Filed under: shoes
I feel a little presumptuous writing this since I don’t actually consider myself an expert on the subject or anything, but an awful lot of readers have commented on how often I wear heels and asked how I am able to handle them. Actually, I too felt that way about other women for a long time. Being fairly tall, many people around me actively discouraged me from wearing high shoes, so I didn’t have a lot of experience with them and I thought I would never really be able to master them. However a while back I stumbled onto the lovely (but now “out of print”) blog A Serious Job is No Excuse when watching The CW reality series Stylista. (Author Johanna was one of the contestants and the eventual winner. And now she works at Elle! Go Johanna!). I greedily trawled through all the back archives, soaking up all the wisdom and wit, and while doing so, I noticed how Johanna would often write about her penchant for sky-high heels, or expound upon the benefits of a perfect pair of pumps in every professional wardrobe, and casually mention her adeptness at walking long distances in stilettos, even donning them for her (many block!) commute to her office. I goggled; most heels seemed to make my feet want to cry, even for a few short hours, even when stationary. She suggested practicing and working one’s way up; I was still dubious. But it gave me a lot of inspiration and the confidence that incorporating heels in my everyday life could be done.
So one of my new year’s resolutions for 2009 became to try and learn and wear high heels. Frivolous, I know, but all those heels in my closet were just collecting dust, and I needed to do something about it. And wouldn’t you know it, within a month or two, I was happily wearing 3″ pumps on my walk to work every day. I stopped eying the heels in the back of my closet in fear, and instead started looking forward to working them into my outfits. Here are 10 tricks and tips that helped me through this transition:
BodyGlide Anti-Chafe Balm – $8.99
1. Blister Block. I carry a stick of this stuff in my purse. I mentioned it in one of my posts a few days back, but I think a lot of people had specific questions about what it actually was. You can find many different brands of blister block at the drugstore, but they’re all essentially just a slightly less greasy version of petroleum jelly. Blisters are caused by one main thing: friction — i.e. the leather of your shoe rubbing against your skin. However, when you coat the areas of your foot where rubbing would occur (for me, usually the backs of my heels and the tops of my toes) before you slip your shoes on, the leather will glide instead of rub against your skin. No friction, no blisters! Usually you just need this stuff for shoes that are on the newer side or that get only rarely worn; properly broken in shoes will have softened leather that’s molded to your foot and most likely won’t cause blisters.
Rite Aid Super Moleskin – $3.29
2. Another alternative to blister block is moleskin. It’s available for pretty cheap at most drugstores and can really work wonders. If there are specific areas of your shoes that have really stiff leather that rubs or digs into your skin, just cut off a swatch of this stuff and affix to the aggravating area of the shoe. Voila — instant padding and no more rubbing. I actually tend to use this a lot on new ballet flats, which always seem to dig into the tops of my feet otherwise.
3. Buy shoes that fit. That may seem obvious, but I have been guilty once or twice of squeezing my foot into the nearest available size if the shoe was really SO pretty that I had to have it. Sometimes I’d buy a pair online and the fit wasn’t too great but I was too lazy to return it, so I tried to tough it out. Oh lord, it is so not worth the agony your feet will go through, I promise. So, whenever possible, try shoes on in person, and if you can’t do so, do try to get an idea of the fit from online reviews (from Zappos, Endless, blogs, forums…), know the size conversions from country to country and be familiar with the sizing differences between brands and countries (for instance, US 8 is generally equal to a European 38, a French 38 generally runs a little smaller, etc.) I once made the mistake of splurging on an (unreturnable) pair of Christian Louboutins peep toes in a size 41, not knowing that a Christian Louboutin 41 is a US 10 and not an 11 (usually anyway, the sizing is crazily inconsistent across styles) – I tried my best to walk in them but my feet practically rebelled.
4. Take advantage of insoles, cushions, pads and inserts. On the other hand, if you have a pair of shoes that is just *slightly* too big for you, there are a plethora of products out there that will help adjust your feet to fit perfectly. Heel grips close that gap in the back of a just-barely-too-large pair of heels and foot pads will stop your feet from slipping forward. Too big shoes may not seem as bad as too small shoes cramming your toes, but gaps and slippage can make it harder to walk and are also a leading cause of blisters. In addition, Foot Petals — and their many generic knockoffs — make amazing feet cushions that can be lifesavers for shoes that don’t come with enough padding (and sometimes with 4+” heels there is NEVER enough padding). If you feel like your foot is getting a lot of stress or pressure at a specific point, a strategically placed cushion — at the ball of your foot, on the arch, on the heel or covering the whole sole — can work wonders and prevent blisters and that awful achey/burny feeling.
5. Invest in nice shoes. Not always (and only up to a point), but generally shoes that have a higher cost do actually use nicer materials and have better worksmanship; they use real leather, they have a nicer fit, and there is actual padding under the sole. I’m not saying you always have to break out the Manolos (in fact my most expensive shoes are a pair of Thomas Wylde boots that hurt like hell), but be aware that when you buy discount shoes from Payless, Target, Go Jane, Forever 21, etc. their soles are padded with nothing more than cardboard, and the synthetics they use can be stiff and unforgiving (not to mention sweat-inducing), making them potentially quite achey. Resultingly, in the end, the cost per wear for the fast-fashiony shoes can sometimes end up being higher than the for the fancy-pantsy ones. I have a pair of black Cole Haan Pumps (w/ the Nike Air technology that makes them feel like clouds!) that cost $300. I adore them and I’ve probably worn them at least 150 times in the last 3 years. I also bought a pair of completely adorable red bow-topped peep toes from Target around the same time for $19. I wore them once (my feet still have the scars). That’s an almost ten times higher cost per wear!
6. Consider comfort brands and styles. Aerosoles, EasySpirit, Naturalizer…these aren’t exactly brand names that usually conjure up fashion in my mind (I usually imagine something closer to sensible orthopedics), but their shoes, even their heels, are SO padded and comfortable, and amazingly, they are making super super cute shoes these days at really affordable prices. Check the above uber-cute Benefit Peeptoes or the Roleplay Mary Janes (for $40!) from Aerosoles, the Easy Spirit Amira, or the Naturalizer Bohemia. Sofft (maker of my beloved Fleur Pumps), Born and Clarks are other comfort brands that make really pretty shoes. (Less affordable is the above-mentioned Cole Haan with Nike Air line of shoes, but they really are fantastic comfortwise.) And in general, consider heels with a nice sturdy block heel that will support your weight much better than a pair of shaky pencil heels. Think of these as “intermediate” shoes that will get you used to walking with the height of heels without dealing with most of the other annoying comfort issues, allowing you to work your way up to less sensible designer stilletos eventually :)
Women’s Shoe Stretcher - $19.99
7. Give your shoes a chance until they are broken in. New shoes are rarely all that comfortable, the leather needs to soften up and adjust to your feet. Some of my very favorite and most comfortable heels were nightmares the first time I wore them (not that I was smart enough to use blister block or moleskin at the time), and I was this close to throwing them out, but one day, after a couple wears, they just…stopped hurting. Started being pretty damn comfortable in fact. They had reached that magic broken in state.
If you want to expedite the breaking-in process, you can wear your heels with a pair of thick socks around the house, spray shoe stretching spray inside your shoes (you can buy this from a lot of places online, or you could just use rubbing alcohol, they are pretty much equivalent) and/or stick a shoe stretcher in there to break the shoes much faster (or a cobbler can also do the stretching for you). Shoe stretching can also help you out with shoes that are just a little too small and pinchy on you, though I wouldn’t rely on it.
8. Practice. A Lot. Walk around in your (carpeted) living room while wearing your pumps for a while (I used to do this while watching TV), and the correct balance and right heel-wearing gait will come to you in enough time. I found aiming for a heel-to-toe stride was most comfortable and quick for me, but it may be different for other people. Just try to get to the point where you make a “click” instead of a a “tromp,” and can avoid the dreaded sound of a heel scrape :)
Rollasole Ballet Flats – $9.95
9. Keep emergency supplies around. Sometimes, a pair of new heels (or even your trusty old ones) doesn’t work out, and after a few hours of valiant effort, it’s time to admit defeat. I keep a back up supply of ballet flats in my car, in my desk at work, and, if the occasion seems precarious and room allows, in my purse. I also have an emergency band-aid or two in my side-pocket to put on any nascent blisters that might arise before they can start getting worse.
10. Treat your feet nice. When your feet are really tired and achey at the end of a hard day or bad heels wearing experience, pamper them with a nice soak in hot water and a mini-pedicure, combating any aches and/or callouses that may have arisen. If you still ache, try a device like the Yogatoes, that will stretch out your muscles, relieving your feet and combating a lot of damage that heels can otherwise do to your feet. Furthermore, try not to get in a heel-wearing rut. I usually alternate wearing heels or flats, and even when I don’t, I never wear the same pair of heels twice. Feet do not like being conformed into the same shape too repetitively, so be sure to give them a break.
Well that’s it! Let me know if you guys have any specific questions, thoughts or advice of your own. I admit I still don’t love wearing heels that are 4″ or taller or platform shoes, but for the most part, wearing heels is not something I have to fret about anymore, and they’ve really become a daily component in my wardrobe. Unfortunately, I was so excited at my newfound ability that I went on somewhat of a heel-buying bender last year, but at least my closet is the prettier for it, even if it so overflowing that my door no longer properly shuts ;)
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