Let me be the first to confess that I, in my youth, made some horrible choices of footwear. I used to wear those awful platform trainer made popular by The Spice Girls. I had a pair of ‘goth’ boots that were the comfiest things in the world but made me look like I wanted to kick your shins in – I still have them, but they’re relegated to cosplay boots now, they don’t see the light of day except twice a year at conventions. I’ve bought shoes that are uncomfortable, that rub, that made my feet bleed… you name it, I’ve bought it.
Which is why now, as I have hit my mid-30’s, I think it is more important than ever to stress the importance of a good, comfortable shoe.
Artsy filtered photo from my Instagram. These are my favourite summer flats. I bought them from River Island from about two years ago and they are everything you could ever want in a shoe. They look good, they fit well and most importantly, they are ridiculously comfortable.
Comfort in a shoe is far more important than what it looks like. And that feels a little strange to say, being as I work in fashion and how something looks is, obviously, incredibly important. But equally, as someone who suffers from back pain bad enough that I’ve had to buy a custom office chair so I’m not in continual agony throughout the day, I would say that comfort in footwear is now, for me, the most important thing.
And comfortable shoes can, believe it or not, look good!
So what to look for when buying a shoe? This applies to any shoe, from a sky high heel to a little ballet flat – if it doesn’t tick all of the boxes, then why are you buying it?
- You must like how it looks: This is an obvious one. If your eye wasn’t drawn to it on the shelf, why are you even considering it? This is something you will wear a lot, and shoes are sometimes the first thing people notice about an outfit.
- It must fit: Try the shoe on. Does it feel tight? Does it feel too loose? Is there a gap between the back of the shoe and your leg? If it doesn’t sit right on your foot or just feels ‘wrong’, put it back on the shelf. This is not the shoe for you. I will say that sometimes a half-size discrepancy can be fixed with a pair of insoles, and recommend that you invest in a pair and carry them with you when you’re shopping.
- It must not rub: Get the other shoe of the pair and put it on, and have a walk round the shop. If the shoe rubs at the back of your heel or on your toes, don’t buy it. The blisters aren’t worth it. You should be able to buy a shoe and wear it straight out the box.
- You must be able to walk in it: This is particularly applicable to high heels. If you feel like you’re doing the Bambi-on-ice walk, or that you’re going to topple over, don’t buy the shoe. I personally despise those high heels that have a platform as well because the platform isn’t flat. I don’t enjoy rocking forwards when I’m walking, especially as there are cobbled streets around where I live. The shoe should feel like it’s holding you properly and you feel balanced on it.
- The ‘bus’ test: This is a bit of a silly one, but actually it’s quite important. Can you run in the shoe, or at least trot quickly without it coming off your foot? My mum calls this the ‘can you run for the bus?’ test. And it’s worth doing – run down one side of the shoe shop (ignore the staff if they stare at you) and see how the shoe feels. If it’s still on your foot and you’re not in pain, then that’s great!
If the shoes you’re after tick all the boxes for comfort, fit and ‘yes I can walk in it’, then buy them. Comfortable shoes don’t have to be ugly – Kurt Geiger make the most comfortable and well-balanced high heels I’ve found, as do Stuart Weitzman. Carvela do the best court shoes you could ever wish to find, and for flats, New Look or River Island are my go-to shops for these. Gabor is a good brand for day to day shoes, and you cannot go wrong with something from Clarks for work shoes or even school shoes.
I do recommend getting a pair of gel insoles or gel pads for the balls of your feet if you’re going to be spending a night in high heels. No matter how well-made and well-fitting the shoe, the balls of your feet will still be screaming for mercy regardless.
And a final note on sandals – if your foot is slipping out of the sandal, or you are having to clench your toes to keep it on your foot, don’t buy it. Long term, it will cause damage to your feet. It’s better to buy something like a gladiator sandal rather than a flip flop if it offers more support for you.
Shoes are a very personal thing, but the guidelines for fit and comfort are universal. Happy shopping!
(I was not paid to promote the brands I have mentioned in this post, they are just my personal favourites!)