Need help finding a tolerable dress shoe
April 4, 2014 2:19 PM   Subscribe

I need shoes I can wear with dress pants/skirts that won't kill my feet after a few hours. I don't know how everyone else does this because I have never achieved it, even with flats. Help?

Specific problem is that all women's dress shoes give me horrible pain leading to blisters on my heels. I haven't been able to solve this with the usual suggestions:

-preventative bandaids/moleskin/duct tape (get rubbed off or blisters form anyway)
-pantyhose, footlets, tights, trouser socks, or bare all have the same problem
-various styles, brands and materials
-aiming for shoes on the tighter end (heel rubs even worse, plus now toes are squeezed) or looser end (heel slips out)
-those foam things you can stick on the heel edges (do nothing)
-wearing them a lot to try to form a callous (doesn't happen)

This is after being really picky in the store (probably 19/20 shoes I try on in my size are immediately painful/unstable/feel weird). They seem comfortable while walking around in the store but after a few hours the rubbing becomes intolerable and I have blisters that night, even through preventative bandaids etc. This does not improve after a long time of "breaking in" the shoe - usually the heel gets looser and it gets even worse. I need something I can wear walking around all day at conferences etc. without being lame by the second day.

I think my feet are normal-to-wide width, fairly low arches, and otherwise pretty normal shaped (size 9). I normally wear sneakers so I guess I'm spoiled for comfort - I realize dress shoes will never be that comfortable, but there must be something out there that isn't actively painful. Boots don't have the heel rubbing problem but I need something for the summer.

I'm looking for any solution to this problem, whether it's a brand/style I should try, something I should look for when buying shoes, another way to make my current shoes more comfortable, etc. I am not willing to order shoes online because I have such a hard time finding shoes that fit, so specific shoe models aren't much help, but brands/physical store suggestions are welcome (note: I'm in Canada).

Style-wise I'm not too picky as long as it's business-casual appropriate (no sandals) and a neutral colour. I'd prefer flats but heels are OK too, if they aren't stilettos. I really don't want to look like a 60-year old woman 30 years sooner than I need to, so I would like to avoid those "menswear-like" women's dress shoes or anything remotely resembling fluevogs. I also really dislike the look of oxfords or anything else that looks like a lace-up shoe or clog or otherwise clunky shoe - I want something that looks like regular heels/flats as much as possible but doesn't destroy my feet. Possible?
posted by randomnity to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (32 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I have very sensitive, blister-prone feet too, so I feel your pain literally and figuratively. May want to look at Cole Haan--I believe they are owned by Nike and so they have some sort of Nike-comfort technology built in. The pair I have are definitely more cushioned and comfortable than the average heel, and I believe most major department stores carry this brand.

Clark's are very, very comfortable too.
posted by lovableiago at 2:29 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

One more idea: It might be worth looking around thrift stores or consignment shops. I know the idea of buying used shoes is totally ick to some people (I get it), but the advantage is that someone else has already done the breaking in and if they feel OK when you first try them on, you probably won't have to worry about them stretching out and all that. I wouldn't suggest this if I hadn't found several of my most favorite, comfortable, oft-complimented shoes this way.
posted by lovableiago at 2:31 PM on April 4, 2014

Buy your shoes a size bigger? It really sounds like they are too small.
posted by fshgrl at 2:33 PM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I mostly have to wear some sort of sock. What kind of boots, shoes or sandals do you wear with pants or with socks, that don't damage your feet?
posted by theora55 at 2:33 PM on April 4, 2014

Oh boy, I feel you. Cobb Hill is made by New Balance and are supposed to be good for foot comfort (too narrow for me, unfortunately). I know you said that materials don't matter, but I would definitely stick with leather only - it'll stretch and soften up with wear. And, make friends with your local cobbler - they can work miracles to help make shoes more comfy. Finally, what I do is wear them for 15 minutes at a time at home, sometimes for two weeks, before wearing them outside. Best of luck.
posted by umwhat at 2:34 PM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Camper shoes are generally pretty good for this.
posted by jojobobo at 2:50 PM on April 4, 2014

I have similar shaped feet with similar issues and have had good luck with some Aerosoles. Some are super comfy, some are weirdly NOT, which I can't blame on my feet - their construction and support just seems super hit or miss to me. The good ones, like these, are really good though.

Because I similarly have to try on a LOT of shoes to find the rare ones that don't kill, I do order them online, from places with free return shipping. I know you said you don't want to do this, but I just wanted to mention this as an option in case you can order in Canada from Zappos or Shoebuy - it's a very minor hassle to ship them back, and the shipping being free is nice. I hate this process, but do it once a year and have found some great shoes I would never have seen in physical stores. It's worth it for me.

Because of the way I walk, I guess, or because I'm not a proper lady, I kick off any shoes that aren't affixed to my feet. This limits my choices to Mary Janes, sandals, some wedges, ankle straps, etc. But because straps are in play, I think this can make the body of the shoe more comfortable, because the heel of the shoe doesn't have to grip my foot. So looking beyond standard pumps, to a shoe more like the ones I've mentioned here, might narrow your style options, but afford more comfort?

It has taken me some looking, but I have a small collection of versatile dress shoes that do not cause me pain. After a few hours of standing, my feet might not feel awesome, but they are not blistered or crippled. Comfortable shoes DO exist! And I don't think I have ever paid over $60 for a pair.
posted by jessicapierce at 2:55 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

It is my understanding that blisters are exacerbated by sweat (personally I have a hard time wearing shoes without socks in humid weather, am just fine otherwise). Sprinkling baby powder in my shoes and swiping anti-perspirant on the spots that rub does the trick for me. There are some products that are sold as blister blocking, but honestly I just use the same stuff I use on my armpits.
posted by radioamy at 2:58 PM on April 4, 2014

Gentle Souls changed my life. I think they're even more comfortable than Clarks.
posted by egeanin at 3:00 PM on April 4, 2014

Do you put the moleskin on the shoes? Cause I put it directly on my skin, and it works really well. I've also had good luck with those kind of kidney-bean-shaped heel cushions on flats, because I have really narrow heels, but you do have to position them just right.
posted by catatethebird at 3:28 PM on April 4, 2014

Shoes that are made from very fine leather exist (think gloving leather). Find those. Add the best gel insoles you can find if you need a softer sole.

Just checked zappos for comfort x dressy x office&career x size 9 and got 721 results.

I agree that Clarks are often soft and recommend you try Ecco and Geox shoes. The Gentle Souls even look soft, wow. If they are even softer than Clarks.....

Here a few examples:

Geox Donna Lola
Geox D Floralie Cap Toe
ECCO Angel Bow

Also, it might help to let the shoes air out. So bring a second pair for conferences and switch during the day if you can. Did you try an Anti Blister Gel? They help for a few hours (might need to reapply on long days, tube is the size of lipstick, so easy to carry around).
posted by travelwithcats at 3:30 PM on April 4, 2014

And by positioning I mean, I get the cushions that are about 1/3 of an inch thick, and put them a little lower, so that they touch the lower part of your heel, and the top edge of the shoe (which usually causes the blisters) doesn't touch your foot at all.

Also, reading your post, my first thought was "this person is buying the wrong size." Maybe you need only extra wide shoes, or try a reay different size?
posted by catatethebird at 3:35 PM on April 4, 2014

I have similar issues + more oddly-shaped feet. For pumps, I've found that Born shoes work extremely well. Otherwise, I generally wear either boots or SAS dress sandals.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:55 PM on April 4, 2014

You don't mention what style of shoe you are getting. Have you tried shoes with a strap at the ankle or or instep, like a mary jane, to hold your foot steady? I have a foot of average width but very narrow ankles and heels, and a high instep, so I can't wear any kind of pump-type shoe at all--my heel just pops out. Blister city. Straps help with that.

The other type of shoe that I have found surprisingly comfortable are those elastic ballet flats, the kind that curl up when you take them off. The elastic makes them fit a wider variety of foot shape, I suppose. (They give no arch support and are terrible for the back, but they don't give me blisters.) Maybe some other style of shoe made of elastic? I don't know if this is dressy enough for you.

Those silicone heel pads have helped in some shoes that still rub me wrong. They serve three functions: they make the shoe narrower where my foot is narrowest which holds it more steady; they are smoother than leather, so any movement my heel does make doesn't cause a blister; and they are soft and padded so they keep the edges from digging in.
posted by looli at 3:57 PM on April 4, 2014

Looli, what brand are those ballet flats? Those looking amazingly comfortable.
posted by fshgrl at 4:08 PM on April 4, 2014

Beyond band-aids and moleskin, perhaps something that cradles your whole heel to create a buffer -- like these heel cushions, or these heel cups.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:13 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have blister-prone, wide feet with low arches. I almost exclusively wear the Napa flat by Softwalk. They are the most comfortable flats I have ever worn. You can get them cheaper if you shop around.

Before I found the Napa flat, I used to wear the Claire scrunch flat by Dexflex. They're not as comfortable, but they aren't bad. David Tate shoes are okay too; I always had to order one width up though (extra-wide, rather than wide).
posted by topoisomerase at 4:13 PM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to address the size thing, it's possible but I really don't think the size is the problem - when nearby sizes are available I've tried on 8 and 8w(rarely go on), 8.5 (go on but usually too tight in all directions), 9.5 (they almost never have these, but usually my heels are slipping out of them), 9w generally fit about the same as 9, and I literally walk right out of 10's. 9 seems to be the best fit both lengthwise and width-wise. I'll keep my eye open for more 9.5's and 9w's to try, although I don't see them much. Are dress shoes supposed to fit differently from casual shoes? I'm very solidly a 9 in casual shoes - both 8 and 10 are usually unwearable.

For added difficulty, I should mention that my toes kinda point up/are "tall" at the ends so a short toe space is painful, and my feet are too wide to tolerate most/all? pointy-toe shoes. I can usually find shoes that avoid both of these problems, though. It's just the stupid heel thing that I can't seem to avoid.

re: other questions:

-I have tried thrift stores, actually most of the shoes I wear end up being the thrifted ones, probably because they are broken in already. The selection is terrible though and they still hurt.

-I haven't tried the strap thing on regular dress shoes (just sandals) but that's a really good idea. I'm not a huge fan of the Mary Jane look but if I can walk in them and can't find a prettier option I can suck it up.

-I've tried a few different stick-on heel pads without much luck, not the silicone ones though. I haven't seen anything like the heel cups before - I'm intrigued, although they don't cover the part that's actually blistering (that's higher, around the edge of the shoe).

-I tried the bandaid blister-protection stick a couple times but it didn't seem to do anything at all. When I put the moleskin/bandaids on my feet, if it doesn't fall off my feet will still happily blister underneath it.

-I haven't tried walking around much in the elastic ballet flats because they're instantly uncomfortable in other ways (so flimsy), but I could maybe give them another shot.

-free return shipping is hard to find in Canada but sure if anyone knows of a site that offers it, I'm game. Zappos doesn't ship to Canada at all unfortunately.

-thanks for all the brand (and style) suggestions! I'll make a list and try to find some the next time I go shoe shopping.
posted by randomnity at 4:50 PM on April 4, 2014

It looks like you've got lots of good specific recommendations, but I wanted to drop a link in to Barking Dog Shoes, which is a blog devoted entirely to comfortable women's shoes. There's lots of posts about various specific issues, so there's probably a lot of good ideas there if you don't find what you're looking for here.
posted by duien at 5:11 PM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

The most comfortable pair of office shoes I ever had was a nice pair of men's black penny loafers. They honestly didn't look like men's shoes on me, but there was so much more toe room than in your average ladies' shoe, and they were much more solidly built for something of the same price.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:18 PM on April 4, 2014

I have this problem, too, and solve it by wearing dressy or moderately dressy sandals as often as possible. There's fewer points in contact with my foot, so there's fewer opportunities for blister or discomfort, and they look good with dresses/skirts and dress pants, too. But I get that this might not be feasible for you for much of the year since you're in Canada, or for the rest of the year, either, if your work environment precludes open-toed shoes.

Born, Camper, and Ecco all have dressy, relatively comfortable shoes (and sandals). In fact, the dressiest and least-uncomfortable shoes I've worn in recent memory are these Ecco wedge pumps. I know you said not-clunky, but they don't really look clunky on--in fact from the front they look like a normal dress pump, they're just a lot easier to walk in! I have pretty high arches so I did have to add Superfeet insoles (the ones designed for women's dress shoes) for arch support, but once I did that (and secured the insoles to the shoes so they wouldn't slip), I was able to comfortably walk around in them all night. My feet were a little sore afterward, but not raw or blistered like they usually are after a night of wearing dress shoes.

Do you have REI there? The ones here actually carry a good selection of dressy-but-comfortable shoes (in the above-mentioned brands and more) in addition to hiking boots and running shoes, and they have an excellent return policy for if you get them home and realize a couple days later they're just not working out.
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:50 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you just haven't found the right pair yet. I also have up pointy toes and that does really affect dress shoe fit- more for flats that heels I have found. Clarks in general are good, but I have tried some that were terrible. I think you should try these: Miz Mooz flat Mary Janes; Miz Mooz low pump; Clarks flats; Clarks flats Mary Jane (sort of granny looking- but worth a try); Ecco shoe/booty; Ecco wedge; Rockport ballet flat.

Also, I do think you need to order a bunch online and not rely on in store stock. There is a much vaster selection online.
posted by sulaine at 5:57 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a slightly different suggestion. Last year I bought Miz Mooz flats almost identical to the ones linked right above, and I was super sad to discover that even though they were cut well, the leather gave me blisters. I googled like crazy, and found the suggestion to use baseball glove oil to massage the shoe leather and break it in. I went through most of a bottle of oil, and spent most of an evening rubbing and bending those flats, but by golly, by the next day, they were brilliantly soft and comfortable, and some time later I wore them for more than 25 miles hiking around NYC in a single day. So now I keep a bottle of baseball glove oil in stock, and try to only buy leather shoes that look like they will stand up to being broken in really well. I've even used it on suede shoes, which darkened the color somewhat, but did not make them unwearable. Obviously, use your own judgement, test somewhere inconspicuous, and YMMV, but it's been a life saver for me.
posted by instamatic at 6:28 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen Josef Seibel shoes mentioned, so I'll go for it. They used to be sold at the Walking Company, but perhaps no longer. Mine are quite comfortable and super durable as everyday shoes. I get compliments on mine, but they may be a little on the menswear side of things. The closest I found were these.
posted by FiveSecondRule at 7:02 PM on April 4, 2014

You may have skipped right over Danskos because they mostly have clogs, but there are a handful of dressier models that look more like regular shoes, so it could be worth checking out whether any of them fit your style.
posted by ktkt at 8:14 PM on April 4, 2014

I've tried a lot of comfort brands and ECCO is the only brand where I've never had to go through even a bit of a break-in phase.

ShoeMe has free shipping and returns within Canada. They have ECCO and other brands.

Also, please check your MeFi mail.
posted by (alice) at 9:10 PM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I inherited this pair of black leather Aerosole ballet flats from my mother and they are the most comfortable slightly dressy/work appropriate shoe I've ever had. I usually kick off my shoes immediately upon getting home but these are so comfy I have, several times now, continued to wear them around the house without even realizing it. I can't find the exact version online but they are technically "what's what by Aerosoles" which I believe may be a slightly cheaper line they sell at DSW or Famous Footwear or something. At first I was a little worried they looked too orthopedic/old lady but they have really grown on me looks-wise.

Here they are (I think) in a gray felt-type version.

Here's another version of an Aerosole ballet flat, I believe these are slightly different

And here's a similar version with perforations which might help feet cool to avoid sweat/heat-caused blisters.

Also, a blister tip I heard once but have never tried is: rub Vaseline on your heel or anywhere the shoe rubs. This will cut down the friction which causes blisters and could be reapplied throughout the day. Same concept as the anti-chafe balm they sell to long-distance runners for their thighs or what have you.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:42 AM on April 5, 2014

I avoid any shoes with a high back to the heal and always bend the heal of new shoes inward and then back a few times to break them in. This has really helped on avoiding blisters.
posted by stray thoughts at 1:42 PM on April 5, 2014

My feet are very similar, wide ish, flat-ish arches, and nearly all "comfortable"flats cut the hell out of my heels. I have permanent scarring from years of blisters and tend to default to boots in winter and sandals in summer. But I discovered that any kind of structured heel cup cuts into my skin and leaves angry red marks, blood and blisters. Those elastic ballet flats are the WORST!

So now I look for does that have minimal structuring in the heel. My go to for decent dressy to somewhat dressy flats are French soles fs/ny ballet flats, bought a half size to size larger. You may need to stretch the leather at the heel out a touch if they cup in at all (depends on the color). They are minimal in structure, but honestly the arch support in other shoes for me is moot if I can't take a step because of the evil heels.

The other shoes that work brilliantly? Toms. Hear me out on this: the regular style is perfect for the heels but not at all dressy. But the ballet flats in either fabric or suede is awesome. Slightly more structure to the shoe, but none in the heels. Perfect.
posted by kumquatmay at 8:32 PM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you say more about what sneakers you find comfortable? From Converse All-Stars to tennis shoes to all out running shoes, there's a huge range there.
posted by at at 1:48 PM on April 7, 2014

Response by poster: Can you say more about what sneakers you find comfortable? From Converse All-Stars to tennis shoes to all out running shoes, there's a huge range there.

The best in general are Sketchers and Nike. My current shoes are Sketchers that look just like these ones and they're awesome, like walking on air. I found I needed to add an insole when wearing them all day because they aren't very supportive, but I bought them even though I found them hideous (I've warmed up to them since) because they were so immediately comfortable when I put them on.

The Nike ones were about as close as I get to running shoes, can't find a picture but they looked vaguely similar to these or these, i.e. supportive like a running shoe without looking like one. I also like my vans although they're a bit too narrow for me so my baby toe rubs, and they also feel too tight across the top. I think my shoes always have a lot of padding around the heel, with the notable exception of the sketchers.

Converse and pumas I didn't like (sadly, because I love the look of basic pumas), don't really remember why but I think they felt too flat and unstructured, maybe too narrow too. Maybe I'd like them with an insole but haven't tried that.
posted by randomnity at 2:37 PM on April 7, 2014

Skechers has a few models that might do, for example:

These Umberto Raffini might do:
posted by at at 5:49 AM on April 8, 2014

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