High Heels: Part 4 of 8: Materials and Construction

Before you buy a great looking pair of heels, check the fine print on the inside, either on the insole or on the inside of the heel. Ideally, you want to see “all natural upper” and “all natural insole”; bonus if it says “all leather.” If instead you see “all man-made upper” put that shoe right back on the shelf, sweetpea. Why? Man-made means it’s synthetic which means:

  • you will sweat no matter what season it is
  • it will never stretch or mold to your foot*
  • it will not soften with age
  • if it tears or scuffs there’s no fixing it
  • basically, it’s disposable plastic held together with glue
  • it may fall apart if exposed to water (rain, puddles, snow)
Cork is lightweight and a natural shock (and sound) absorber. Wedge heel and platform toe increases foot comfort.

Cork is lightweight and a natural shock (and sound) absorber. Wedge heel and platform toe increases foot comfort.

*Exception: casual heels (e.g. summer sandals) that have an upper made of stretchy elastic or neoprene-like material may feel more comfortable than new leather, and may be fine for wearing in an air-conditioned office. Just be aware that once outside, your skin (the part that is wrapped in synthetic material) will not be able to breathe, so sweat will build up inside or under the straps causing your foot to slide in the shoe which will create friction, rubbing and irritation. So make sure there’s plenty of your skin showing, and look for a peep toe for better air circulation.

Why are synthetics so popular?

Synthetic (man-made) materials are concocted in a factory setting from chemicals (eww!) so they’re cheaper to produce than natural materials, as there’s no farming involved. This also guarantees year-round uniformity of materials. Manufacturers love this. But wait, there’s more. To lower costs further, they’re usually held together with glue. Not a stitch anywhere to be seen. Same with sneakers. (Logically, sneakers should be dirt cheap. But someone has to pay for all the marketing.) If the parts can be extruded in one or two plastic molds, there’s less labor involved. Never mind that your shoe needs to bend and flex with your foot to avoid injuries like a sprained ankle and other orthopedic issues: they’re cheap. And they’re flying off the shelves.

A Good Sole

The sole (the part that touches the pavement, not your foot) is often man-made these days. This makes for a tougher, longer-wearing sole, which is why you rarely see holes in shoes any more. Often it is super-thin, compared to the old leather soles. However, it also means a thinner layer of shock-absorbing material between you and the pavement. To compensate, look for heels with a layer of natural cork or rubber in the heel.

Extra built-in padding

More and more shoe manufacturers are adding thick built-in padding in the mid-sole (sandwiched between the insole and sole). The cushier and longer-wearing this is, the better. The midsole is one area that benefits from being man-made as it will not wear out as quickly. It should spring back when you press on it. (Press as hard as you can with your thumbs.) Ideally you want a lot of cushioning under the ball of the foot and the heel. (Yes, you can buy separate padded inserts at the drugstore and glue them in but these should be a last resort. Full rundown on inserts in my next post.) For a full list of resources for comfychic heels, sign up for my mailing list (click the red button in the sidebar).

Custom Made Heels

If you’ve tried the local dance supply stores and you still haven’t found a style you like, or you have orthotics, you might try a custom-made shoe. These used to be astronomical in price, but can now be had for $50 – $500. Ask a local shoe repair shop for a recommendation on where to find them in your area, or try one of the popular online services like Milk & Honey or Shoes USA. Both are located in Los Angeles and ship worldwide. You can return them but there’s a 30% restocking charge if they don’t fit, so be sure to follow the size guidelines.

Also, Shoes of Prey (Sydney, Australia) sells custom-made shoes online and via their Surry Hills showroom. 100% refund and they ship worldwide for $25. Prices: $150 for sandals; $185 for ballet flats; $240 for 1½ to 3½ inch heels, $290 for 4 to 6 inch heels and $335 for ankle boots.

High Heels: Part 5 of 8: How High is Too High? >>

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