Flats for a wardrobe upgrade
August 3, 2014 10:27 PM   Subscribe

I have a new, grown-up job and would like to upgrade my shoes accordingly. It's turning out to be more difficult than I expected. I'm looking for recommendations of brands, brick-and-mortar stores (east coast US city), and online places to shop. Details inside.

By way of background: I like clothes and style and I enjoy shopping, in general. I'm working on turning my current favorite outfits into a pseudo-capsule wardrobe involving lots of pencil skirts, sheath dresses, straight-legged slacks, feminine blouses, etc., often with a bit of vintage flavor. I don't work in a corporate setting, and in fact could probably get away with jeans, but as a matter of my own taste and self-presentation I'm aiming to look polished, stylish, professional, and feminine. Shoes have always been my Achille's heel, style-wise (no pun intended).

So here's the shoe problem: I LOVE heels, aesthetically. I own many sexy going-out heels and can walk well enough in them. Everything else about my style points to pumps. But I just CANNOT do it. Five minutes into a work day wearing heels and I want to rip someone's head off while growling about the evils of the patriarchy. It just makes me so very, very grumpy. I'm coming to terms with the fact that I need several pairs of flats that will fit in with the themes of "polished, stylish, professional, feminine." I like ballet flats a lot and will keep wearing them casually, but I think most of them don't quite rise to the level of professional grown-up-hood that I'm aiming for.

I'm ready to spend $100-200 on flats, so I'm looking for a cut above the Steve Madden tier in terms of quality. But I don't quite have it in me to spend $300-400, so something like Stuart Weitzman is mostly out of range (sadly). This Cole Haan skimmer is right on target in both budget and style, and I'll probably buy a pair. But I feel like it's one of the very few good options I've seen, and the reviews seem kind of mediocre.

I've been trawling threads here on women's shoes, but not getting as far as I'd hoped. I have no particular foot problems or special shoe needs, besides my need to not wear heels. Indeed, if a shoe looks like it has any kind of orthotic merits, I will probably not like it. I'm a pretty normal women's 8.5. Up to an inch heel or so, if it's a very wide flat heel like on a loafer, is manageable. I do not necessarily need shoes that will last me a lifetime, I just want them to last maybe a couple years.

Is this type/tier of shoe so uncommon? What am I missing? What should my reliable go-to brands be, and where can I find them?

To help narrow it down, especially given common recommendations on the past threads I've read, here are some things I don't like, or do like but don't want right now:
  • off-the-wall fanciful shoes like Fluevogs, Chie Miharas, Cydwoqs
  • playfully vintage-girly shoes like at ModCloth or Liebling
  • overly high vamps
  • shoes that my mother would think looked both practical and stylish, like Mephistos, Clarks, or Borns (for example, I really hate shoes like this)
  • open toes
posted by ootandaboot to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
They're logotastic but it sounds like you're looking for Tory Burch flats - especially when they're on sale.

I'm not a big LOGO-LOGO-LOGO person, but they are ridiculously comfy.
posted by 26.2 at 10:46 PM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is a tough one. I'm in (almost-- I work in a bank so I may be a bit more conservative than you) the same boat and there are a few brands that work for me. They're both 'comfort' shoe brands but they have some totally unobjectionable (and dare I even say cute in some cases...) offerings:

1. Geox. I have these in two colors. Geox generally come out with a reliably acceptable pair every season and I top up once or twice a year. They're also very hard wearing in my experience and comfy.

2. Ecco. I don't love that they've put out this season but there's generally a pair or two that suit this purpose. They have a line of low-ish heels that have kiiind of a Jil Sander vibe (if you squint) that are comfy and look great with a fuller skirt.

Kate Spade can be ok for this price point/ purpose but I don't think the quality is as good as the above two.

Corporette posts good shoe options at this price point sometimes fyi. Also Capitol Hill Style.
posted by hellomiss at 11:01 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also thought of Tory Burch as well as Franco Sarto. I've found Tory Burch flats at Nordstrom Rack in their designer section, which takes the sting out of the price. And, not all of them have that enormous logo. Cole Haan also does some designs in collaboration with Nike. You can't tell by appearance, but they're super cushioned and comfy, even the heeled ones. They're worth checking if you're looking for stylish comfort.
posted by quince at 11:01 PM on August 3, 2014

I love Sam Edelman's Felicia ballet flats. I have a pair of the black leather ones and I'm planning on buying three other pairs in different colors. I've cheated with other ballet flats, including Coach's, and none of them are nearly as comfortable.
posted by so much modern time at 11:05 PM on August 3, 2014

By high vamps do you mean high throats? I hate those too. I have these—they're Borns but they don't look it.
posted by clavicle at 11:44 PM on August 3, 2014

How do you feel about wedges? The one I linked comes in several colors. I hate heels, but I find I can wear wedges for hours. And on me, they are just as comfortable as flats.

The problem with round-toed ballerina flats is they can look a little princessy and flimsy unless you hit that sweet spot with color and/or structure. They can totally undermine an otherwise professional outfit and demeanor.

I love the pointy-toed Cole Haans you picked out, and I'd buy a couple different colors. Nine West usually has something like them every season, too, for a bit less. These strappy Ivanka Trumps take the mimsy ballet flat style to a black swan kinda place.
posted by mochapickle at 11:55 PM on August 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've got this!!

For flats, I've gotten every great shoe from the discount section of the discount type warehouse style store in my hood. Why? I think that classic while modern type flats that are well made come from Europe. Nobody in the US outside of tiny niche markets wants that style, so large quantities end up on discount.

For a heel that is comfortable, let me recommend 2 things - any upscale pump with a quarter inch platform (so, very slight) or a similarly slightly platform 40's round toed & ankle strapped Mary Jane.

Try eBay for past season Prada's or TOD'S.
posted by jbenben at 12:29 AM on August 4, 2014

I agree with mochapickle; I think a wedge might be your best bet. Like you, I can't do actual pumps due to pain, but I usually don't have problems with wedges or wedge/pump combos. They are actually friendlier to your feet than a ballet flat (my podiatrist told me that flat flats cause as many--if not more--problems as heels) and are a bit more dressy.

While I don't own these, I've seem them in the store, and I think they are more attractive than they appear online. Most of the Jcrew shoes are made in Italy and seem to be good quality.

Something like this United Nude pump/wedge might also work.

These are closer to actual flats and would work in warmish to coolish weather.

I wish I had some vegan recommendations; I know I've seen some cute non-leather flats, but my Google-fu is failing me and I should really be going to bed instead of looking at shoes!
posted by girl flaneur at 12:40 AM on August 4, 2014

My favorite flats are from Seychelles and Sam Edelman at the under $100 range, and Butter in the next price range. I only wear flats, and the best way to make them feel as fun as heels is to use different materials and colors. Look for patent leather, prints, etc. I also like a low, subtle wedge.

Above your price range but can be found on sale are Loeffler-Randalls.

For fall, definitely look into oxfords and loafers too!
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:02 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Kate Spade does dressier flats that are reasonably comfortable. These, for example.

I also hate heels at work and do a lot of wedges. Cole Haan usually has a nice classic patent wedge each season and Tory Burch does nice ones. I am not into coach generally, but occasionally they do a nice flat or wedge.

I would also recommend a shorter heel for work and you might be ok. It's hard to find heels at or under 2" but that is my point between pain and reasonable comfort.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:36 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh- I haven't bought shoes at Banana Republic for a while, but at one point I had several great gold, purple, snakeskin etc. flats from BR that were both comfortable and a little dressier. Patterns and color are definitely a good way to go for flats to add interest.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:39 AM on August 4, 2014

Bloch Flats are hands down the most comfortable flats in the universe. I call them my work slippers.
posted by larthegreat at 4:44 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I also agree that maybe a low wedge is your answer. I spend a lot of time on my feet and my go-to work shoe is the Cole Haan Air Tali wedge, which comes in many colors/styles. They are surprisingly comfortable (that Nike technology appears to actually work) and feel very stable.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:49 AM on August 4, 2014

Camper makes a few dressy flats that may fit the bill, if you don't find them too practical-looking. I suppose one of the things that potentially sinks those is the round toe, but I have a terrible time with pointy toes like those Cole Haans. YMMV.
posted by hollyholly at 6:51 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

These look nice.
posted by steinwald at 7:19 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

frye ballet

There's a Mary Jane version too. And wedges.
posted by LaunchBox at 7:37 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you been to DSW or something similar yet? They should have a wide selection of polished-looking flats for work, and usually have at least some that are higher quality than something like Steve Madden. I love Frye ballet shoes, but it sounds like you have the ballet shoes covered.

I also have a more unusual suggestion, just because I was thinking about finding truly long-lasting shoes the other day. It might not be feminine enough for you, but I was looking at Allen Edmonds, since it seems like there aren't really equivalent shoes for women. In the clearance section, they have a few styles that I feel could look fairly unisex, and they're beautifully made. This loafer, for example, or some oxfords, or some driving shoes? I love wearing heels, but I'm thinking of getting a pair of these because they're so well made.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:03 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had good luck with Sofft for heels I can stand in for hours. And with Munro for flats. Both brands have a lot of stodgy more 'mature' styles you have to comb through to find what works for your style. I also bought a pair of pikolinos pumps last year that I've been really happy with but I didn't have to do any standing in them. At the time they had some cute oxford, etc. but I didn't need flats.
posted by snowymorninblues at 9:30 AM on August 4, 2014

I've bought pointy flats from J. Crew and from Charles and Keith. Example, example. The J. Crew ones have held up better, but it doesn't sound like you have unrealistic expectations when it comes to lifespan, so I think you'd be ok with either brand.
posted by slenderloris at 9:40 AM on August 4, 2014

I can't wear regular high heels either but I can RUN in Franco Sarto wedges. These are super cute, and Zappos has lots more.
posted by jabes at 12:39 PM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Madewell makes some nice flats and surprisingly elegant loafers-- I got a pair (of the Teddy loafer in a different color) on sale at the beginning of the spring and they've held up quite well. These are quite elegant, as are these and these.
posted by dizziest at 7:19 PM on August 4, 2014

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