Any woman who has ever bought high heels knows that when you get it wrong, you get it really, really wrong.
The kind of ‘wrong’ that leaves you with blisters, cramped toes and a world of pain approximately one hour into a night out.
Unfortunately, the health impacts of high heels don’t end with your taxi ride home. Long term, they can adversely impact the nerves, muscles and bones of your feet, knees, hips and back.
You know that already. Most women do. But the allure of a fresh pair of towering heels can be intoxicating, and for many of us mere mortals (okay… shoe hoarders) resistance is futile. So we’re not telling you to stop wearing heels – we’re just saying that aiming for a less destructive pair is something Future You (and Future You’s spine) will be grateful for.
Here, podiatrist Laura Gleich lays out the 7 things to keep in mind when buying those pumps you’ve been eyeing off.
1. The size of the base of the heel
This is very important, as the wider your heel's base, the more support your body is given. Stilettos with a very small base are the most dangerous kind of heels - they may look amazing on, but they certainly won't feel so great when you roll your ankle walking down the street. Wedges are often the most comfortable heels because your whole foot is in contact with the ground, enabling you to balance more easily.
2. The thickness of the sole of the shoe
When you wear high heels your center of gravity is redistributed, causing a lot of weight to rest on the ball of your foot. Try on several pairs of heels to compare the comfort levels - these days, quite a few shoe brands are trying to incorporate more cushioning in the ball of the foot and the heel so you are able to wear them for longer without any pain.
Also keep an eye out for heels with a slight platform at the front of the shoe - this platform helps decrease the angle your foot rests at. The benefit platforms is that you can get away with wearing a higher heel without quite as much stress going through the front of your foot. If the platform is too high, however, it elevates your foot too far from the ground. Not only does this make the shoes harder to walk in, it reduces your perception of the ground and can increase your risk of injury due to a misstep. So pick a modest platform, not a disco-fabulous clod hopper.
3. The shape of the front of the shoe
Pointed shoes are the worst for your feet. They naturally increase the pressure throughout your foot - and then you have to squeeze all five of your toes together into that narrow space. Try to find a shoe with a more accommodating shape, like a rounded edge.
4. The depth of the front of the shoe
Is there enough room for your foot when it starts to swell a little or you are sweating? You want to try and avoid having your circulation cut off unawares after a few hours of dancing or walking around. You don’t want your foot to be slipping out of the shoe but you want your toes to have room to breathe.
5. The material on the sole of the heel
When you are trying on a pair of heels, make sure there is enough grip on the sole and that you aren’t sliding around - this can be the case with leather soles. If you're in a shop, find a section of the floor that isn’t carpeted to test out the soles. If you fall in love with a pair of leather soled shoes and still want to buy them, consider taking them to a shoemaker and having a thin rubber sole placed underneath for better grip. You could also try scuffing the sole up just a little with something like a key before wearing them out.
6. The material of the shoe
When buying high heels, if you plan on wearing them more than once, or for a few hours it does pay to invest in a quality leather shoe. Plastic and ‘pleather’ heels not only look cheap, they also make your feet suffer. Plastic shoes increase your likelihood of getting a blister. Meanwhile a style like the classic pump, made out of soft breathable leather will have longevity in your wardrobe. You often hear people from older generations mention how their family had no money but their parents always ensured they had good quality shoes. Think of them as investment pieces.
7. Make sure the shoe is the right size for you
This should be obvious, yet so many of us are guilty of it. This includes actress Keira Knightley, who once said, "I see a pair of shoes I adore and it doesn’t matter if they don’t have them in my size. I buy them anyway".
Don’t squeeze into a pair that’s too small, or subject your feet and lower legs to the effort of trying to hold on to a pair that are too big. The consequences just aren’t worth it.
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What do you look for in a high heel?