Ask Belle: Comfortable High Heels

Oct 16, 2012

Dear Belle,

I just found your site a few days ago and now I am addicted. I went looking through the archives but I couldn’t find the answer to a question that been bugging me for years. How do women walk and stand in heels all day? What are these magic brands that they are wearing.

I have over 15 pairs of heels – from kitten to four inch platforms, from pumps to strappy sandals, from pointy to peep toe – and I have never been able to find a set that I feel comfortable in for over 45 minutes. What am I doing wrong? Do I need to forget about DSW and Macys and shell out over $300 a designer brand (the only thing I have left to try)? I am most interested in finding a work pump – as a third year law student, I’m spending a substantial time standing in a courtroom – but any direction you can give me, I’d appropriate.

Help! Sarah

While it is no secret that I prefer flats, I have found some comfortable high heel brands over the years.  And, yes, comfortable shoes usually cost more because comfort is about good construction.

J.CREW.  I own two pairs of heels from J.CREW, and both pairs are fairly comfortable.  I have a pair similar to the Valentina Patent Pumps ($238) that are great for walking and have worn well over the past three years.  And I adore my new Martina suede wedges in vibrant plum.

Cole Haan.  The two most comfortable pairs of shoes that I own are from Cole Haan.  Sadly, the brand no longer makes shoes without the Nike Air Technology.  Their Nike Air shoes are comfortable for 90-percent of women who try them thanks to having the guts of an athletic shoe and the soul of a heel, but I am not one of those women.

Aside from brands, there are some features that you can look for to help make your shoes more comfortable.


Hidden Platforms.  This pair of Via Spiga Anita Pumps ($140) has a secret, a hidden platform that helps absorb shock and comforts the ball of the foot.  I have two pair of hidden platform pumps, and they are the only shoes I own that don’t make the pads of my foot weep in pain after an hour.

Need a hidden platform under-$100? Try the Cicero style from Franco Sarto or the Madden Girl Getta shoe.

I don’t love chunky, clunky platforms.  But a sleek half-inch or one inch platform on a heel with a height of 4″ or less is a good idea.

Rubber Sole.  Some women can’t give up the look of a leather sole, but for my money, rubber is so much better.  These Clava Pumps from Naturalizer ($70) have a leather sole which helps cushion shock an prevent pain.  

Many inexpensive shoes have a thin layer of leather on the sole, but I try to find shoes with a quarter-inch thick layer.  It can be tough to find shoes with a thicker sole but brands like Sofft, Rockport, Naturalizer and Aerosole are a good place to start.  Though it can be tough to find shoes from those brands that aren’t clunky.  These Broadway shoes from Sofft don’t look too bad, and these Rockport high heel boots look pretty chic.

Block Heel.  A thin heel doesn’t provide a lot of support for your foot, and as a result the rest of the foot has to pick up the slack–this can cause a lot of pain.  I’ve found that a thicker heel can provide a lot more support, and reduce stress on the foot.  The Ann Taylor heels above will set you back $158, and these Carvela heels are more affordable at $44.

Padded Footbed.  If you walk or stand for long periods of time, a heel with a padded footbed will save your life.  These Corso Como heels offer a decent amount of cushion for the price.  I own a pair and on a scale of 1-10, they’re about an 8.  Joan & David also makes shoes with a padded footbed, as does Via Spiga.

Lastly, if you have a favorite pair of shoes, add a Dr. Scholl’s insole to help cushion the foot.  I like the ones for the ball of the foot.

Have any recommendations for comfortable shoes? Leave them in the comments.

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  1. r says:

    In addition to everything Belle listed, I also look for heels with some sort of solid strap. They may not be the most chic option, but if I'm walking or standing for long periods, I find that the shoe often feels more secure, which is worth it for me.

    Also, if you find a shoe you really like, buy multiple pairs!

  2. Maggie says:

    I just got a pair on Vince Catumo pumps with a hidden platform. Exceptionally comfortable for the building– but you wouldn't catch me dead walking down the brick sidewalks on Penn in ANY shoe. Be kind to your feet– always have a pair of walking flats with you.

  3. Amy says:

    I second the recommendation for Cole Haan. Love their heels for work! I also find Sofft shoes very comfortable. As Belle mentions, some Sofft shoes can look clunky, but they do have some good styles, too. Also, their wedges and high heel boots are some of the most comfortable I own.

    If you don't mind getting a padded insole(and sizing up to allow space for it), some of the Nine West heels work well also. I go for the ones that have slightly thicker heels(like the Gillyan), and with a good insole, I've been able to stay on my feet for a two day jury trial without any problems.

  4. R says:

    I love the Cole Haan Air (Talia Mid pump). It is super. Just bought them on sale at Zappos and I recommend.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I hope someone will have experience with either brand or both and can weigh in here. Has anyone worn either Jimmy Choo or Louboutin heels? Are they comfortable or which one is more comfortable? Are these brands only good for women who take cabs everywhere?


  6. J says:

    I got these JS Oscar pumps at DSW in red and some of my friends own the black and/or beige versions. We all agree they are insanely comfortable for long days. I never thought about it before but I think maybe it's the rubber sole that belle mentions. I wear the red ones so much, I've been temped to by this snake skin version.,cat20006,dsw11cat270005

  7. Lindsay says:

    I love the Ann Taylor Perfect Pumps. They are by far the most comfortable heel I have found so far. They wear great and will last you for years.

  8. KateW says:

    A third vote for Cole Haan. My CH heels and my LK Bennetts are the only two I can wear for 10 hours and not be a blistered, pained mess at the end of the day. To me, shoes are one area of fashion where you get what you pay for. So shop the sales and wait for coupon codes!

  9. Dhar says:

    Like Belle and others said, i can't rave enough about the comfort of Cole Haan shoes!! New ones are definitely not in my budget, but i have had really great success finding great deals on practically new pairs on ebay. Figure out what size you take in a store, and then go stalk them online. I've snagged several pairs in perfect condition for less than $40 each!!

  10. Vick says:

    Cole Haan Air shoes. I started buying them for work when I had to do a lot of walking but now I have over 6 pairs in various styles: heels, sandals, boots, rainboots(!). They're expensive but worth it.

    In response to the reader asking about Louboutin heels: they're gorgeous but the soles are so thin, there is absolutely no padding to them. You'll feel the pavement underneath with every step. I've owned two-inch Louboutin heels and they are no more comfortable than at four-inches.

  11. Heatherskib says:

    Check ebay for the Cole Hann air shoes. I own about 6 pairs of Cole Haans and I don't think I spent more than $60 for any of them.

  12. Ashley says:

    +1 to Cole Haan. I have the Air Talia Mid Pump in black and I believe I paid $128 for them on sale, and they've been worth every penny. They're the most comfortable heel I own by far!

  13. Beth says:

    My Simple 85 Louboutin pumps are my most comfortable pumps. I had a rubber sole added to the front of the pump – most upscale shoe repair shops have the signature red to match the trademark color. They might be pricey, but I can last a whole day of standing/walking – including shopping – in these, when most of my other heels make me want to cry after about 6 hours of standing/walking.

  14. Serena says:

    Unfortunately, I'm one of the people who can't wear Cole Haan — something's off about the arch for me. I think I might have a higher arch than most or something. And that is what I have found to be my key to wearing heels — hunt for shoes that fit your arch perfectly. Also good padding.

  15. GoGoGo says:

    Stop in at that chain Comfort One shoes.

    They'll have you stand on a high-tech pad that gives you answers to everything you might ever want to know about your feet: where you carry your weight, what kind of arches you have, what kind of support you need, and what your actual width and size should be. (I'd had mine wrong all these years!)

    Whether or not you find anything there, it's a good place to get some detailed advice, and fancy insoles.

    In DC, they're in Chinatown and Dupont.

  16. KC says:

    I always try to keep my heel height at or under 3″ or the difference betweeen the heel and the platform at or under 3″ (4″ heels – 1″ platform = 3″) My favorite shoes of all time are Bandolino Berry. The heel height is about 2 1/2″, and I really don't notice the difference between wearing them and wearing flats. I have 5 pairs in different colors. I've never found anything else quite like them. As an added bonus, they are really cheap. I'm even at a point in my life where I would be willing to buy more expensive shoes, but I haven't found anything that's nearly as comfortable.

    And, avoid Banana Republic shoes like the plague.

  17. jen says:

    My closet is full of miz mooz. They are the only brand that i have found that i can wear for a full day conference and leave on for the happy hour after.

    Brand aside, I've found that a 2 1/2 inch heel keeps me comfortable if I'm standing for a full day. Anything higher, and I need a break!

  18. elz says:

    I've found that the pricier shoes are worth it- they are better constructed and wear longer and more comfortably. My favorite work heels are LK Bennett and Kate Spade. I also have several pairs of J Crew shoes (the Drea and Valentina) that I wear a ton.

  19. melissa says:

    I also like the Cole Haan air heels. Kate Spade makes a round toe heel (most recently, the Karolina style) which are also very comfortable. They hold up well so I don't mind spending the money.

    I have to agree with the commenter above about the Ann Taylor Perfect Pumps. These are SO GREAT. If you wait for one of their frequent sales, they're a great price too. But, if you live near an Ann Taylor outlet, you can get them at an even better price. I just snagged a nude patent and black patent pair at $40 each!

  20. K... says:

    I concur on Cole Haan (Nike Air varieties only, though), because they are available in multiple widths and have at least some padding. However, all of my “could wear these all day!” pumps are Naturalizers.

    I have very cranky, hard to fit feet and a bad back, but I'm a slave to fashion. My 5 critical points for comfortable heels, in order of importance, are:

    • Proper fit.* A lot of women don't know they need a non-standard width, or wear their shoes too small so they stay on their feet (especially with hosiery). Get sized by a professional in a good shoe store that carries multiple widths (Nordstroms, Stuart Weitzman). Use grippy insoles to keep shoes on.
    • Insoles.* A grippy insole under the ball of the foot is a must for keeping your foot from sliding forward, plus heel grippers to keep the shoe on. I like Kiwi heel grippers, Apara Gel Steppies (great grip with tights), and Foot Petals of all styles. Buy your shoes with enough extra room to add insoles in your problem areas.
    • Heel Shape and Placement.* I agree that a larger surface area heel is better, but more important is the placement of the heel under the foot. The center of the surface area of the heel must be aligned closer to your ankle bone than under the back of your heel. This is especially true if you have any back, knee, or ankle pain. For example, the heel on Belle's purple selection above is placed too far back on the shoe. The heel on the black Naturalizer Clava's above is in a much better position.
    • Heel Height.* I read somewhere that Jimmy Choo says that the maximum heel height that women could wear comfortably all day was 2.5″ (measured from the side center of the heel). In my experience, this is sooooo true. However, remember that you can subtract the platform from the total heel height to assess the “wearability” heel height.
    • Rubber Soles.* I agree with Belle: rubber soles are a must. They offer some padding, but in addition, the extra grip allows you to walk more naturally without fear of slipping. This reduces fatigue at the end of the day. The stick-on traction grippers (like Foot Petals “Sole Stopperz”) are NOT an acceptable subsitute. I have tried many varieties, but so far, none have stayed on my shoe past 5 o'clock, and they all left an awful gummy residue on my shoes.
  21. Elizabeth says:

    Ann Taylor Perfect Pumps (3.25″ heel). I'm 5'10″ and had pretty much given up on wearing heels without inserts and padding. This shoe lives up to its name – I have been wearing them out of the box, no inserts or anything for 10-12 hour days (consulting – do a lot of running around). AT has 40% off full-priced merchandise sales so regularly that you can get these at a great price.

  22. Ellen says:

    I second the vote for LK Bennett and Kate Spade heels. They both are as comfortable as you can get for heels. (I'm also a flat person myself) I've also noticed that with Kate Spade heels that they are more comfortable if you order a half size up they are more comfortable too. I'm not going to lie, I got turned on to LK Bennett because the Duchess of Cambridge wears them. I figured that if she could do all her walk abouts and tours in them with grace than they had to be comfortable!

  23. Valerie says:

    There was just a good poll about this recently which I found very helpful. I don't own any of the Clark's brand, but I tried a pair on recently at DSW and it was RIDICULOUSLY comfortable. As soon as I have the cash, I'm going back to get them! Here's the link to the poll – just scroll down and click “View Results” to see the rankings:

  24. EMK says:

    Does anyone have suggestions for dealing with sweaty feet? Thanks in advance!

  25. AD says:

    Ralph Lauren Zabrina Pumps are my go-tos – I'm on my third pair of Polo Tan (the perfect natural/cognac) and my second pair of plain Black. I also put those little foot petal thingies in them for extra comfort, but they're not that necessary.

  26. Angeline says:

    I have heels from many different brands (almost all under $75) and it really depends on the person. Personally, I cannot walk in platforms, even if they are just a quarter inch thick. Some of my go-to brands are Calvin Klein, Enzo Angiolini and Franco Sarto, all of which can be found relatively affordably online or at places like DSW.

    The only common thread in my heels are my Dr. Scholl's inserts. I like the Dr. Scholl's for Her High Heel gel inserts (with the arch support)…I have them in every single pair. Love.

  27. Jess says:

    Can't go wrong with Cole Hann, but my second favorite brand is Bandolino. I think I own at least 5 sets of heels for work that I can wear all day, and straight through fundraisers and receptions at night!

  28. Anonymous says:

    For EMK:

    To deal with sweaty feet, I like to putrub baby talc powder onto my feet; added bonus I like the scent. I think there are inserts that some people use but I never have used any so can't comment on the effectiveness or comfort.

  29. J says:

    If anyone finds J.Crew and Cole Haan shoes to be uncomfortable (like me) try the brand Me Too. I have huge, flat feet and I find that Me Too is the only brand that I have been wearing to work.

  30. tsampamama says:

    I just bought a pair of Calvin Klein snakeskin pumps earlier this year that are changing my life. Super comfortable. Slight platform in the front, padded foot bed and heels that are about 3 inches total.

  31. Elizabeth says:

    Calvin Klein makes a number of work-appropriate heels that are inexpensive and have lightly padded insoles with cushioned heel seats. I have the Olive pump in several colors and also the Nicki.

  32. XF says:

    Louboutin's are gorgeous, but will absolutely wreck your feet if you have to walk or stand for more than 10 minutes. If you're going to go high-end, Prada is the absolute most comfortable brand you can put your feet in. The leather is insanely soft. I've also heard good things about Ferragammo since they offer different width sizes.

    I've found J.Crew's Martina wedge to be well-crafted and comfortable with some padding in the ball area. I think generally wedges are easier to walk around in since they're more stable and you're not teetering on a small point. Kate Spade also has great work wedges.

  33. AK says:

    Hi Belle, you may be in luck with Cole Haan. I heard that Nike was selling the whole brand…which will probably mean they will lose the Nike Air sole.

  34. carol says:

    i find these insolia insoles help. they shift the weight away from your toes.

  35. K says:

    If you have wide feet – try the store “Wide Shoe Outlet” in Marlow Heights. They mostly have Ros Hammer…. (forget how the name ends) and some Naturalizers. Honestly, the styles are hit or miss, but if you want some basic heels for flats for the office you can find something that will get you by. I have a mix of shoes that I like a lot, and shoes that I feel okay about. I know that sounds like damning with feint praise, but so few stores carry any shoes in a wide size. The service there is very nice as well. Even though the boxes sit out like at DSW, they will weight on you and help you find a shoe like you're at a higher end store. At least I know that when I go in there I will always find a shoe that will actually fit my foot, even if it is not the shoe I want to purchase. The shoes run about $100. I've also had success at Comfort One, in particular with Beautifeel shoes which are so comfortable I had a pair I would wear around the house, to walk the dog, etc for long after they were suitable for wearing to the office or to be seen in. I wore those shoes until they feel apart, because I could stand all day in them. But, they weren't cheap and they weren't inexpensive either ;).

    I love the way Italian shoes look, but even in the wides they just won't suit my foot. I believe if you like those, you could try Marni's.

  36. Melanie says:

    2.75 inches is the PERFECT heel height to get the benefits of wearing heels and still be able to walk an essentially unlimited amount without getting wobbly or having your knees and leg joints ache later. Once you go past 3 inches, especially past 3.5 inches, then you start to run into problems. Kitten heels (or any heels less than 2.75 inches) can be painful and pinchy near the soles for some reason and do no favors for your calves.

    Best options for pointy-toe pumps at this height:
    –Cole Haan Air Juliana 75 (about $150 but I got the nude shade on sale recently, and colors like navy, magenta, etc, seem to be marked down frequently on various websites)
    –Ivanka Trump Indico Pump (around $120, but again, some colors seem to be consistently cheaper than that)
    –Nine West Andriana ($80 and only available at or in Nine West stores) or Nine West Austin ($70-ish and available all over the Internet)

    I was never been able to wear heels on a regular basis before I found this heel height, and now I can wear them all the time. They're really about as comfortable as flats.

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