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Flats or High Heels? Investigating shoes that are both comfortable and stylish


Sparked by a recent Guardian article about the stealth resurgence of ‘sensible’ shoes from Clarks, I started thinking about flats and heels. I personally almost never wear heels and haven’t done so for about 5 years. I own a couple of pairs of delicious high heeled boots, but they’re really more for looking at than actually wearing – I haven’t worn either pair for at least a year, probably longer. While I completely appreciate the beauty and power of high heels I just can’t walk in them very well and am not really prepared to put the time and pain in to get better at it. I also value being able to walk or cycle long distances and being able to move quickly that I get from flats – because even my most experienced heel wearing girl friends end up wanting to get taxis everywhere.

I’ve noticed that over the years, heels have becoming higher and higher and what I call ‘stripper shoes’ (with a platform in the front and stiletto heels) are now common place. What used to be classed as high heels when I still used to wear them fairly regularly (6-7 years ago!) are now described as mid-heel in many places. It’s a strange development and highlights the disconnection between what the magazines and designers tell us to wear and what we actually wear, resulting in what the guardian calls a ‘collective act of fashion disobedience’. Because almost all of us (in my social circle at least) continue to wear flats and (proper) mid-heel shoes about 90% of the time, and save the heels for going out or formal events.

But it really is true that the selection on offer is extremely limited, at least in comparison to the wealth of choices available for high heels. For example, out of the hundred pages of shoes listed on polyvore, the vast majority are high heels. So in the spirit of discovery I searched for those flat shoes that did exist and selected some favourites in four categories that are hopefully both comfortable and stylish. The categories are: ballet flats, neutral boots, colourful boots, work shoes and what i’ve called ‘funky oddball shoes’.

First up, ballet flats. These are of course everywhere. I own five pairs, strangely all from New Look, some via the charity shops, in blue, red, yellow, gold and silver. The paper thin soles do bother me a bit though but they’re undeniably cute and functional.

ballet flats

This is what I’ve called work shoes. Flat shoes, not boots, in muted colours, suitable to be worn to a corporate workplace. This is the area most lacking I feel, and the danger of slipping into frumpy Clarks territory is always there.

work shoes

Colourful boots. This is what I’d like to see more of for obvious reasons. The fact that there’s two pairs of wellies in there is telling. I am quite enamoured with the dove blue vintage boots (second from right in bottom row).

colourful boots

Here’s the neutral boots section. Plenty out there, but they all look strangely similar don’t they? I guess that’s why they’re neutral. I own two pairs of black boots myself.

neutral boots

Finally, my favourite section, funky oddball shoes. I know, I know, not a great name! Basically anything that is a bit colourful, a bit fun, a bit funky, and definitely not boring. I’d love to own them all!

colourful flats

Are you a high heel girl or an a flats afficionado like me? Do you value either comfort or style over the other or do you think they can be reconciled?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mars 25 October 2009, 6:16 pm

    what a great post! i totally am with you on this dilemma :/ for me, heels are like art or something haha y'know, pretty to look at but not very functional. for me, a shoe's just gotta be comfortable! limping/grimacing is pretty awkward, i think!

  • Nicola 25 October 2009, 6:26 pm

    I just stumbled upon your blog and thought it was cool to find someone else interested in fashion blogs who lives in the uk AND who is a social researcher – i am not but hope to be one day. (:

    Anyway, nice blog.

  • ana b. 25 October 2009, 7:36 pm

    This is a really interesting post. And I often wonder how terrible my feet will be later on in life. I've been to a podiatrist and have been told I need orthotics (not because of high heels but because of sports). I try to do most of my walking in cute flats with a good sole rather than those paper thin ones because they often hurt my feet just as badly as heels. And then I switch into high high heels at work when I'm doing limited walking and lots of sitting. I think you have to find the balance between being sensible and having fun with fashion, right? I'm so short I feel as if heels give me an extra edge, if only in my perceptions!

    Such a long comment 🙂

  • aDeLiNe 25 October 2009, 9:30 pm

    Oh my god the very first pair (green with bows), are they yours? They're soooo cute!!!

  • Lemondrop Marie 26 October 2009, 3:02 am

    What an amazingly thorough post, you rock! I was once a flats only girl, but Clarks is one shoe maker that has given me a couple of pairs of awesome heels with comfort! But it is hard to tear me away from a cute and comfy ballet flat.

  • Andi B. Goode 26 October 2009, 6:26 am

    'High' heel girl. My highest heels are 4" and I've been known to go shopping in them (not stiletto heels, though). I'm only 5'3 so I like a bit of extra height. It does depend on the outfit – some of my clothes need flats. I don't really like ballet flats on me – I feel like I have 'cankles' when I wear them. ;] It's hard to find a lot of nice shoes that go with my look, though, because I don't wear leather.
    -Andi x

  • Oranges And Apples 26 October 2009, 8:29 am

    Thanks for all the comments, I love to hear others stories!

    Adline, yes, those bow shoes are mine. they're from topshop and super cute, but of the distinctly paper-thin sole variety!

  • Eyeliah 26 October 2009, 9:54 pm

    I wear flats, but that came about not by personal choice, I had a knee injury. Beauitful set of shoes here, I'm drooling.

  • hillary 26 October 2009, 11:07 pm

    I didn't really wear heels until this past year. I now prefer a heel over a flat BUT comfort is key for me. I ADORE clarks and cole haan with nike air in them. I am short and I don't like to hem everything or feel short. Also I can't see over the cube walls at work with flats on but all my coworkers can.

    Your shoes in the pic are ADORABLE

  • Diana 27 October 2009, 2:15 am

    I used to wear high heels for years. I had a job during school where I had to stand for almost 8 hours a day, sometimes longer, so my feet became resistant but recently I went walking in heels (it became such a part of my wardrobe, my feet never felt it) but this day, the same heels i've worn for months, suddenly were painful and ever since then, i haven'tworn them but so tempted to.

  • IdStyle 28 October 2009, 5:01 pm

    I am a slave to comfort, however I like my fashion too and there is always something odd about flats for me, they just never seem to look right on me. But I also cannot manage to wear heels all day long either. I tend to wear a lot of boots with small heels or low wedge heels, they seem to be comfortable, stylish and they manage to suit me better than most flats.

  • Emily Wilkes 29 October 2009, 1:09 am

    I'm all for comfy flats, but being a shorter stature, I like to change it up every now and then and wear a pair of heels. I don't like to wear big chunky heels, just something that gives me an extra inch or two.

  • elle s'ennuie 29 October 2009, 12:50 pm

    I'm the same as you with flats and heels, and 2-inch heels are the most I can do with comfort (I have this supersweet pair by Hush Puppies, with soft padded soles, that I used to wear at work, and they rock!). Seems that 3 inches is the typical mid-heel these days!
    I only use public transport, so wherever I go, there's at least -some- walking involved, plus really, I like to just wander around on foot for no purpose as well. I have about 3-4 pairs of heeled shoes/boots, but they get -very- little wear.
    I'm only 5'2, but I don't mind at all! And I also have the kind of calves that would look -much- better with heels than flats, but so f****** what. 😛

  • ko0ty 30 October 2009, 8:22 pm

    Great post! I'm a flats + "mid" heel girl. I'm already too tall (as in WAY taller than almost everyone I chill with often + boyfriend) so I don't like wearing anything over 3". I have " heels but I rarely wear them.

  • m. 4 November 2009, 10:51 pm

    I'm a flats girl too; working or walking in heels is just too brutal. I love the look of heels but not the pain.

  • MrJeffery 12 March 2010, 6:13 pm

    i love that first pic! i think flats are cool. no one wears them better than michelle obama! peace.

  • Jacks 1 June 2013, 4:38 am

    What about funky oddball heels? Like those cute shoes in your picture with a 6 inch heel. That would be sweet! Flats can be cute and are better for you (sensible) but there’s nothing like a sexy heel. And don’t leave out those of us with large feet.
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