Ask Belle: How to Choose a Commuting Shoe

Apr 13, 2015

Dear Belle,

I’m going to New York City in May to visit a friend.  She told me to bring comfortable walking shoes.  I wear heels to work and sneakers to the gym – I don’t think I know what comfortable walking shoes are!  Any suggestions?

Hope law school is treating you fairly, Christina

The first thing I would say to you is not to bring new shoes on a trip.  You need to take a pair that are broken-in to your liking.  The last thing you want is blisters.  But if you bought a pair now, you would probably be able to break them in in time.

First, let’s talk about how to select a pair of flats that are good for walking.  I love a rubber-soled shoe.  The rubber soles absorb some of the shock and give you a bit of extra cushion.

You should also look for a padded footbed.  Anything to ease the pressure on the ball of your foot. If you find a comfortable flat without padding, you can always add a Dr. Scholl’s insole.

Here are a few flat shoes with rubber soles and a bit of padding.

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Geox Lola 91 Ballet Flat ($139)

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French Sole Sloop Flat ($118)

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Cole Haan Tali Flats ($168)

Also, sleek sneakers are a hot trend right now.  So you could plan some casual outfits around a pair of cool sneakers.  Here are a few affordable suggestions.

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Nike Internationalist Shoe ($85)

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Puma G. Vilas Sneaker ($65)

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New Balance Sneakers ($80)

As I mentioned above, whatever shoe you choose, make sure to break them in.  And it never hurts to put a few band-aids in your purse just in case.

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  1. Sara says:

    I commute to work wearing Sperry’s boat shoes. They are thick-soled enough to absorb a lot of impact and I sized up to put in a shoe insert for my flat arches. Plus, they have vents on the side to keep your feet cool and another pair I have has held up in a light drizzle. Plus the right model looks cute and doesn’t make me feel frumpy. Definitely worth it. But I agree on breaking them in first.

    • misha says:

      I was going to suggest that! I love my Sperrys – I have the Angelfish which I think are super-cute and feminine.
      Using BodyGlide can help until they’re broken in.

  2. Jennifer D says:

    Greetings Christina – As long as the shoe is flat, or relatively flat, with adequate padding, you should be fine. I’ve spent entire days walking around in loafers, tall boots, short boots, flats, and slight wedges and been fine. Shoe liners reduce friction – HUE is a great brand. Spend a day walking around in what you want to take to NYC as a test (maybe during your next Saturday of errands). My recommendation is to bring a few pairs of shoes because: 1) No matter how comfortable my day shoes are, I almost always want to switch out of them by 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. 2) Even if my Day 1 shoes are very comfortable, my feet like a change of pace for Day 2. 3) Consider the weather and where you are going. Pretty flats are great for a sunny day, but sneakers will be better in the rain. Other considerations are: 1) Personally, I think athletic shoes are unattractive and belong at the gym. Something like Keds’ Double Up is cute and comfortable (I own a couple pairs – add low socks and you are good for the day). 2) You may want to consider “sport flats”, which are a hybrid between a sneaker and a flat. Puma, Sperry Top Sider, Ecco and most athletic brands now offer them. I own several pairs of Puma’s Zandy which are my errand-running and airport shoes. Do a quick search for “sport flat” on Zappos.com to see what I mean. Brand websites may have them under “ballerina”. Be sure they are structured enough, and beware the models that look too orthopedic. Good luck! Jennifer

  3. Erin says:

    Love those New Balance sneakers! Great picks. Low boots might work well too.

  4. CK says:

    I am going to have to disagree with Belle and the other commentators. I honestly cannot imagine walking around all day for several days in ballet flats. And sneakers will look too casual to go with many outfits. I think Americans could learn a good deal from Europeans in this regard. Go to any major European city and you will see many of the locals walking around in leather walking shoes, unless it’s a very hot climate in which case sandals will probably be the norm. I bought these shoes for a trip to Germany last summer and walked for three weeks straight, with no break-in time and no blisters. https://www.comfortoneshoes.com/Mephisto-Hawaii-2659-Graphite-SteveBlack_p_17703.html

  5. Jen says:

    Agree with CK – I can’t do ballet flats for more than an hour or so of walking. I live in Boston and can walk 4+ miles a day between school and work. The most comfortable shoes I have ever worn are from the Sketchers Go Walk line. The basic plain ones are a little ugly but I also have the boat shoe style and they look like Sperry’s but are cheaper and (I think) more comfortable. Nothing is more miserable than having to cut your day out short because your feet are screaming.

    • Hilary says:

      I love my GoWalks! Only $40 at DSW and they survived a walking-heavy EuroTrip plus my daily NYC walking adventures. Then I thrw them in the wash and good as new.

  6. Brittany says:

    I bought the Fitzwell Carmene flats from Zappos because I needed new flats, but then they got me through an entire weekend in DC (with lots of sight seeing), so I went and bought two more pairs. Love these! They have a bit of padding in the heel and a rubber sole. They fit true to my size (9w).

    https://www.zappos.com/fitzwell-carmene-black-vintage-leather

  7. Anon says:

    I have a pair of Clark’s Freckle Ice flats (https://www.clarks.co.uk/p/26108338), which I find as comfortable as any flats I have tried; and I just acquired a pair of Nike In-Season TR 4 Print Trainers(https://www.sportingpro.co.uk/in-season-tr4-print-blue-grey) because I wanted something that didn’t look quite so like the cliche white sneaker.

  8. Sara says:

    Hi all, I recent purchased the Cole Haan shoes above….they are totally wearable for urban walking, they have just the hint of a wedge, so your feet are off the ground just enough to be super-comfortable.

  9. Allison says:

    I am in NYC right now and black slip on loafers are everywhere. I have a sneaky feeling that Belle might hate them, Belle would love to know what you think! It’s kind of like the Birkenstock trend, but they are super comfortable for walking around. Agree on breaking in whatever you get. https://www.madewell.com/madewell_category/LABELSWELOVE/SALE/PRDOVR~B0297/B0297.jsp?color_name=True-Black&srcCode=MWGGBS00002_99103518435&sisearchengine=197&siproduct=B0297&noPopUp=true&gclid=CPimiorP9MQCFQIRaQodpT8A9w

  10. Caroline says:

    Honestly, if your work heels are comfortable you might be fine wearing them to walk around the city. I’ll walk for hours at a time in heels and they’re no worse than flats. The only downside is that walking on hard surfaces puts a lot of wear on the heel tips, but those can always be replaced. Or if you have wedges they’ll wear less.

  11. Coco says:

    The French Sole sloop ballet flats are terrible. They have absolutely no padding, the sole is paper thin, and the pair I owned fell apart. They were expensive and I had not even worn them that much when that happened! The sole peeled up under my toes while I was walking to a meeting.

    Because of that I forked over the cash for some Gentle Souls and they were absolutely worth it.

    • Belle says:

      Damn. I tried the Aertrex ones, and they were equally bad for the opposite reason. They’re molded to fit only one foot shape, and if your foot is another, prepare for pain.

  12. Kara says:

    I finally gave in and tried Tieks’ ballet flats. I got tired of spending so much on lower-priced flats at DSW for them to lack support. I received my first pair, and they are totally worth the money ($175). The shock absorption is excellent and they’re comfortable from the get go. Plus, you can fold them and put them in your purse. I bought ballet pink, but they have other neutrals, brights and animal prints. Besides, a portion of your purchase go to microfunding women’s organizations around the world. https://tieks.com/

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