Never did I think I would ever go gently into sensible shoes with major arch support, but I’m making peace with it. After all, you have to be comfortable.
In fact, those were the very words the veterinarian used the first time I hauled the late, beloved Audrey Hepburn into the cat clinic in her frumpy, oversized carrier. As she aged, I traded in her chic-looking travel means for one that was oversized and rather dowdy, yet more comfortable for her.
I am now wearing the footwear version of Audrey’s cat carrier.
A folly of youth
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the downward spiral began during my childhood when I danced with ballet toe shoes. Later on, running through airports, as well as walking and standing for hours on end at trade shows – which are usually on concrete floors – added to the problem. I also place blame squarely at my own feet for wearing painful, stylish shoes for years and not caring one whit about the road they might lead me down in the future. (I can’t tell you how many times I have crammed my feet into sassy shoes and made them work.) Finally, years later, it became painfully obvious that I needed to make a dramatic shift in my choice of footwear.
Comfortable yet highly fashionable women’s shoes have long been de rigueur in Europe. During trips to France I would buy as many pairs as I could afford, knowing that it would be difficult to find the combination back home.
Fortunately, it seems that over the past few years, sensible and stylish are no longer mutually exclusive in the U.S.
Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, continue to control the majority of disposable income in this country and have a significant impact on consumer spending. They’re aging, and they’re not willing to sacrifice style for comfort. The market is responding accordingly, but it still has a way to go. Yes, the manufacturers are marrying comfort and style, but when it comes to comfortable shoes and aesthetics there is still a frump factor involved.
In the spirit of sharing
Footwear brands that are successfully combining comfort and style do exist. (NOTE: I’m not formally endorsing any of the following; just sharing my opinion.)
Vionics brand is my go-to for more casual, yet classic slip-on styles that don’t look like they belong in the Smithsonian.
Taos brand, which also has super comfortable shoes, sports a more bohemian and casual look. They are handcrafted in Santa Fe, so they have a bit of a funky Southwestern flair. It’s not my favorite style, but they are by far the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.
As for ladies’ dress shoes, Soft Style, a Hush Puppies company, and N5 Comfort Elements from Naturalizer have pretty, feminine footwear that’s also comfortable.
Both Soft Style and N5 have a full range of styles from casual to dress, but I like them best for their dress shoes and prefer Vionics and Taos for a more casual look.
These shoes are made for walking
It seems paradoxical that comfortable, somewhat utilitarian-looking shoes usually cost more than chic, stylish footwear. I suppose it has something to do with their construction and the technology and science behind it. If you do some research and find the brand that works for you, you can be on the lookout for sales and deals. In fact, I recently purchased three pairs of Soft Style shoes for only $10 a pair. That was a $210 savings. Know what you're looking for so you won't miss a good sale.
If your feet are of a certain age, I invite you to check out my tips below. They're applicable for any age, but I doubt that I would’ve listened to such advice in my younger years. I never thought much about my feet until they began reminding me how hard they work.
Five tips when shopping for comfortable shoes
- Get properly fitted so you have some idea of your shoe size, although it may vary from brand to brand. This means paying a visit to a good department or shoe store where they use those foot measuring devices.
- As you get older, your feet tend to spread out – so you may need a wide width in some brands or styles. Yes, middle age spread even affects our feet.
- Square and rounded toes are more comfortable than pointy toes for older feet, but sometimes buying “pointy” in a wide width or a half-size larger will work.
- If you have bunions, again, you may need to go a half-size larger.
- Investigate the comfort brands I mentioned above.
Also, do you have a pair of heels you love, but they’re just a little too high for you now? Take them to a cobbler and see if he can cut down the heel. Shaving even a little off can make all the difference in the world when it comes to comfort and mobility.
Gel shoe inserts found at any pharmacy may help if you need some extra support; however, I've never had much luck with them.
There is something to be said about those life changes that require us to pause, reflect and graciously accept things for what they are. In the context of becoming older, I suppose this is what aging gracefully is all about. Saying farewell to some of my favorite shoes is analogous to those other areas in life where change is occurring and I’ve left certain things behind to which I will never return.
Of course, the upside – and there is always an upside – is that as we move through our various seasons of life, adventure awaits us at every turn if only we are open to it. We have no time for anything to hold us back or stop us in our tracks, including our shoes.