By Kate Wolfe Maxlow
First of all, four inch heels aren’t for everyone and they’re not necessary to be polished and poised. They have the potential to wreak some serious consequences on your feet, especially if you’re wearing ill-fitting shoes or wearing them too often.
All that being said, many women (myself included) still want to master the high heel as the crowning accessory for that perfect outfit. I commonly hear the misconception, “Oh, I just can’t walk in heels.” Unless you have a physical reason that you can’t, you probably can...you just have to train yourself. No one is born knowing how to walk in four inch heels, and even runway models had to learn at some point. It’s a skill like any other, and can be mastered if you have the time and will.
That being said, there are some ways to make the transition to the high heel safer and easier:
1. Master 1 inch at a time.
If you’ve never worn heels before, you’re not going to magically be able to walk in 4 inch heels tomorrow. If you try, you’re likely to look like you’re clomping up a mountain, or worse, you might break your ankle. You have to learn to walk differently when you wear heels; you’ll swing your hips a bit more and your foot and ankle have to get used to landing and rotating differently. It takes time.
When I went from teaching (where everyone wore flats) to working in central office (where everyone wore heels), I started off with a pair of one-inch heels. The heels were pretty thick in circumference (they might have even been wedges, come to think of it), and I wore those for the first couple of months. After that, I went up to two inch heels, then three inch, and finally the four inch. It was a several-month process. Don’t be in a rush.
2. Buy new heels after you’ve been on your feet all day.
I bought my most comfortable pair of heels on a work trip. I had been presenting and standing on my feet all day in cheap Target heels and thought I might die of blisters and foot cramps. On the way back to my hotel, I stopped at a Dillards in a nearby mall. I hobbled inside and tried on some Alex Marie black patent leather peep-toe 3.75 inch heels. I immediately felt like my swollen, aching feet were embraced in soft cloud-blankets. It was love-at-first-wear.
Because I bought them when my feet were already swollen and sore, I knew they would hold up when I had to stand on my feet for 8-hours on cement slabs to do presentations. They did, and I wore them for the next three years until they were finally so worn that I had to lay them to rest. I will love them forever.
3. Find a stylish comfort brand and then shop deals.
I mentioned in above that I fell in love with Dillards’ brand, Alex Marie. Their shoes seem to fit my feet perfectly and they’re made to be stylish AND comfortable. They cost about $90+ bucks a pop, however, so I can’t afford to fill my closet with them. And, because I tend to put my feet through a lot, they don’t last forever. What I’ve learned to do is go to the store, try on their latest styles, then wait for those styles to go on sale on the website. It happens about once a year. My greatest haul ever was getting three pairs for $20 each. Ah, magical day.
While I recommend Alex Marie to everyone, you may not have a Dillards near you, or Alex Marie may not fit your foot just right. No problem! Go to a place like DSW or Off-Broadway shoes, take an hour and try on all the various stylish comfort brands, such as Clarks, Hush Puppies, LifeStride, Naturalizer, Aerosole, etc.. Find the brands that seem to fit your foot the best. Buy something if you really love it, but don’t feel like you have to. When we feel pressed for time, we often make fashion choices that we later regret! Better to think of it as a fitting rather than a buying event. Take note of the brands and styles that work best for you, then shop the deals online.
4. Find a heel with a platform.
Do not buy high heels if there isn’t a platform under the toes. That platform helps decrease the amount of arch needed when you stand on your feet, which makes it easier to walk and decreases the potential for foot-cramps. The more expensive brands usually have this platform (because they know what a difference it makes).
5. Wear new heels around your house first.
Even if you go shoe shopping when your feet are sore and swollen (again...this it the BEST time to shoe shop), it can be hard to know if shoes will rub your skin wrong hours into wearing them. This is why I usually wear new shoes around the house for a couple of hours. I’ve had multiple pairs that wore away at my skin and caused blisters after an hour or two of light standing and walking, so you KNOW those babies were going to do a number on me if I wore them to work all day. Because I wore them around the house and on carpet, they didn’t get all scuffed, and I could return them. Usually an hour is enough to tell if they’re going to drive you crazy.
6. Watch yourself walk in heels.
For serious, practice walking while watching yourself in a mirror, or better yet, film yourself walking. If you’re new to wearing heels, you’ll probably have a natural tendency to hunch yourself over and put your foot down flat to maintain your balance. The point of heels, of course, is to help you look more elegant, not like you’re climbing a mountain while wearing a 50-pound pack. When you first start walking in heels, you’ll need to concentrate on standing up straight and keeping your shoulders back. Resist the urge to put your foot down flat when you take a step and continue to walk heel first like you would in a normal pair of shoes. It’s going to feel very, very strange at first and will take some getting used to.
It can also help to watch women who have mastered walking in heels. I’m not talking about runway models (you’ll get some serious side-eye if you sashay down the hallway at work), but actresses, Kate Middleton, or Michelle Obama. My favorite are old Hollywood starlets who somehow manage to look like they’re gliding on air even with those giant heels strapped to their feet. Take note of how they position their bodies. Compare yourself in your mirror or video and make adjustments. Keep in mind that it’s a process. The goal is to get a little better every day.
7. Keep a spare pair (heels or flats) close by just in case.
I have a long walk across a very gravelly parking lot to get into my office, and the gravel eats my shoes. I’ve had heels break or the rubber tips come off multiple times, so I always have a spare pair of decent heels at work. When I travel for work, I always keep a collapsible-but-dressy pair of flats in my purse or laptop bag so that if I really had to, I could throw them on. No one wants to run through an airport in four inch heels, trust.
8. Don’t wear heels unless you have to.
I try not to wear heels to work more than a few days a week, and I try not to wear them at all when I’m not at work. This gives my feet time to rest. There are lots of fun flats out there that also look very stylish, especially with a nice ankle trouser (Hint: if you can find a pointy toe flat, it looks much dressier than a rounded toe). Also, try to go barefoot as much as you can when you’re at home; this helps to strengthen your foot muscles.
In short, remember that it’s a process. Your feet will take you far in life, so treat them right and take your time.
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