The endless search for comfortable work flats

Deena Shanker

BLOOMBERG – Climbing the male-dominated corporate ladder is hard enough on its own. It’s even worse in bad shoes.

If you are a woman who works, chances are you have struggled with footwear. Maybe you’ve commuted in one pair and then changed into another when you got to your desk.

Maybe, over the years, you’ve built a collection of not just shoes, but also tiny socks of different shapes and sizes-socks that barely cover your toes, that aren’t supposed to peek out of your shoes but inevitably do.

Maybe you’ve stared at the feet of the women you see on the subway or in your office and wondered, “Did she actually walk here in those shoes?”

Maybe you, like me, have actually stopped several of these women to ask them that question, and if the answer is, “Yes, these are comfortable enough to walk in and they look good with my professional attire,” followed up with another inquiry, “Who makes them? Would you spell that, please?”

Women looking for the right pair have no shortage of options. So what brand is doing it best?

There is no single answer. While some women are willing to go through the pain of breaking in a pair of Everlane Day Gloves, others don’t have the patience.

Bloomberg spoke, emailed, and DMed on Twitter with dozens of women, including fashion experts, lawyers, journalists, and an array of other professionals.

There were few consensus items, but plenty of passion. Here are some in three broad categories that get rave reviews.

The Ballerina

There is a reason that Chanel flats have been so ubiquitous for so long. No one style comes more roundly recommended than the lambskin. The supple leather makes them comfortable right away, without the dreaded rubbing that can happen with the fashion house’s other styles and leathers.

If the rounded toe shape isn’t your style, try the pointier-toed flats, recommended by Marina Larroude, Vice President and Fashion Director at Barneys New York. “The mesh of the ballerina is very soft in the feet, super comfortable, and light,” she said.

The Loafer

No shoe quite says “ready for business” as a loafer does. The classic Gucci menswear style is recommended by Erica Russo, Vice President and Fashion Director of accessories and beauty at Bloomingdale’s. “I love this style because the leather will give over time, making this a great fit,” she explained. Every Gucci loafer-wearing woman that Bloomberg spoke with praises its immediate comfort as well.

The Clog

Clogs are not always flats, but they are comfortable enough to have migrated from nurse wear to streetwear and stayed put for some years. They are not suited for long walks, said Adam Farber, owner of comfort-focussed, independent shoe store Mark Adrian Shoes in Gloucester, Massachusetts, but they are a good choice for anyone who logs many hours on their feet.

The Secret to Finding the Right Fit

When it comes to shoes, many women don’t realise that, as with the rest of their bodies, sizes can shift.

“Feet change over time; they get larger, wider, and longer,” Farber said. “It’s really important not to be married to a number.” That means that even a shoe that fits one year might not work the next.

“People are constantly fitting themselves incorrectly, and the fit is almost as important as the structure of the shoe itself,” he continued, recommending that shoppers get fitted by an expert and try everything on as much as possible.

Nordstrom’s Bellman agrees, “It’s important to know the shape of your arch and work with a certified shoe fitter to identify the best support for your foot.

Foot pain often comes from improper arch support, but there are many shoes available that provide architectural arch support technology that alleviates discomfort. Lastly, a flexible sole will encourage proper movement and gait.”

The right fit means that there should be a thumbnail’s worth of space between your toe and the front of the shoe, felt by someone else, said Farber. A snug fit is not the goal.

For those logging the most miles, a slip-on flat is not the right choice. “You want a ‘seatbelt’, something that’s going to keep the shoe on your foot so you’re not scrunching your toes up to keep the shoe on,” he said. That can cause heel pain known as plantar fasciitis.”

In addition, he cautions, even the best shoes aren’t necessarily perfect for you right out of the box. Farber said a good shoe can take as much as a week to break in. Start with an hour on day one, two or three hours on day two, and so on.