Can you remember your first time wearing heels? Was it magical? Painful? A little bit of both?
For me, it was during my first middle school dance. I had gotten a pair of very tall, platform heels from Famous Footwear that I thought would turn me into something of a Cinderella when I glided into the school “cafetorium” for the dance. Unfortunately, when I waddled in taking light baby steps so that I wouldn’t fall, I faced a harsh reality: heels hurt.
The entrance was only the beginning of my worries. Hours of dancing, jumping and trips to the water fountain looking like I was walking on hot coals, led me to wake up the next morning and discover that I no longer had any feeling in my right foot’s middle toe. In fact, it was months before my toe recovered. It seemed that my dreams of a future full of prancing along city sidewalks in heels like Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s were gone forever and I’d need to resign to live a quiet life getting by in Dr. Scholl’s.
But alas, the world of shoes isn’t divided into Famous Footwear heels and Dr. Scholl’s shoes. We have plenty more options — and heels don’t have to hurt.
I recently caught up with shoe expert and consultant Susannah Davda to find out her tips on how to have it all — beautiful shoes and comfortable feet — and find heels that one could wear all day while standing, sitting, dancing, walking and maybe even prancing.
Davda runs her own business, The Shoe Consultant, in which she helps established and start-up shoe brands flourish. And her love of shoes runs deep. As a child, her father had a hobby of handcrafting shoes for her and her three siblings, and she herself entered the shoe industry as a teenager working in shoe shops. She went on to study footwear design in college, eventually working for brands such as Dr. Martens on design, buying and product management.
In other words, Davda knows what makes a good pair of shoes.
With a shoe industry brimming with choices, there’s no reason to offer up beauty and style for comfort — or vice versa. Davda shared some of her best advice, collected over her years of working intimately with shoes, for finding heels that require no sacrifice at all.
“We still want to have the choice to dress up, wear flats if we want or wear heels if we want, or change our minds halfway through the night,” Davda said.
Image: VICE VERSA heels are designed in Los Angeles and made in Spain from high-quality leather — on the inside and out.
Davda’s first rule of thumb is to always look for shoes with leather lining.
“If you’re not vegan and you’re open to wearing leather, then leather linings can be really beneficial,” Davda said. “There’s a reason why certain good-quality shoes are made with leather linings… and you don’t necessarily have to buy the big, luxury labels to get leather-lined shoes. You can find them from other brands.”
Unlike other linings, such as those made out of plastic, leather absorbs moisture and keeps feet feeling comfortable and dry.
When leather shoes are lined with plastic, wearers miss out on the real benefits that come from leather shoes in the first place, according to Davda.
To find out whether a pair of shoes has a leather lining when shopping online, check the product details and materials section. It’s a little harder in person, Davda said, but you can usually look for a small shoe diagram indicating the lining material. However, she added that it’s generally safe to assume that the lining isn’t leather if the brand hasn’t made it clear that it is: they would be proud of using quality materials and make sure you know.
Davda has a test for you to use the next time you try on a pair of heels at a store or receive a pair in the mail. Set them on a flat surface, such as a shelf, and try to knock them over gently. (Obviously, you’ll want to conduct the test carefully to avoid damaging the shoes, especially if you plan on returning them or aren’t sure whether to purchase them in the first place.)
Poke the side of the shoe just above the heel. If the shoe wobbles from side to side or falls, then you’ll know it wasn’t very well made, and you run the risk of wobbling or falling in the shoe as well. If the shoe rotates or moves around but stays sturdy, then it’s safe to assume that the heel has been put onto the shoe properly and with care.
Not all cushioning is equal. Some cushioning is there to help the shoes walk out of the door — and not get much farther.
“People assume that if you’ve got cushioning under the balls of your feet, then it’s automatically going to be way more comfortable,” Davda said. “But there’s more than one type of cushioning.”
Davda has another test for buyers to find out whether a shoe’s cushioning is there for function or for show. Press your thumb into the shoe’s cushioning. If it compresses easily and you can feel the bottom of the shoe, then that cushioning probably won’t provide you with a lot of comfort. If there is some resistance, then the shoe is much more likely to cushion your foot when you’re standing on it all day.
It’s not as much the width of the heel that matters, as much as it is the position of the heel, according to Davda.
“People often assume that it’s all about whether it’s a block or whether it’s a skinny heel: a block heel is comfortable, more supportive and more balanced, and a skinny heel is going to be wobbly, but that’s not necessarily the case,” Davda said.
The heel of a shoe should be positioned in front of the back of the heel, not directly at the back, she said. Heels should be in line with your legs and not the backs of your heels.
To determine whether a heel is positioned in the right place, check for a curve at the back of the heel. If it’s curved or placed inwards, versus straight down, then you should feel sturdier while wearing the heels. It’s just gravity.
The algorithm may try to convince you to buy a daring pair of very tall heels, but it might be more sensible to resist and stick to what you know.
Davda suggests measuring the heel height of your most beloved heels and sticking mostly to a height range that you know you can handle. Unless, of course, you can easily fold the heels into flats when you’ve had enough.
Taking note of your “optimum heel height” can help you save money in the long run by avoiding purchases that you wear once or twice before finding yourself never reaching for them again.
Nearly every woman thinks her feet are too wide. But if that’s the case, then aren’t women’s shoes simply too narrow?
That’s the argument Davda makes.
It could be a form of vanity sizing and designers thinking narrow shoes somehow look better, or “daintier,” but Davda said some shoes are simply too narrow to be comfortable on the feet of most women. And if comfort is your priority, then don’t sacrifice on fit.
For this tip, be a Goldilocks. Davda recommends trying on your shoes and making a judgment based on fit, no matter how gorgeous they are. If they’re a little too big, too small, too narrow or even too wide, exchange sizes or try a new style.
There should be joy in shoes.
“Not everything has to be mega practical and boring,” Davda said. “Shoes can be beautiful, expressive items and give us so much pleasure.”
In the end, your shoes should be everything you want them to be and boost your confidence. It’s not about what others see when they look at your shoes, but about how they make you feel — physically and emotionally.
For Davda, shoe comfort is also a matter of gender equality. Men don’t expect to feel uncomfortable in their shoes, while women have often been told that “beauty is pain” and expected to put up with a certain degree of foot pain while wearing shoes.
“Feeling pain distracts us from what we want to be doing,” Davda said.
With a pair of VICE VERSA heels, you don’t have to decide between heels or flats: you get both. Our heels turn into flats. Or should we say our flats turn into heels? Not to be forgotten, Davda also has some advice for finding comfortable flats that can take you through your day.
First, flats shouldn’t be… flat — at least, not completely. All shoes need a bit of a heel, at least to lift you off the sidewalk and absorb some of the impact on your heels. You’ll want at least a centimeter of height (ours have 33 mm in flat mode) for the best fit.
Second, pay attention to the toe box. It’s at the front of the shoe and covers the toes on a pair of closed-toe flats. Your toes should have a little bit of wiggle room in there. If the toe box is too flat and squeezes the tops of your toes, then it can be uncomfortable and cause damage to your toenails. You also run the risk of your big toenail squeaking against the top of the shoe, causing a sound as unpleasant as nails on a chalkboard, Davda said.
“Everything with shoes is very subtle,” Davda said. “The difference in a couple of millimeters will be entirely different in terms of fit and comfort.”
If you’re looking to add more comfort to your feet at work, constantly on the go, or somewhere that you’ll be standing all day, then you should consider shopping our collection of comfortable, convertible heels today.