As a stylist, I used to be able to spot a “comfort shoe” from a mile away, because it was wide and dowdy. No more. Today there are many stylish options for shoes that look as good as they feel. The key is to find the brand that fits your foot well and stick with it. Here’s how to take the right steps toward the perfect fit and some of my favorite shoes…
Find the right fit. To make sure the shoes fit properly, try them on late in the day—never first thing. You want to make sure they feel good when your feet are a bit tired and swollen. Take a lap or two around the store (or room if you’ve shopped online). If the shoes hurt or something’s already rubbing against your feet, they’re definitely not right. Try the next pair, no matter how cute you think the first ones are. Shoes have to feel good from the second you put them on. Exception: Suede and leather do stretch, so it’s OK if a shoe is a little snug across the toe box. But the length will never change, so if you feel a tightness along the back of the heel or a seam is digging into the wrong place, keep looking.
Mistake: Shoe shopping without thinking about socks or insoles. Have the sock and insole or orthotic you’ll be wearing, and use them when you try on the shoe to make sure they work together.
For online shoe shopping, I love Zappos.com because it has free shipping with no order minimum, most orders ship overnight and returns are free. That means you can order the same shoe in two sizes if necessary to find the right size and return the other at no cost. I love that for each shoe, I can see several photos from all angles, plus often a video where a staffer wears the shoes and explains their best features. Beware: Never order a shoe before reading the customer reviews about fit and size. And if the reviewer mentions his/her age, note that! What’s comfortable for a 24-year-old may not be what’s comfortable for a 54-year-old. Look for reviewers who are similar to you in age, foot size, special needs and activity level.
A word about sizing: Your foot tends to change size as you get older. Don’t assume that your feet are the same length and width as they were 10 years ago. Go to a store where a standard Brannock measuring device can be used to determine your exact size. Remember: Every brand fits you differently. Some people wear a different size in a sneaker versus a dress shoe. Don’t get too hung up on the number—focus on how the shoe fits.
Here, my picks for great-looking, truly comfortable shoes (all prices are from Zappos.com).
Beach Sandal: Vionic Wave, $59.95. More substantial than most sandals, they are appropriate for wearing beyond the beach. The brown color looks especially great. Vionic is known for its excellent arch support and often is recommended by podiatrists for people with plantar fasciitis (heel pain) and bunions. In fact, Vionic was started by a podiatrist. I have a client with a serious back injury who does very well with this brand.
Walking shoe: Clarks Shoda Walk, $63 to $90 depending on color and material (nubuck or leather). The Shoda offers the comfort of a sneaker—they’re sporty looking—but they’re formal enough that you could dress them up with khakis or chinos. Clarks is a great brand, known for its style and comfort. Fun fact: The company has been around for nearly 200 years!
Dress shoe: ECCO Melbourne Tie, $150. You can’t tell that these are a comfort shoe— they’ve got a slim silhouette and look like a classic dress shoe. Unlike most dress shoes, the Melbourne is lightweight and has a tailored, durable rubber bottom. The rubber adds support and makes it easier to wear the shoes for extended periods.
Beach sandal: Birkenstock Arizona Essentials, $39.95. These are a fun, splashy version of the classic Birkenstock two-strap sandal. They’re so supportive, you’ll find yourself wearing them around the house—you won’t want to take them off. They’ve got adjustable straps and weigh only about eight ounces, thanks to their soft plastic construction. They come in really fun colors, too. Consider these your shoes for the pool, gardening and the splash park with the kids. You can hose them off or rinse them off in the sink. Amazingly, they don’t get sweaty, and they’re not slippery.
Dress flat: Trotters Harlowe, $99.95 to $109.95. When you want to wear a dressy shoe that isn’t a heel, go with a pointed-toe flat. This elegant one won’t pinch you. If you have hard-to-fit feet, Trotters are for you. This brand goes up to size 12, which is hard to find, and widths range from narrow to extra wide.
Work flat: Anne Klein Ulalia, $67.99 to $84.95 depending on color. The buckle, lizard trim and three-quarter-inch heel dress up these classic flats, and the wide toe box and rubber sole make them especially comfortable. The black ones are perfect for work…the silver make an adorable dress shoe. And these are so well-priced.
Dress boot: Blondo Villa Waterproof Bootie, $150. I love these, and so do my clients. They’re waterproof, and they come in a bunch of colors. I have a client with rheumatoid arthritis and ankle problems so she can’t wear high heels anymore. She loves these boots. The stacked heels of the booties are very sturdy, which works well if you have balance issues. The nonslip rubber sole is great in all weather conditions. The Thinsulate lining keeps feet warm, and the flexible rubber sole and padded footbed add support and comfort.
Slide sandal: FitFlop Sola, $78.99 to $109.95 depending on color. This is the do-it-all black sandal. It can be casual or dressy, and it never goes out of style. It’s a great choice for someone with a wide foot and/or bunions. I love all the colors on the site, especially Art Denim, a really cool navy-and-white pattern. FitFlop has an ergonomic footbed, which helps with arch support.
Walking shoe: Clarks Un Rio Rise, $129.95. I love these because they’re like a chic dress sneaker—very avant-garde—and they give a little lift. If you have trouble getting shoes on and need a slip-on, there’s a tab in back to help put them on. Every time someone tells me, “I need comfortable shoes, but I want them to look good and not like I’m giving up,” I say, “Go with Clarks. You won’t believe how cute they are.”