high heels for wide, high arched feet?
January 1, 2011 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Is there a pair of sleek high heels out there for problem feet? If not, is there a way to make them fit anyway? I want to buy a pair of pretty shoes that I can wear out in the evening and to job interviews. One pair of classic black heels should do it. (I'm talking "nice restaurant" out or "work happy hour" out, not "Studio 54" out. Even two inches would be fine as long as they are flattering.) I own lots of pairs of heels, and every single one of them hurts terribly. Help me find a pair that doesn't?

The problems:
1. I have duck-shaped feet - very wide and square at the toes, but not wide at the heel, so "extra wide" shoes don't work, they're unsupportive and boatlike.
2. I have high arches.
3. My second metatarsal bones are a little longer than the others, so they absorb disproportionate force when I walk, leading to pain and numbness at the base of my "pointer" toes.

Generally, shoes either squeeze my toes too much (especially the pinkie toe, which has spent more than its share of life blistered raw); hobble me by pressing down on my arch; or, if they are too loose, cause my foot to slip down in the shoe, increasing pressure on the already-terrible ball of my foot.

Is there anyone out there with similar problems who has found a solution? The good news is I don't mind dropping some $ on it if I have to, but it needs to be worth it. I can't afford another wasted "investment." (I just bought a pair of SAS walking shoes for a trip, and two hours in found that they were completely wrong for me. $150 down the toilet.) And if they aren't pretty then they don't solve the problem. (One of my painful pairs has a blunt round toe, which I thought would be easier on my poor pinkies, but they make my feet look stubby and terrible, AND they hurt in other places.)

If you're recommending a shoe, please recommend a specific model, not just a brand. (I'm aware that there are supposedly comfortable brands out there. I'm looking for suggestions from someone who has ACTUALLY found an actually comfortable shoe.)

Maybe orthotics are the answer? But I have no idea what that entails. Can you wear regular shoes with them?

I am in the SF bay area if that helps.

Thank you!
posted by fingersandtoes to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Go to see a podiatrist. Custom orthotics may be able to help you (you can wear any shoes with the thin kind and shoes with removable insoles with the thick kind, but more manufacturers are starting to put removable insoles in their shoes). Even if you don't need orthotics, a podiatrist should be able to give you some tips about what kind of shoes you should be wearing, and perhaps exercises to do to strengthen the parts of your foot that give you pain. Mine has been a godsend. I'm taking up running again for the first time in 6 years!

I have several of the problems you have, although my heels are not narrow. I just bought these, and they're delightful. They're recommended for diabetics, so the material doesn't rub, and they come in a huge variety of sizes. Most importantly, the ankle strap means that they won't move around, which makes for a better fit. My doctor also recommends Dansko, which has a good selection of styles and comes in a variety of widths.

The bottom line is that you're never going to find stylish shoes like the ones that women whose feet magically never hurt wear. I've resigned myself to that. But you also don't need to wear orthopedic shoes in order to be comfortable. Good luck!
posted by decathecting at 9:15 AM on January 1, 2011

I had some luck with New Balance Avalon shoes. The ones I bought aren't available anymore, though; when I get a spare $100 I plan to try another model. I can wear them for up to 12 hours, walking about 5 miles total, without substantial pain (some achiness for an hour or so after I take them off.)

I am nominally a 7.5, 6E, high arches (the shoes I got were 2E, hence the slight pain.) So I suspect I (literally) feel your pain. I'll watch the thread with interest.
posted by SMPA at 9:16 AM on January 1, 2011

Have you been to Nordstrom's? Their shoe people are pretty good at fitting hard-to-fit feet. And Nordstrom's "Sidewalks" from their in-house brand are pretty comfy for my narrow-heeled, high-arched feet. (I have them in a 1" heel.) I don't think I've ever owned high heels that actually support my arches, though; dressy shoes, as a rule, don't really "support" high arches. (But perhaps my arches are unusually high; they come up past the sidewall of the shoe. I have a hell of a time finding sneakers.) Other people have told me they like the arch support in the Nordstrom Sidewalks. It is nicely padded and squooshy in there.

This may be a more common solution with men's shoes than women's, but they do make a sort of foam with a sticky backing that you put INSIDE the shoe to make it fit more tightly around smaller areas of your feet; you could put it around the heel of a shoe that fit right at the toe but was loose at the heel. They might carry this at shoe repair places?

But two inches may simply be too high if you have problems with the balls of your feet. There's not really a way to avoid having the weight on the balls of your feet in heels; that's how you're meant to stand in heels.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:18 AM on January 1, 2011

I have hard to fit feet (in a totally different way), so I can't suggest makes and models to fit your particular foot shape. I do wear orthotics and I doubt those will help and will certainly make your shoe search worse because you'll need extra depth on top of all your other requirements. If you're not having plantar fasciitis or other painful foot problems, I mean inherent to your foot rather than from conflict with your shoes, then that's not the answer.

I would suggest going to Nordstrom shoe department and asking for the most experienced shoe fitter on the floor, and spend some time with them. Nordstrom started out as a shoe store and has a very strong ethic of customer service. You would be surprised how much you can learn talking to people who are very experienced with shoes and shoe fitting...I suspect that if you find that you *can't* find something off the shelf that fits you, that person can suggest to you either local stores where you could find shoes that are more specialized, or local shoemakers who can craft you a custom pair.

I know from experience how frustrating it can be to have hard-to-fit feet. Good luck!
posted by Sublimity at 9:21 AM on January 1, 2011

I don't have a specific model to recommend because they don't make the models I have anymore. However, I have an extra-wide foot and a narrow heel. I've had luck with some Naturalizers (I have a pair of 2" peep-toe pumps which are my go-to dress shoes now) and Ros Hommerson. I also just got a pair of these Bella Vita shooties and they are pretty comfortable, so I am going to check out the rest of the brand.

Unless someone comes in to recommend a wide-foot shoe store in SF, there is no substitute for buying 5 or 6 different pairs of shoes from Zappos (or the other online shoe stores) and seeing how they feel when you wear them around the house for a few hours. You don't have to lose money on this. As long as you don't wear them outside you can return them, usually for free. The Bella Vitas were obtained that way; they were the only comfortable pair from that particular round of ordering.

I agree with Eyebrows McGee that if you really can't stand pressure on the ball of your foot then you might not be able to wear heels at all. I wear a variety of 1" heel shoes on most days and I really notice a difference in the ball of my foot when I put on 2" heels.
posted by cabingirl at 9:28 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might find it helpful to spend some time browsing Barking Dog Shoes -- it's a shoe review blog that specializes in comfortable but stylish shoes, especially for women with hard-to-fit feet. Kirsten, the blogger, also takes reader questions.
posted by bettafish at 9:30 AM on January 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yeah, nthing Nordstrom's or equivalent. A professional fit makes all the difference.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:39 AM on January 1, 2011

Best answer: I have a narrow heel and I find that going for Mary Jane-style shoes helps alleviate the problem of walking right out of them!
posted by radioamy at 9:51 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had luck with Cole Haan Air technology heels. Buy from Zappos as mentioned above and wear around the house to test them out returning what doesn't feel right. You could try medium and wide versions of one like Air Miranda (lower heel, basic) or Air Talia. I find them really comfortable and have similar shaped feet as yours (wider toes, narrow heel, but not the high arch).

You might also try buying heel cup inserts to pair with a wider shoe. It would help your heel fit better while allowing more room where you need it.
posted by cecic at 9:57 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have shoes that are made of leather and too tight in the toes but otherwise fine, you can take them to a cobbler and get the toes stretched.
posted by asphericalcow at 10:06 AM on January 1, 2011


I am like you and have feet that are broad right under the toes and narrow at the heel, and also Morton's foot (longer second toe) and exceptionally high arches.

Sofft is the greatest brand for dress shoes. And I also put heel liners in all my high-heeled shoes. They make a huge difference.

Slingbacks (like these from Sofft) and Mary Janes (like these) are also much more stable than regular pumps.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:07 AM on January 1, 2011

The other thing is that if you're going to an event when you know you're going to be walking around or standing in high heels, pad your toes lightly with lamb's wool. Basically, what you do is make a little tiny cup out of the lamb's wool to cover your toes, then put the shoe on. It's a modification of what ballet dancers do when they're wearing pointe shoes.

I keep meaning to write an article about all the ways I have adapted my pointe-shoe routines from childhood to make high heels more comfortable, but I never seem to get to it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:11 AM on January 1, 2011

I also have duck feet, and like radioamy I generally go for mary jane-style heels to help keep my feet where they need to be. Also, like Sidhedevil I'm a huge fan of Sofft shoes. I can't find a link to my current favorite pair, although they're closer to 3-inch heels anyway (but surprisingly don't feel like it). Something like this might work, with the more rounded toe. 6pm.com regularly carries sofft shoes, too, for around 30-40% off the original price.
posted by bizzyb at 10:39 AM on January 1, 2011

I loved orthotics when I had them, so they may be a foot-saver for you. My one pair of dress shoes are Fluevog's, and fit my quirky large feet. Not all of the designs would be for you, but the Operetta line with their larger toe box work for me. It's still not like wearing flats, but I can do them longer than my previous heels.
posted by ldthomps at 10:44 AM on January 1, 2011

I am pretty much a comfort shoe gal, and I have tried a few different heels for interviews/dressy situations (though, frankly, I would be wiling to deal with more pain for an evening out than for an interview, though in my profession, interviews tend to be day-long affairs with lots of walking. Cute shoes are the kiss of death.).

Like radioamy, I have to wear Mary Jane-style dressy heels or my feet slip out of them (though in my case I think it's because I have mild arthritis in my toes and my toes don't bend all the way forward on one foot--a tidbit I never would have known except I went to a podiatrist for something else and he mentioned it off-handedly and suggested custom insoles would help. I declined. Anyway.). So you might try shoes with a strap across the top of your foot.

I have these Clarks Rhea (in a different size) for a couple of day-long interviews. They were okay, and not super cute, but were better than typical heels.

These Ecco Brugge Mary Janes are also cute-ish and mostly comfortable for me.

I also have some Clarks booties that are pretty comfy and would try something like this or like this from them if I needed a cute heel.

Right now I am coveting these new style Dansko heels.

But the cutest and most comfortable shoes I have are Fluevog Obrigadas (discontinued, apparently). I didn't even buy them to be comfortable, but I have found them to be the best shoes for professional outfits when I have to be on my feet. Fluevog has lots of different styles, most with a bit of edge, and probably not "classic," but if you want something a bit edgier, here are some ideas:

Friends Sharon

They're not for everyone, but if they're for you, I bet you'll love them.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:44 AM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

i have very similar feet -- usually shoes with straps don't work for me b/c my high arches make my feet really kind of "deep" too.

anyway, what I do is order all of the available shoes that are remotely attractive from zappos in a variety of sizes, and return 99% of them.

i have had really good luck with a pair of shoes I bought at nordstrom years ago, and have had re-heeled many times: franco sarto. i looked for a pair with a wider toe box and sturdy, yet attractive, heel. The leather is great quality and they still feel great. i actually was able to buy one that wasn't wide, just 9-1/2 (I usually wear a 9w) and it is wonderful

this is a rounder toe than the one i bought but oculd work for you possibly


here is their whole heel selection


I'd advise you to go to nordstrom, and try on all the franco sarto they have, plus any heels in wide. the salespersons at nordstrom shoes really know their stock and will know different styles within labels that might work for you
posted by wurly at 11:42 AM on January 1, 2011

I also have high arches & a longer 2nd toe. Mostly, I don't wear heels. When I do, I've found the Clarks Indigo line reasonably comfortable - I definitely find that a wider heel helps balance the weight to the back of my foot rather than compressing my toes. In SF, try Ria on Grant - they have the largest selection of "comfort" brands, and things are often on sale.
posted by judith at 11:53 AM on January 1, 2011

LifeStride makes some attractive and comfortable heels, I can wear a low heel, and these are the most comfortable and affordable. They also come in wide width, if you need that.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 12:22 PM on January 1, 2011

I second the suggestion to try Cole Haan Air heels from Zappos. I'm a huge wimp about heels (despite the fact that I own Marc Jacobs and Stuart Weitzmans), but when I tried the Cole Haan Air heels at Nordstrom, I really wanted an excuse to buy them, because they were very comfortable.

I asked my best friend, who lives in New York City, how all these stylish women in Manhattan can stand walking around in such uncomfortable shoes. She said, "Those women don't walk. They take cabs."
posted by snafu at 12:38 PM on January 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Beautifeel has some extremely nice looking shoes. I've had toe surgery and need a roomy toe box. My Beautifeels are the best that I've found. http://www.beautifeelshop.com/default.asp
posted by lois1950 at 12:42 PM on January 1, 2011

I have wide feet with high arches, plus a pretty bad gait problem (I wear orthotics the majority of the time). I also often have beaten up toes from long distance walking, so need roomy shoes that don't pinch. I have Doc Marten high heel shoes and I adore them. They are high, but built up under the front and with a solid stable heel and grippy soles, so I do fine in them despite being pretty unsteady on my feet without the orthotics (you can't wear solid orthotics in heeled shoes). They are lined with leather so they don't slip around on my feet and are overall very well made (I've had mine for a couple of years, no signs of wear as yet).

Mine are a version of this (although without the all over pattern). But, as you can see, there are several types with the same sole pattern and different tops. That's the sole you want, I found the flatter ones felt much less comfortable or solid. The Mary Jane look works for me as they don't press on the top of my feet, high arches means high on top too and many shoes pinch there, these don't. Mine have a kind of rockabilly look but they're also black and plain enough that I can wear them with anything and not look like I'm wearing "alternative" shoes. They're also kind of chunky but look surprisingly sleek on, mainly because they make my legs look great but also because they are well proportioned. The styles change fairly regularly while keeping the same sole configuration and Docs run true to size, so if you like one pair you can buy more online no problem.

They are somewhat expensive, particularly as I generally buy mine online so shipping is significant. But they last a long time and I find they're worth it.
posted by shelleycat at 4:07 PM on January 1, 2011

I'd go to Nordstrom AND go to a podiatrist. Get fitted for orthotics, and when they are ready, take the shoes with you when you pick up the orthotics, because they can make small adjustments in the office.

My podiatrist does do orthotics for high heels. I only have regular, but I love them. I just got them in October, and the only regret is not having them sooner!
posted by jgirl at 4:13 PM on January 1, 2011

These Born shoes are the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. I bought them for the style, but now pretty much buy only Borns for the comfort. They do have simple heels.
posted by raisingsand at 8:09 PM on January 1, 2011

I know you're looking for pumps, but as someone with similar feet the only time I've found I can comfortably wear heels is on boots. There are some pretty cute ones if you're willing to consider this as an option. My recent success is with the Born Crown "Yolanda", which is the only heeled anything I've been able to wear all day in relative comfort since the granny boots I owned almost 15 years ago.

I have feet that are wide across the toes and ball, average-to-narrow heels and while my arches aren't especially high my feet are kind of meaty which makes the strap on mary janes inevitably cut into my foot. To top it off, I'm a size 12 so finding any shoes at all is a challenge. I am thrilled with these, and as a bonus I even found them on sale.

It looks from the photos like Born uses a similar last for several shoes, so the pumps raisingsand linked to may work too. My experience however is that because boots envelope your entire foot and ankle it distributes the "work" of holding your foot in place across the entire boot, which avoids having one or two points of stress/pain and makes them much more comfortable. YMMV, of course.
posted by cali at 10:38 PM on January 1, 2011

Response by poster: OP here -- wanted to thank everyone for the suggestions. I just went on a Zappos buying orgy and will try on a bunch of stuff at home, and if that doesn't work I will try Nordstrom. Whoever suggested maryjane strap styles has a great point -- now that I think about it, I realize that my toes are always kind of clenched in a regular pump to make my heel not slip out, and a strap should help that. I'll check in with you all when the Zappos box arrives.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:14 PM on January 1, 2011

Response by poster: OP here, thought I'd follow up since I think some people said they could also benefit from the thread. Since Zappos was easiest, I did that first, went with the Sofft recommendation and got these. They are a bit granny-like, but the patent leather detail really helps make them interesting and cute. I went for a wide, which is good in the toe box, a smidge loose around the heel, but the strap helps with that, and I could always put a liner in too if things feel too roomy. So far they feel great.

(I also ordered several others including the Cole Haans, but they didn't even come close to fitting.)

I also tried Nordstrom as some posters suggested, and I got a more basic Sofft pair. I'm not 100% sure I'm keeping them -- they don't really feel cute to me -- but I may, as a neutral pair is sometimes useful.

Next up I'll be looking for a basic shoe to wear with jeans and such, and I'll be referring back to this list, so thank you everyone who made suggestions.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:57 PM on January 4, 2011

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