Buy women's shoes with both comfort and style

Whether you're looking for a flat or a heel, here's a guide on how to get the most comfortable women's shoes at any price point.

Aly Song/Reuters/File
A woman changes into heels for an interview at the job fair for China Eastern Airlines flight attendants in Shanghai.

On average, women have to work more than three weeks just to earn enough money to pay for the shoes in their closet, according to an analysis in Psychology Today. That means 103 hours in the office, slogging away, just to support your shoe habit.

And while American women own about 17 pairs of shoes on average, they really only wear three or four pairs regularly. The majority sits unused in the back of the closet.

But if we're willing to work that hard for those pretty heels, why aren't we making use of them? Here's a theory: They're just too dang uncomfortable! They pinch our toes, cause the sides of our feet to ache, and make our arches burn. And since we're never wearing those awful things again, we buy more shoes — and the cycle continues.

So how do you break it? Buy really good shoes. The kind that make your feet and your wallet happy. Here are tips on how to find quality women's footwear and a guide to what you can get at different price points.

The 4 Main Shoe Components

Your shoes are made up of four key components that determine whether you'll be wearing them for years, or tossing them out.


For the longest-lasting and most comfortable wear, look for good quality suede or leather shoes. Leather allows your foot to "breathe," helping it feel more comfortable and reducing odors. Leather also stretches, conforming to the size and shape of your foot, according to podiatrist Dr. Jaleh Hoorfar. Fabric won't do that. And if you purchase a quality, soft leather, your shoes will last for years.

Watch out for synthetic leather. It looks good on the shelf — most synthetics are shiny and appealing at first — but the fake stuff breaks down quicker, meaning you'll be forever buying uncomfortable, short-lived shoes.

Inner Sole

The inner sole provides arch support and much-needed padding. You can buy shoe inserts for added cushioning, but not all inserts are created equal. You're better off choosing a shoe that doesn't need the added support.

First, look for shoes with good arch support. It won't be an easy task. Podiatrist Dr. Steve Rosenberg says most fashion-geared shoes don't provide adequate support. To tell if yours do, look for padding that is thicker around the edges and where your arch naturally fits in the shoe.

Next, see that the heel and ball of your foot have good cushioning, especially if you're looking for heels. High heels naturally push the foot forward, adding pressure to the balls of your feet and causing pain in your feet, legs, and lower back.

Finally, make sure you're picking up the right size, which varies from brand to brand. According to Dr. Rosenberg, you should be able to fit at least a thumb's width between the end of your toes and the tip of your shoe. If you can't, good cushioning won't be enough to prevent pain.

Outer Sole

The outer sole of your shoe makes a big difference. A lot of modern styles (we're looking at you, ballet flats) don't have enough bottom padding. This is bad news for two reasons: First, thin soles won't protect your feet from the ground. Second, thin soles wear out quicker, sending you back to the shoe store sooner.

If you're shopping online, carefully check the photos of a shoe's bottoms. Look for thick soles that seem like they could take a hit.

That said, soles are best tested in person. Experts at Harvard Medical School suggest trying out new shoes on different types of surfaces — tile, carpet, concrete — to see how the shoes feel on each. If all else fails, go with wedges. Most wedges have plenty of shock-absorbing padding.

Heel Height

High heels do a number on your feet, from pain, to bunions, to lasting medical conditions; but that doesn't mean you have to live your life in flats. Some heels are fine, as long as you're careful with what you buy.

Dr. Hoorfar told O, The Oprah Magazine that her limit is 3" — anything higher and you'll be putting a ton of pressure on the balls of your feet. Opt for thicker heels over those needle-thin stilettos. (Thicker heels last longer than thin ones and are easier to walk in.) Also, look at the placement of the heel: Heels placed squarely under your actual heel distribute your weight better, Hoorfar says. Avoid ones placed all the way at the back of the shoe.

Finally, look for padding underneath the tip of the heel. Rubber or plastic caps help prevent the heel from wearing out too quickly.

What You'll Get at Different Price Points

Women's shoes vary widely in price, but not necessarily in design. In other words, expensive shoes aren't always your best bet, though certain price ranges can give you an idea of what you're getting.

$10 to $50: Mass-Market Brands and Discounted Styles

The majority of full-priced shoes in the $10 to $50 range aren't designed to last very long and lack support. If you do opt for these shoes, plan on buying additional padded inserts. However, you can also find deep discounts on some midrange brand-name shoes in this price range, through retailers like 6pm and DSW.

$50 to $100: Midrange Brands

You'll find many midrange brands at this price point, but don't expect name recognition to mean quality. Since lots of women's shoes are designed for fashion over comfort, anything you buy still needs to run the gamut of quality tests.

$100 to $150: Genuine Leather Shoes

You can find some genuine leather in this price range, but watch out for topstitching. Hoorfar says it can make leather less elastic, and thus less comfortable. Expect shoes in this tier to last through at least a couple of years of regular use (if they're comfortable).

$150 and Up: High-End Brands and Custom Shoes

Most high-end kicks run at least $150, though many can cost much more for even basic styles. But again, don't fall for the name. While high-end shoes are often built better than their cheap counterparts, even $500 boots don't always deliver on comfort. Always check your shoes for padding, heel height, and design before you buy.

This article first appeared at

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