footwear and taking care of your feet will allow you to perform better on the job.