High Heels -- If They Hurt, You're Doing It Wrong

I've got nothing but love for the 4-inch pumps I wear to work every day, and I believe that -- if selected and used properly -- your high heels can bring you the same joy, sans the pain and agony of blisters and joint pain.

Aug 6, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

I'm sick of all the hate high heels are getting in the press. I've got nothing but love for the 4-inch pumps I wear to work every day, and I believe that -- if selected and used properly -- your high heels can bring you the same joy, sans the pain and agony of blisters and joint pain.

Let me state for the record that I do not -- for a second -- disagree with the assertion that walking in heels uses muscles differently from walking in flats. No shit. But I feel like every trend piece that's come forth about women hurting their feet and screwing up their bodies from wearing high heels leaves a lot to be desired.

In ignoring common discrepancies between heels, and frequent heel-wearer errors, most of them avoid confronting the fact that many women who wear heels are, quite simply, doing it wrong.

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I bought these in 2009. And I love them just as much now as I did then.

Are you doing it wrong?

Check (and remedy) all that apply:

1) You buy cheap, trendy shoes instead of well-crafted "investment" shoes.

We live in a consumerist culture in which people like to buy things constantly, and "fast fashion" retailers are able to mimic -- if not outright copy -- designer wares within weeks, giving everyone millions of "look for less" options. Sometimes, these are a great, democratizing thing: At the end of the day, your torso can't tell a Target sweater from a Bloomingdales one.

(Truth: I saw an open-weave turquoise blue sweater at Target that looked exactly like a Rag & Bone one at Intermix. The fabric? Not even close to the same. But the look? Totally there. Does wearing a cheap sweater compromise your joints at all though? No way!)

However, your feet know right away if you're cheating them. Why? Because well-made shoes offer far more support, stability, padding and overall comfort than cheaply made shoes. They mold to your feet better, and they feel stronger when you walk on them. They also hold up better over time, making them a better investment.

My advice? Wait until sales seasons (December/January or June/July) and take the money you've budgeted for shoes, and spend it on one or two pairs of the best shoes you can afford on sale.

If you are going to spend $200, do not spend it on 4 pairs of brand-spankin'-new, trendy pumps that will hurt like hell. Get one or two pairs of amazing pumps that will fit your feet, outfits and life.

(Note: Lest you think I'm a snob, I'll admit that there are shoe lines out there that make affordable, comfortable shoes. But by and large (and especially when it comes to high heels), the cheaper the heel, the more you're compromising on comfort, quality and fit. That's fine in a flat shoe or low heel, but painful in a high one.)

2) You wear shoes that are too big or too small.

This one kills me. Oprah's made finding a bra that fits a life mission for women everywhere (and rightfully so!), but I'm still seeing women wear shoes that are two sizes too big for them. When you commit that grave sin of shoe-selection, you wind up looking like a little girl who's teetering around in her mom's shoes. And the only men who find that attractive are (probably) registered sex offenders.

Listen, ladies: STOP DOING THAT RIGHT NOW. It does not matter how right the price is, or how "nice" the shoe is, if it doesn't fit you, it can't support your foot correctly, and you'll have to expend more effort to keep it on.

Moral of the story: If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn't, go up or down a size. If it still doesn't, ditch 'em and move on.

3) You wear shoes you can't walk in.

When you are trying a pair of high heels on, hold it up to the same standards as ballet flats.

(Not literally, guys, figuratively!) Would you wear ballet flats that you had to struggle to keep on, that put immediate crushing pressure on the ball of your foot, that squeezed your toes, and that you could barely walk in? NO. So don't do it with your high heels.

Want to know what I do when I'm shoe shopping? I wear the new shoes either in the house (if I bought them online) or in the store long enough to see if I can forget I have them on. If I can do normal things in my new shoes without consciously thinking about them, they're comfortable enough to keep. If walking takes a lot of extra effort, they're not, and they get returned.

Let's also take this moment to redefine the word "walk." When I say "walk," I do not mean "convey oneself from one location to another with a series of is-she-having-a-stroke-while-standing jerks"; I do not mean "shuffle"; and I most certainly do not mean "stomp," you lovely, platform-clad giants, you. I mean really stroll -- from the
hip.

Not sure what I mean by that? Tyra Banks has a great video about walking in stilettos. As she points out, the movement comes from the hips, not the knees. Think about that. Then practice it.

4) You don't ask for help at department stores.

A lot of my friends don't utilize department store staff appropriately -- they just avoid salespeople like the plague, hurriedly make purchases, and rush out of stores. This is fine as a lifestyle choice, but listen up: There's a lot more your sales associates can do for  you, if you only ask them.

Take this: I tried on a pair of pumps at Nordstrom a few months ago that were classy, perfect for work, and easy to walk in. The catch? They pinched the sides of my foot. So I asked the sales associate helping me if she could stretch them for me before I bought them. She did, and now they fit perfectly.

I thanked her profusely and asked if I could fill out a card commending her customer service. Added magical karmic bonus? My sales associate told me that if I ever need any shoes stretched -- whether I bought them from Nordstrom or not -- that I should feel free to bring them in, because they'd be happy to help.

That's fantastic customer service and relationship building right there, but it's also a good lesson: Ask for help and ye shall receive.

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Seriously comfy (and 70% off at an after-Christmas sale)

5) You wear shoes that overflex your arch, making you feel, in effect, like you're walking in pointe shoes in ballet class.

Lots of ladies are into these super-high six-inch stilettos. Listen up: No matter what they cost, those shoes generally look very, very cheap, and they actually ARE doing terrible things to your body.

Instead (and especially if you're shopping online): Look at the slope of the shoe. The less steep the incline is, the more comfortable the shoe will (generally) feel. And the longer you'll be able to get your dance on without taking a first-aid-kit break.

Also, remember: Most of your look's sex appeal comes NOT from the height of your stilettos, but from the comfort and grace with which you carry yourself. If the only time you feel comfortable, confident and strong is in flats, stick to those!

6) You neglect to maintain your shoes.

What do I mean by "maintain" your shoes? I mean that when the heel caps come off, you replace them. RIGHT AWAY. Never, ever, ever walk on shoes that have lost their heel caps -- it's bad for the shoe and shortens its lifespan, yes, but it also unbalances your gait and makes you look very sloppy. Annnnnnnnd getting heel caps replaced costs like $10. So no excuses!

By the way, this guidance also applies to worn-in soles, beaten-up toes of boots, and other common afflictions of aging footwear. Worth knowing: Your cobbler can fix those things! Worth believing: Those things are worth fixing!

If you follow Rule 1, you better follow Rule 6 as well: Invest in very, very good shoes, and then love them and take care of them and maintain them. And if you do those things, they will be very, very good to you and give you years of happy, pain-free wear. I promise.

Posted in Clothes, high heels, shoes