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The Holy Grail: Stylish AND Comfortable Shoes

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For most of my career, I haven’t been particularly interested in shoes. Just not part of my DNA, I thought. I could never find shoes that were both attractive and also wearable through all-day presentations and jogs through airports. I eventually gave up the search and for many years settled for dull but comfortable styles.

And the entire experience of shopping for shoes was off-putting, to say the least. Pushy or inattentive sales people, crowded and chaotic sales, time-consuming searches for particular styles that were always sold out in my size—–all these factors made shoe shopping the equivalent of root canal for me. Rather than endure the pain, I avoided shopping as much as possible and ended up wearing my shoes into the ground.

However, nowadays I’m one of those women who are consistently complimented on their shoes and feel great in them all the time. How did this miracle happen? Three great developments in the shoe arena………..

Better Shoes

The baby boomers have always been a powerful force in the marketplace due to their large numbers. As boomers aged and their feet needed more coddling, manufacturers realized that stylish but comfortable shoes could be a gold mine. There now are numerous brands that offer fashionable shoes with features that make them comfortable—deep cushioning in the ball of the foot, added arch support, broader heels, discreet platformed soles (which reduce the angle of your foot within a high heel), a greater selection of widths, and other anatomically sensitive designs.

Here are some of the brands I’m favoring now for business appropriate shoes, but I’m sure there are a lot more out there:

Ros Hommerson

Classic styles with a contemporary twist. The female designer personally wears each style to test it for comfort and fit.

Beautifeel
The name says it all—attractive styles and a focus on comfort.

Sofft
Trendier and with fewer classic styles than the first two brands. However, Sofft isn’t expensive, so it’s a good option if you want to try something fashion-forward that you won’t wear forever.

Gravati
To die for—classic, tasteful styles, handmade in Italy. Gravati styles are expensive (generally $400 – 600), but are worth the investment. They are supremely comfortable, well-made, and last for a long time with proper care.

In addition to the above brands, I generally can find comfortable and stylish choices in well-known upscale brands such as Stuart Weitzman, Ferragamo, and Cole Hahn (which features the very comfortable AIR technology from Nike). I can wear these throughout a long business day so long the heels aren’t too much higher than 1 1/2 inches.

The Taryn Rose brand is designed by an orthopedic surgeon and gets lots of press for comfort. However, many of the styles seem a little clunky to me, and consumers seem divided as to whether the shoes are worth the price. As a result, I haven’t bought any yet, but I’ll give the brand a chance sometime.

Better shoe inserts

Gel soles rock! I can insert the appropriate gel sole into an attractive pair of shoes that in the past would have bothered me by mid-day and instead wear them comfortably into the evening hours. You can even stack gel soles for additional comfort—for example, two gel soles for the ball of the foot. Consider buying shoes a half size larger than your normal size if you’re going to do this.

Dr. Scholl’s now makes a gel High Heel Insole designed to shift the weight from the ball of the foot as well as to provide cushioning. In the evening, I can now comfortably wear heels in the 2-3 inch range (something I thought I would never do again) with a combination of the high heel insole and an additional ball of the foot gel inset.

Better shoe shopping

If you’re one of the few women on the planet who has not yet tried out Zappo’s (at www.zappos.com), please, please do yourself a favor and test them out. The company and site deserves every one of the numerous awards they’ve received. Here are some of the reasons why I like them so much:

  • Huge selection
  • A fantastic search capability that allows you to quickly narrow the selection to exactly what you want through such lens as shoe style, color, size, heel height, and brand
  • Clear pictures of selected shoes from every possible angle
  • Numerous and detailed customer reviews that help you decide what size and width will work the best for you
  • FREE and rapid delivery. The free option states that delivery will be in 4-5 days, but I always receive my order within 1-2 days.
  • FREE returns for a full refund up to a year after purchasing your shoes
  • An e-mail alert system that you can activate to notify you when new styles in your favorite brand arrive

What if you prefer to try shoes on before buying them? I used to be one of those people too, but Zappo’s has converted me and thousands of others with its great selection and efficient service. I am more—not less—successful in my shoe purchases, and the fact that I can quickly buy shoes at 10:00 pm is a huge time saver. And the more I order from Zappo’s, the less I return. Once I’ve identified a brand that works for me, then I make a note of my size and width in that brand and I’m good for future purchases.

Another revelation in shoe shopping for me was the discovery of the Arthur Beren store on a business trip to San Francisco. I happened to have a free morning and wandered into the store in unusually unguarded moment. The shoe selection was so well-chosen that in addition to buying a pair, I signed up for the catalog and located the e-mail site (www.berenshoes.com) so I could make long distance purchases.

I subsequently learned that the Arthur Beren firm is well-regarded by numerous female executives throughout the country. I believe Arthur Beren was once of the first US stores to carry the impeccable Gravati brand (see above), and they still often have Gravati choices that you won’t see on Zappo’s. The overall array of styles and brands is not as large as Zappo’s, of course, but because the collection is so well-curated, you don’t have to sift through as much. Do check them out sometime—you’ll be glad to have them as a resource.

I hope this post encourages readers to comment on their favored brands and stores for comfortable stylish shoes. This is an area where lots of us will appreciate additional guidance!


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3 Responses to “The Holy Grail: Stylish AND Comfortable Shoes”

  1. Where do I start when building a shoe wardrobe? I’ve got lots of brown & black shoes. Some are favorites and some are, well, boring.

  2. Well, black and brown are pretty versatile colors–they tend to go with a lot of professional outfits. That doesn’t mean your shoe wardrobe needs to be boring, though!

    Here are some ideas for livening things up, while still looking business appropriate.

    Style: Make sure you have a selection for various situations and types of outfits–low heeled oxfords, mid heeled pumps, mid heeled booties, etc. Not only does this mean you’ll be prepared for a variety of settings, it also limits wear and tear on your shoes and helps them last longer. I went through shoes faster when I only had a few pairs than I do now that I’ve built a more versatile wardrobe.

    Texture and pattern: Recently I’ve bought black and brown shoes in croc, ostrich or snake skin patterns–very professional looking because of the color and basic style of the shoes but definitely not boring. Patent leather, suede, fabric, and perforated leather are also options

    New designs: This is where scrolling through a site like Zappo’s pays off. My own imagination of what might look interesting– while still being office appropriate and comfortable–is pretty limited. However, Zappo’s often gives me some options that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. And the free delivery and return policy makes it easy for me to try something new out without too much of a downside.

    And of course you can always start adding shoes in new colors–beiges, grays and navy, if you want to be safe and those colors work with your outfits, or even reds and yellows if you want to be bolder and more fashion-forward. I have yet to get there myself, but I love to cheer other people on!

  3. Thanks! I’ve seen some patterns I like. Sometimes I re-heel favorites at a shoemakers, because I’m very rough on shoes.

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