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

High heels and comfort are often seen as being at odds, with most women resigned to suffering for the sake of aesthetics. But it is possible to have both. It’s a matter of knowing how to choose a well-engineered shoe (i.e. one made of quality material, with ample support across the upper/vamp, and a correctly-positioned heel. You did read the previous posts in this series, right?). But there’s one other critical factor: the angle between your heel and the ball of your foot, when in the shoe, and this is largely dependent on heel height.

Purple stiletto heels

Strictly for photo shoots and dinners at home: 5 inch “spikes” with a recessed (displaced) heel. Ouch.


According to Wikipedia, the word “stiletto” is an “Italian knife or dagger with a long slender blade and needle-like point, primarily intended as a stabbing weapon.” And if you’ve ever worn a pair, you know how apt that name is. The original stilettos in the ’50’s were leather pumps (enclosed heel, sides and toe) with a slender, curved 3 – 4 inch heel. Back then 4 inches was considered the absolute limit.

Modern stilettos, sometimes referred to as “spikes,” are more likely to range from 4 to 6 inches. Spikes may look fabulous on models in magazines and movie stars on the red carpet, but there is nothing comfortable about these shoes: from the needle-like heel to the sheer vertical drop of the foot, they are excruciatingly painful to walk in for more than about 10 minutes. You can thank Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin for this trend. (Manolo Blahnik too, although his shoes are purported to be more comfortable than the others.) The pressure on the knee, ankle and ball of the foot are guaranteed to give you serious health problems. Worse, they have a tendency to cheapen your look (unless you’re wearing a ball gown or a demure black dress), resulting in a look that is more street-walker than red carpet.

Heel Heights for Professional Dancers

Contrary to current fashion trends, the technical heel height limit for professional dance shoes is 3 inches: Flamenco: 1.5″ – 3″, Ballroom: 1″ – 3′. This is not a random number: any higher and they cannot execute their steps properly.

Dancers’ heels are often chunky (aka a Cuban heel) and wide, to allow them to successfully execute turns. To make them look less clunky and more feminine, many of them feature cutwork (peekaboo sections of skin), multiple thin straps (versus one wide band) or transparent mesh across the vamp. Anytime you can reveal skin on the upper/vamp area without sacrificing support, you will have a shoe that is both flattering and a delight to wear.

Black flamenco dance shoes

Flamenco shoes: soft leather, two straps across the upper, and a wide 2 inch cuban heel built to take a lot of stomping

The Upper Limit

So here’s the bottom line: if you want to be able to walk and stand comfortably, do not wear any shoe that raises your heel higher than 3 inches from the ball of your foot. This will ensure that the angle of your foot (heel to toe) is less than 30 degrees, which is the functional range. Obviously, if the shoe has a platform beneath the toe box, you can go higher. Just as long as that 3 inch rule still applies to your foot’s heel and toe.

ComfyChic Alternatives

In addition to the 3 inch limit, look for:

    • a chunkier heel with a platform under the toe box, preferably tilted up in front to prevent undue forward sliding and strain on the smaller toes.
    • a kitten heel: 1.5″ to 1.75″ heel. The lower height allows for a skinnier heel resulting in an elegant feminine look. The heel placement also contributes to foot comfort. Very Audrey Hepburn.
    • a wedge heel: look for cork in summer (very light in weight and shock absorbent), rubber in winter (waterproof, won’t scratch, rinses clean, more durable than leather).
Black leather wedges with a 4 inch heel and 1 inch toe platform.

Black leather wedges with a 4 inch heel and 1 inch toe platform.

What’s so great about a wedge?

A wedge heel (invented by Salvatore Ferragamo) is the ideal ComfyChic heel. It’s easier to stand in and easier to walk in as the weight is distributed over a greater surface area. This means if you normally can’t tolerate more than a 2 inch heel, you’ll probably feel fine in a 3 inch wedge. If you must wear super high heels, make them a wedge whenever possible.

High Heels: Part 6 of 8 : Maximizing Comfort and Fit  >>

Sign up for blog posts via email and receive a free downloadable PDF of the ComfyChic Guide to Buying High Heels. Don’t go shoe shopping without it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *