High Heels: Part 7 of 8: The Benefits of Wearing High Heels

Being able to walk in heels gracefully gives you an air of confidence and quiet authority that is irresistible.

Classic pink pumps.

Classic pink pumps.

A medium pair of high heels (i.e. less than 3 inches high) will strengthen and tone the muscles in your calves, thighs and hips, and correct your posture as it tilts the top of the hips forward, curving the back and lifting the chest and stomach.

This “sway back” silhouette also has a slimming effect if you carry weight in the tummy, as that area is stretched open. The higher the heel, the more arched your back will be.

Conversely, when standing in flat shoes, most women tend to slouch their shoulders forward. This drops the chest and forces the top of the hips to tilt backwards, resulting in a silhouette of a flat back, or if you’re really slouching, a round curve in the back and compression in the tummy (i.e. tummy rolls.)

Yes, you could simply wear flat shoes and remember to stand up straight and walk tall. However, with sedentary lives comes weak abdominals and back muscles, so unless you’re a professional ballet dancer… that shoulders-back stance is probably not gonna last long. Much easier to wear a pair of reasonable heels.

A medium heel can achieve a similar curve to the upper ankle or vamp area of the foot as with a stiletto, just by standing on one leg and stretching the other foot to one side. That bowed ballet-like curve is the talus bone supported by a group of muscles called the extensors. If you’re tempted to buy a pair of unreasonable heels (higher than 3″) remember that ballet dancers spend several hours a day, strengthening their ankles, calves, etc to enable them to dance —very briefly— on point.

Keep Your Feet Happy and Healthy

If you want to avoid expensive and painful foot problems, podiatrists and biomedical engineers advise* that you don’t walk (or worse, stand still) in high heels for longer than a couple of hours without taking a break.

Blue patent leather pumps.

Blue patent leather pumps.

Also, try to wear them no more than 3 days a week, alternating every other day with flats or lower heels. This will keep your Achilles tendon (back of your ankle) from shortening to the point where you can no longer wear flat shoes, and will lessen the likelihood of falls due to cumulative muscle fatigue.

If you do yoga, try a couple of Downward Dog stretches after wearing heels. Or stand on a stair and gently raise and lower your heels over the edge several times for a maximum stretch to the Achilles tendon.

In essence, if you want to keep your feet happy and healthy, think of your high heels like fine chocolate: an occasional treat, not a daily staple.

* See the final summary of this scientific study on the dangerous cumulative effect of wearing high heels.

Coming Soon : High Heels: Part 8: Shoe Shapes That Flatter

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High Heels: Part 6 of 8: Maximizing Comfort & Fit

Preventing a blister. Ladies Room, Academy Awards.

Preventing a blister. Ladies Room, Academy Awards.

Your local drugstore or Shoe Repair stocks an array of supplemental products to help rehabilitate uncomfortable shoes. While they cannot work miracles, they can certainly make life a lot more pleasant.

It’s Not You, It’s The Shoe

A shoe is poorly designed or simply does not fit if:

  • you can see the shoe’s heel poking out behind your foot heel (your weight is sliding forward too much into the toe box)
  • your toes hang over the edge of the shoe (same problem as above)
  • your foot heel lifts up and out of the heel cup with every step
  • your toes feel pinched on the side when you stand in them (toe box is too narrow)
  • ankle strap/buckle touches the ankle bone, either above or below (this will rub like hell as the ankle bone moves against it with every step)

Put it back on the shelf, darlin’ and keep looking. It’s not you, it’s the shoe.

Improved Fit

If shoes in general never seem to fit in one area (i.e. you have skinny calves so knee-high boots never fit, or a narrow heel, so there’s a gap between your heel and the shoe) you can remedy this in three ways: 1) have your shoes custom made to fit for $200 to $500, 2) before you buy the shoes buy the padding from your nearest drugstore and take it with you when you go shoe-shopping, or 3) in the shoe store, take a photo of the shoes on your feet clearly showing the gap and the interior of the shoe, discuss the plan with a shoemaker or cobbler and then go back and buy the shoes. Much cheaper than the other way around, especially if it doesn’t work. Shoes that are loose in one area or too tight will result in rubbing.

Insoles

Padded insoles act as shock absorbers and will put a bounce in your step. The most durable insoles are made of leather and are designed to replace the insole that came with your shoe. However, for the cushiest ride possible, Dr Scholl for Her makes a range of insoles for high heels that come in a variety of colors and patterns in foam, as well as a clear (i.e. invisible) kind in gel. Slim enough to fit in a pump, they redistribute your weight along the sole rather than forcing it all into the ball of your foot. Try the 16-hour Insoles if you’re on your feet all day or on hard surfaces. For your high-heeled Fall boots, look for athletic-grade insoles (Foot Locker stocks them). Like the padding in your office chair, inserts lose their spring and resilience with time. Note: if you wear sheepskin Ugg boots in winter, replace the fluffy insole at the beginning of each winter season; any shop that sells Uggs sells these insoles. As the wool packs down over time and the boot gets loose, add an athletic foam insole beneath the fluffy wool insole.

Preventing Rubbing, Blisters, etc

Rule #1: if you’re wearing a pair of new shoes, or a pair that have rubbed in the past (why oh why are these still in your wardrobe??) always carry some moleskin with you. Best applied to the shoe (not your foot) at least 24 hours before for best adhesion. But it can also be used on the spot if necessary. So, cut it to size before you leave the house (trust me, no-one has scissors when you need them) and stash it with your lipstick. It takes up less room than a tampon and is just as appreciated (by you or a friend) when the need arises. It can seriously make or break your day/night. No moleskin? Pack 2 bandaids—not as good, but much better than nothing.

Foldable ballet flats and bandaids.

Foldable ballet flats and bandaids.

As soon as you become aware of a constant rubbing or pinching, immediately (not 10 minutes later) excuse yourself to the nearest Ladies’ Room and whip out that moleskin. Or ask the restaurant/club/whatever for a bandaid: most of them carry a first aid kit. The sooner you stop the friction, the less likely you are to develop a sore red spot or a blister that lasts a week. There’s nothing comfy or chic about a blister.

For Summer sandals with straps or a buckle that rubs, you may want to apply some clear Rub Relief onto your foot before you put your shoes on. It rolls on like deodorant and instantly stops the rubbing. I have no idea what’s in it, it feels like a super moisturizer, (and may well be) but it is dry and soft within seconds. However, you will have to reapply it periodically, and it will not prevent blisters; for that you need the cushioned moleskin or tape. If you’re sitting down, discreetly take your heels off. If you’re out dancing, act like a free spirit and dance barefoot. Or swap them for a pair of chic foldable, rollable gold flats like these from Footzyrolls.

How a Cobbler Can Help

Cobblers, or Shoe Repair Experts are one of the most under-appreciated professionals today and are a dying breed, thanks to cheap mass-produced footwear. Besides fixing shoes, a good cobbler can:

  • stretch and/or soften your leather shoes (gently, without damaging the leather) so that they are generally more comfortable (see video demo)
  • stretch a specific point to accommodate a bunion or bone spur (or sell you a shoe stretcher for about $30 if this is a chronic issue)
  • replace the rubber tip on your heel that has worn down to a nail so that you no longer make a racket walking down the hallway
  • waterproof and stainproof your boots and shoes (without changing the color)
  • dye shoes a different color
  • replace worn buckles and laces
  • repair small nicks and scratches (including scuff marks off patent leather)
  • recondition and shine leather (even old salt-hardened boots) to a mirror finish so your shoes look brand new
  • add a strap around the ankle or vamp for extra support
  • fix other leather items like bags, wallets, belts, dog leashes, etc

If you find a good, reliable cobbler, tell your friends. They need all the business they can get in this era of disposable plastic shoes.

High Heels: Part 7 of 8: The Benefits of Wearing Heels >>

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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.

Stilettos

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.