Solving the Mystery of Professional Black Flats

Black flats are a wardrobe essential that many professional women could not live without.  However, if the shoes I’ve seen on the Hill over the past week, a lot of women are wearing flats that are neither stylish nor flattering.  Not all black flats are created equal, so let’s talk about the difference between black flats for the office and every other pair out there.

Worn Beyond Measure.  The first mistake that I see a lot of women making is that they don’t care for their shoes.  If your flats are leather, you need to have them shined regularly.  If your flats are suede, you need to spray them with leather protectant, and then brush and clean them regularly.  A suede care kit can be purchased for less than $5 at your local drugstore.

Properly caring for your shoes means you need to find a cobbler.  For something as simple as shining and cleaning, you don’t need to hire the best cobbler in the world.  Many dry cleaners also offer shoe services, and if you live in even a medium-sized city finding a cobbler near your home or office is as easy as hitting up Google.

The Sole Reason.  Women could learn a lot from men about properly caring for their shoes.  If you own a quality pair of shoes, and you wear them frequently, you may need to look into having them resoled. 

Over time, wear and tear to the soles can make shoes less comfortable and cause permanent damage that can ruin a shoe.  I have my flats resoled and reheeled once per year.  This is not necessary with inexpensive shoes (under-$100) or ballet flats, but if you invested in a quality pair of black flats, even a mediocre cobbler can do wonders for the look and durability of your shoes.

Off the Mark.  There is a big difference between a professional black flat and a casual black flat.  If you aren’t sure which kind you’re wearing, ask yourself, “Can I wear these with a business suit and look as pulled together as I would wearing a heel?” Need a visual aid?


Casual: French Connection Quilted Ballerina ($112), Merona Meiko Flat ($25), Mossimo Ona Flat ($15)

Professional: Ann Taylor Perfect Flat ($118), Geox Donna Flat ($135), DvF Madison Flat ($250)

Casual flats like ballet flats and Tory Burch Revas can be worn on casual Friday or on non-session days or in an office where business casual is the norm, as long as you take care of them and keep them from looking beat up. Professional flats have structure, mature embellishments (no sequins, no flimsy bows) or no embellishments and they look just as nice as a high heel sans the heel.

Want a pair of professional black flats but need to pay under-$100?  A pair of suede ones from Steve Madden are $80, Topshop has them for $56.  If black patent is your thing, Nine West has a structured pair for $69.  Amazon also has the Ivanka Trump Annulio patent flat for $55 in limited sizes.  If you’re looking for a more mature bow, like the Geox flats above, this Bamboo Sami shoe is $25 and Nine West has a pair for $59.

Comfort.  Every time I write a post like this, the same comments about the importance of comfort appear.  And while I feel like a broken record, let me say it again: You can make a professional looking shoe comfortable, you cannot make a comfortable casual shoe look professional.

Dr. Scholl’s makes great gel insoles that can improve the comfort of any shoe.  A cobbler can smooth rough edges or stretch too-tight toes easily and inexpensively.  And shoes can be broken in quickly, at home using a pair of wool socks and a blow dryer.

Also, it is my personal opinion, that when you own a pair of professional black flats, like the ones at right, you should not commute in them.  You will wear them out before their time.  Commute in your casual shoes and then change into the nice pair at work. 

Black flats are a great option for professional women, but you have to choose wisely.  Not all shoes are created equal, some are professional and some are casual.  Choose your look based on your outfit, your work environment and the message that you want to convey to your superiors.  I may not be shoe obsessed (I prefer handbags), but I know the value of having a good pair of professional shoes that are properly maintained.



  1. nancy says:

    omg belle, i love you.
    it's like you knew i was on the market for a new pair of professional flats!!!
    your tips-very much helpful

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. anon says:

    I have noted that you use the term “cobbler” instead of shoe maker, repair professional or cordwainer. Just and FYI: In the industry, calling someone a cobbler is like calling your doctor a quack. If you are working with someone who calls themselves a cobbler, I would definitely find a real professional to work with.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  3. Kate says:

    This post is timely. I noticed my (casual) black flats were starting to look a little beat up at the toes, so I bought some polish and went to town on them. I found a strange pleasure polishing my Dad's shoes when I was younger. Now they look tons better. Not as nice as professional flats but just fine for my business casual workplace. Now I need to treat my new nubuck tall boots before it rains…

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  4. Amy says:

    Can you recommend any flats that have a bit of a heel? I'm not looking for height, but I would like enough of a heel to keep the back of the shoe from scraping against the ground. That seems to be my major problem with very flat shoes after a couple of wears.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  5. E says:

    anon – in the House and Senate, the shoe repair is called the Cobbler's Bench. So I doubt that cobbler is an offensive term if they use in their business's name.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  6. Renee says:

    Anon — perhaps that is something specific to where you live? While I have heard (some of) the terms you used, my shoe guy in Chicago's Gold Coast is extremely reputable and he uses the term cobbler. I'm by no means an expert on this terminology or the industry, but I certainly know about quality service, both first hand and based off of the reccs of others. Just wanted to point out that your generalization of “cobbler” = “non-professional” is untrue in a least two instances.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  7. ES says:

    Belle – What cobbler do you use? I have had horrific experiences with cobblers in DC and I was just curious who you depend on.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  8. ES says:

    Belle – What cobbler do you use? I have had horrific experiences with cobblers in DC and I was just curious who you depend on.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  9. Belle says:

    ES: For minor repairs and shining, I either give them to my dry cleaner or I use Cobbler's Bench on the Hill. For major repairs, there is a place near 17th and R (can't remember the name, just know it by sight) that I use.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  10. JulieY says:

    I enjoy this post. Always in the market for these, though I suspect most of mine would fall in the “casual” category.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  11. Meagan says:

    I live in these Ivanka Trump flats…

    Iown them in black, nude, and black patent

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  12. jlo says:

    Amy–I purchased a pair of black Bandolino flats with a slight heel that just arrived yesterday. They are gorgeous! Hope this helps!

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  13. ER says:

    So, back in Shakespearean England, a “cobbler” could also mean a rude, bumbling, unkempt person. There is a scene in Julius Caesar (Act I Scene I ) which famously plays on the idea of this pun. This doesn't really answer any questions noted above, but I've just always found this part of the play interesting.

    But what trade art thou? Answer me directly.
    A trade, sir, that I hope I may use with a safe conscience, which is, indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  14. anon says:

    How do you feel about patent leather these days? When can they be worn, flat or heels?

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  15. Amy says:

    Thanks jlo, this is a huge help. In my younger days, I lived in Hepburns by MIA. Unfortunately they don't seem to be making them anymore, so I'm always in the market for a wear-with-everything black flat.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  16. Nina says:

    I have sweaty feet (sorry to be gross, I don't know how else to say it), and I need to wear socks or tights every day. It seems like there should be tiny socks to wear with flats, but I cannot find anything that doesn't stick out of the shoe and look tacky. Anyone successfully solve this problem?

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  17. Whitney says:

    I just bought a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo Vara pumps in black leather. They're a great compromise between a flat and a pump since the heel is thick and only about 1-1/2″ high. If you buy them new they are really expensive, but Ferragamo has been making the same style since 1978 and they wear like iron, so you can find them on Ebay or at thrift shops for much less. Mine were $65 and they look like they were barely ever worn.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  18. Amanda says:

    I second Megan's recommendation of the Ivanka Trump Annulios! I also have the Annuls in grey/cream snakeskin ( and they are equally wonderful. They wouldn't make an appropriate commuting shoe, though; as Belle points out, that would really wear them out fast, especially since they have a fairly delicate sole (which I really should get replaced, before they start to wear). But they are so elegant and comfortable.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  19. Amanda says:

    For the issue with sweaty feet–what about those absorbent insoles?

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  20. Belle says:

    Nina: Sorry, no ideas on the sock issue. But this website FootSmart seems to have some products that might be worth a try.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  21. Jill says:

    It's really challenging to find a flat that can be worn with tights and not look too sloppy or little girl-ish. I think some of the options above would work. Appreciate those and any other suggestions.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  22. Belle says:

    Jill: On this subject (tights and flats), people need to wear what they feel best in. For me, it always felt a bit immature. So I like to do a sleek flat knee high boot or kitten heel knee high boot instead.

    However, I do think that a structured, almond toe flat looks better than a casual ballet flat with tights.

    September 26, 2012/Reply
  23. Aileen @ 300 Threads says:

    I second the Ferragamo Vara flats. Also NY Times recently asked flight attendants for their shoe recommendations since they're on their feet all the time and need to convey a certain image.

    September 27, 2012/Reply
  24. eb says:

    For those in DC, there is a wonderful cobbler in Petworth on Upshur St (across from Domku for those familiar with the area). The shop is run by an elderly couple from Italy and they are affordable, meticulous and nice. It's called Philips Shoe Repair.

    September 27, 2012/Reply
  25. MS says:

    Amazingly timely post – I just exchanged a pair of black flats yesterday and was in the market for a more upscale pair.

    Anyways, does anyone have suggestions for wide feet? Every time that I get shoes – and especially flats – it appears that the footbed is too narrow, comfortably to be walking upon. I love the shape and look of of the Ann Taylor flat, but it runs a little too narrow for my feet.

    September 27, 2012/Reply
  26. Melissa says:

    This is probably a stupid question, but how long is shoe polish supposed to take to dry? I ask because I bought some basic black shoe polish, used it on a pair of patent leather shoes, and after 2 weeks it's still wet and smudgy. I can't even wear the shoes now. Is this normal? This was my first time trying to polish my shoes, so I don't know if I did something wrong, bought the wrong product, or what! Please help!

    September 27, 2012/Reply
  27. Belle says:

    Melissa: I'm 90% positive you can't shine patent leather with regular polish. That's probably why it didn't dry.

    September 27, 2012/Reply
  28. E says:

    Anyone know of a good place in DC to get a handbag cleaned? I have a leather bag I bought three years ago that is in good condition, but the leather is looking a bit faded at the edges and I would like to have it cleaned and conditioned.

    September 27, 2012/Reply
  29. GoGoGo says:

    @ MS: I've found fabulous wide-size flats and pumps on Nine West for good prices. It takes some lurking, though. I'd love to hear more tips from other folks.

    My advice is to really stick to “W” sized shoes, even though it's so tempting to buy regular ones when that's all that many stores sell.

    I used to think they'd just be slightly less comfortable, but I found that they also wore out quickly. I got these great pointy-toed boots, and then my pinky toes started wearing a holes in the sides, trying to get free!

    September 27, 2012/Reply
  30. Cat says:

    I read about the socks + hair dryer trick to stretch shoes on Pinterest, but I'm wondering – do you think this can be done with calf hair shoes? Seems like it might burn or singe them, or make them smell weird. Has anyone tried it?

    September 27, 2012/Reply
  31. CynthiaW says:

    You definitely don't use regular shoe polish to polish patent leather – when I was a little girl, my mother always used petroleum jelly on our patent leather shoes and buffed them out.

    It looks like that's still how you do it…

    September 28, 2012/Reply
  32. Anon says:

    Anybody have suggestions for vegetarian (non-leather, non-suede) professional flats? Thanks!

    October 3, 2012/Reply
  33. e says:

    Nina: with regards to sweaty feet….this is going to sound really weird, but I learned this trick from my husband, who is a former Marine. Apply stick deoderant to the bottoms of your feet. I did this when we were traveling through Europe and my feet didn't sweat at all. It prevents blisters, which is key for marching miles at a time in combat boots!

    October 5, 2012/Reply
  34. Monica says:

    Thanks for this! I'm always struggling to find the perfect pair of black flats ­čÖé

    October 7, 2012/Reply