Supportive women's shoes that are not ugly?
September 12, 2016 3:43 PM   Subscribe

I was so proud of myself when I stopped wearing high heels daily. Apparently, that's not enough. Ideas for brands or styles of women's shoes that are (i) office appropriate, (ii) supportive, and (iii) not ugly?

I used to walk to work in high heels. Then I switched to ballerina flats, thinking that would be smarter. Apparently NOT because I'm having more problems with my feet now. I assumed it was due to age (56) but my primary care physician recently told me that I should consider shoes with more support.

I've got a couple of pairs of ECCO brand, and generally like them but they are totally hit and miss -- one pair will be comfy and the next will hurt like HAIL, and it's hard to find good looking ones. I have one pair of Merrill shoes that I can wear to the office and a couple of pairs that are butt ugly. I feel like I don't know where to turn.

C'mon you guys, I know you have the answer to my problem!
posted by janey47 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (32 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Someone here suggested Cobb Hill shoes. I wear them with the usual store bought supportive inserts.
posted by tilde at 3:48 PM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Naot has both ugly and non-ugly shoes. The soles are fantastic and the footbeds are replaceable.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:48 PM on September 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Born makes some very comfortable shoes too, and most of them are quite attractive. In my experience almost all of the pairs are comfortable and supportive, but a few pairs I've tried on are less so (generally the flat sandals), so probably best to try on and walk around the store a few times before buying.
posted by ClaireBear at 3:51 PM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think it sounds like you need shoes which are totally flat (zero drop in trainer parlance). If you look for a cushioned sole, zero drop between heel and toe and a wide toe box (sometimes I get this by buying a half size up) then it should solve a lot of problems. ECCO, El Naturalista, Camper, Clarks and are all good brands which have these features on many of their shoes but you will still have to try them on to be sure. Birkenstock are the only safe shoes for me, but you can't wear them everywhere, unfortunately. My other shoe tip is - change your shoes up a lot, don't wear the same pair two days in a row.
posted by stevedawg at 3:52 PM on September 12, 2016

I like Ziera. Evidently, I talk about them here a lot. (Links go to other askme threads that may be useful in your search).
posted by nat at 3:53 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've asked several questions along these lines (mine's trickier because I want men's-styled shoes in women's sizes) and the solution I arrived at was getting custom orthotics made. It is AMAZING, you can basically wear any shoes and instantly make them comfy and supportive.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 3:54 PM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I need a wide toe box and arch support for high arches, and was also told to stop wearing ballet flats after I gave up heels. I've had a lot of success with Danskos; I have several of the professional clogs like you've seen that I love, but they also make really comfortable booties (that are ADORABLE on, I get so many compliments and you can wear them with skinny jeans or skirts/dresses and tights) and cute, supportive sandals. They are considered office-appropriate and even chic in my academic setting in the Pac NW; not sure if they will work for you.

There's also this Barking Dog Shoes website that reviews supportive shoes; I usually just buy based on customer reviews from Amazon or Zappos but I've heard good things from others about that site.
posted by stellaluna at 3:54 PM on September 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

I also second the recommendation for Naot, although in my experience they seem to work best for narrower feet. Especially for wider feet, I can also highly highly recommend Think! shoes, which are Austrian, very well made, and extremely comfortable (although pricey). They have leather-covered cork insoles (like Birkenstock or Naot), and the best thing is that you can buy new insoles, so you can get new ones when they wear out rather than having to buy another pair of shoes. You can also remove the cork/leather insoles and substitute custom orthotics, if you prefer (i.e. the shoes are made deep enough to accommodate orthotics, since they are designed for deep insoles). Some of their styles look somewhat funky, but others are very office-appropriate. You can get them at Zappos, or older styles at 6pm on sale. The low heels are super comfortable (and, depending on your feet, may actually be better for you than flats or zero drop shoes, as I understand it).
posted by ClaireBear at 3:56 PM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding Clarks and I've also had decent success with finding cute Dr Scholl's flats and Naturalizer sandals.
posted by angelchrys at 4:05 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really like Cole Haan wedges, which are very supportive and have a low heel (1.5"). I probably wouldn't walk to work in them though.

Seconding Cobb Hill, Sofft and Naot. I also like Arche and Mephisto shoes, although those tend to be more expensive.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:06 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just discovered the Walking Company. They have all sorts of cute shoes, both with and without heels, closed and open toed, with orthotics (Abeo is the name) made inside the footbed. They have brick and mortar stores which is a plus if you want to try them on before you order online. I have very angry feet and I'm able to wear their sandals every day.

I love ballet flats, but my feet get all kinds of messed up with them (toe & instep cramping), so they're kind of out for me. I believe the Walking Company may have some flats in the Abeo line, but I'm not 100% sure.

Other brands that are good are Aetrex and Aravons. A little clunky, but both can accommodate orthotics. If you have narrow feet, try Vionics.

I always recommend the Podiatry Shoe Review blog, it's really great and she gives a lot of suggestions. She has recommended some really cute ankle boots and calf-high boots in the past (2014? 2015?) so I'd check that out if you're looking for those.

I'd also recommend going with Zappos and using the "orthotic-friendly" tag in your search. I buy a bunch of shoes at once, like 2 or 3 pairs in multiple sizes, and return whatever doesn't fit. The one or two that fit I baby until they wear out on me, and then I've only had to shop once. Their returns process is very easy.

If you're on a budget, return ALL of the shoes you buy on Zappos, get your money back from the return, and set an alert on eBay for the pair(s) you're looking for. It's a good way to figure out what fits without chasing all over town or spending a ton of money. There are a surprising number of shoes gently used on eBay that can be easily fixed up at a cobbler's or on your own with a little shoe polish.

Good luck! There are many more out there than you'd think.
posted by onecircleaday at 4:22 PM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Put Birkenstock inserts in your flats, or most any other shoes.
posted by MelissaSimon at 4:30 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fly Londons, Born, and Miss Mooz are all really comfortable.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:30 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Honestly, it's all hit or miss. The fit, the style, what's available in your size. (A lot of people like Clark's, but the footbeds often aren't angled in a great way for pronators [they tend to exaggerate pronation because they're almost totally level]. I love Fly Londons & Miss Mooz, but both are too heavy for my feet. I like 2/10 Joseph Seibel styles for my fairly compromised duck feet for fit, and (usually) a different 2/10 of them for style.)

The real answer is to talk to a foot specialist and get insight into the kinds of shoes that work for your feet. And then go and try a million pairs on with those thoughts in mind. And cross your fingers, every season, that your particular kind of foot will be addressed in a sartorially acceptable way by some designer, somewhere. (If you're in Canada, Soft Moc has ok options sometimes. Otherwise search for "comfort shoe" stores in your area, or stores that are attached to chiropod or podiatrists' clinics.)

I hear your frustration (believe me), but I don't think there's another way.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:04 PM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Office appropriate supportive shoes include Born, Clarks, sometimes Merrell for flats, Clarks, Anne Klein, Mephisto (sometimes), Aerosoles, Earthies (sometimes) Sofft, Softwalks Cole Haan, Easy Spirit etc for heels.

Dansko etc are not really office appropriate in a more traditional office.
posted by fshgrl at 5:10 PM on September 12, 2016

Wolky has both ugly and non-ugly. I have a pair of Rosa's that I get compliments on all the time.

I have wide feet (like e width) and super high arches so I need support and a wide toe box. These work great and I walked all over Japan in them last December with no soreness.
posted by brookeb at 5:31 PM on September 12, 2016

Most of my recommendations have been covered, but I'm in your "shoes" and have had a lot of luck with: Merrell, Clarks, Naot, and Aerosols. You sometimes have to commit to a funkier style than you were previously used to, but the comfort is beyond worth it. And for casual Fridays, Grasshoppers may have a granny-look, but they are ridiculously comfy!
posted by JennyJupiter at 5:51 PM on September 12, 2016

I wore Naturalizer Maude flats for years working on my feet and at desks. Like you, I wanted business appropriate shoes that were flattering to my height and made my feet look smaller, but I couldn't deal with the super flat soles of ballet flats. Even expensive flats won't have support in them, and I just can't do it!

Out of the Naturalizer line, the Maude is one of the more cute and stylish models. It has spongy support and a real insole that's shaped like a human foot. I've bought them in many colors over the years, and (knock on wood) they've never discontinued them or slacked on workmanship/quality.

They're very common at department stores, so you should be able to try them on, or hunt around for sales.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:23 PM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've worn many of the above brands (clarks, merrells) and have also had success with keens and Taos. Fluevogs also can be comfortable but they have small toeboxes and aren't as cushioned.
posted by azalea_chant at 6:45 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Aerosoles has jumped on the trendy-yet-comfy train and they've had a lot of cute styles lately.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:57 PM on September 12, 2016

I'm on my feet all day and have tried A LOT of shoe brands.

Born is one of my favorites. I have a pair of strappy beige platform sandals from them that are insanely comfortable, look unobtrusive but a little dressed up, and look equally good with skirts, slacks or jeans. I wish I'd bought multiple pairs in different colors!

I also really like Sanita clogs. They're supportive, indestructible, come in some really cute or dressy patterns, and look great under jeans or slacks.

If your office is casual enough to let you get away with something more sporty, I love Teva's Mush Mandalyn Wedge. They are basically a dressy flip flop that's just the right mix of supportive and soft, and you can walk forever in them.

I have also seen women rocking Chaco sandals at work and out and about and managing to look cute in them, although I think it helps if your feet are more on the petite side. Their very firm footbed takes some getting used to, but it's the kind of thing that if it works for you, it really works.

I'd definitely recommend trying them on at a shoe store or ordering through Zappos so you can return them easily.
posted by the thought-fox at 7:44 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about boots? My feet need a lot of support and I've found these Merrell boots are super comfortable and look great with pants or dresses. Plus they're waterproof.
posted by lois1950 at 9:48 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

As cotton dress sock kindly points out, different feet have different shapes and needs, so other people's suggestions might not be much help for you.

Support isn't a topic without controversy. Also, unless you have unusually tapered toes, most of the shoes people have listed so far are likely to constrict your forefoot. Also, nearly all of them have at least half an inch of heel elevation. You may be willing to compromise either or both of those things for style, but read Katy Bowman et al and make sure you're doing it consciously.

(Digression: I'm getting over a running injury so I currently need to take all that pretty seriously plus I need more cushioning than usual while I heal up. I'm finding it demoralizingly difficult to find non-ugly shoes that won't make things worse. Birkenstock has a few new ankle boots that look almost presentable; I'm contemplating a pair.)
posted by tangerine at 10:13 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wear Hush Puppies almost exclusively. They have some very plain styles, as well as some with more embellishments, in a lot of colors, and after the first couple of wears to break them in, I've never had an issue.
posted by decathecting at 11:33 PM on September 12, 2016

Tangerine makes good points. Cobble Hill works for me becuase they come in sensible wide widths, can take a sole insert appropriate to my feet, and have ample toe boxes.
posted by tilde at 4:23 AM on September 13, 2016

I think we have the same feet! I have tried many shoes over the years and the Dansko professional works best for me. I also have a pair of La Canadienne ankle boots that work very well. They are pricey but I found an good price on Amazon. It's frustrating because both are very large and clunky looking. I'm still on the hunt for the perfect shoe for work to wear with cigarette pants, so thanks for asking this question.

I've also had some passing luck with Aerosole. I'm about to try two pairs of Munroe's, which look promising. I plan to try some of Dansko's other styles if they don't work.

What does not work for me: Frye, Naturalizer, Clark's, Born, Aetrex, Cole Haan, Coach, Naot. None are wide enough to accommodate my toes.
posted by sockermom at 5:20 AM on September 13, 2016

Do you have somewhere in your office you can stash two or three pairs of office-appropriate shoes? I use the bottom drawer of my office desk drawers to hold three pairs of shoes that I change from time to time (a pair here and there depending on season). I tried to walk to work in office-appropriate non-heel shoes for a year and yeah, no. Hurts. I've since gone back to walking in Birkenstocks in warmer weather, and Merrell zero-drop running shoes in cooler weather. My feet are so much happier.

Merrell running shoes and Birks have wide toe boxes, which makes a big difference. I've been wearing basic Birkenstocks since I was around ten years old, am now 40, and my feet are in great shape. Before Birks came around I would go barefoot most of the time, even on gravel (I was a quirky kid), so my toes are used to being able to splay out and grip when needed. Birks and Merrells let me do that. Birkenstock do make different widths, and trying them on in a knowledgeable store is a definite plus.

Don't be surprised if it takes a bit to get used to walking in Birkenstocks, btw. I use mine as a sort of mobile platform more than as shoes. Like when walking down stairs, my toes will hold the very front part so the sandal is flat while my foot is angled (walking on my toes), thus the sandal hits the stairs flat. As if I were walking down stairs barefoot, but with sandals attached. It's much easier than trying to go the other way around and adapt yourself to the sandals, if that makes sense. Better for your foot too.

Rieker are a great brand for in-office shoes that are pretty good for feet.
posted by fraula at 5:35 AM on September 13, 2016

Comfortiva Softspots has this low-heeled sandal which I love. It does not feel like wearing any kind of heel at all, and when I wear them I forget that I have feet at all.

I know you said you quit heels - I suspect their other shoes may be equally awesome but I haven't tried them yet.
posted by bunderful at 5:44 AM on September 13, 2016

If you take fraula's suggestion to keep shoes in the office and also want to save money, the Comfort Plus line at Payless is relatively inexpensive and in my experience comfortable enough to wear around the office all day.
posted by bunderful at 5:46 AM on September 13, 2016

I've had good luck with Easy Spirit, Clarks, Life Stride and Dr. Scholl's. Crocs are pretty comfortable, too, and come in more styles than the traditional clog-style Croc that everyone makes fun of. My advice is to go to an outlet mall and have a fun afternoon trying on lots and lots of different styles at the various outlet stores for those brands.
posted by jhope71 at 10:10 AM on September 13, 2016

I have lots of special foot and heel problems, and almost all of my daily shoes now for the past few years are from Jambu.

I often walk up to 5 miles outside while working and I get tons of compliments on them no matter what pair I'm wearing, although the older models I have from them are a little more punk than romantic (which seems where they are heading now).

I have narrow (clunky, high arched) feet but get the regular width (see: special problems) so take that as you will- not sure how they'd fit people with low arches and/or wide feet.
posted by stagewhisper at 1:06 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I find Danskos so comfy and so cute. I have these in brown and these in black and basically just alternate between them.
posted by reksb at 1:18 PM on September 19, 2016

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