If you are female and work in an office, chances are you find yourself shopping for a “professional” shoe at least once in awhile. If you’re like me and would rather have a root canal than try on every basic pump in the store, here are the key areas to check so you can avoid wading through an endless sea of terrible footwear and end up with a stylish shoe and a comfortable fit, to boot — in half the time.

What’s it made of?

Leather is the best material for your next work shoe. Leather conforms nicely to the foot, allows air to circulate, and is generally more resilient than any synthetic. Pick shoes with a leather upper and leather lining for a better fit, drier feet, and longer lasting shoes.

The “leather lining” part is very important. Since many of us don’t check the lining materials, this is where many manufacturers cut costs. But the lining is the part closest to your foot, so if it is synthetic, that nice leather upper is not going to do anything for your fit or your comfort.

Image credit: Maria Vassilieva

SKIP TRYING THE SHOE ON if you see manmade materials, other materials or a diamond symbol listed on that materials disclosure sticker for anything other than the sole.

Is it stable enough to balance on?

Most shoe advice articles steer their readers towards chunkier heels for better stability. This is a good start but in a heeled shoe, up to 90% of the body weight is on the ball of the foot.

Image credit: Maria Vassilieva

The most stable shoes are ones that are stable in the front of the shoe. A good heel will not save your feet if the front has poor balance. To tell whether the shoe is stable, put the shoe on a hard, even surface and lightly push down here. See demonstration.

SKIP TRYING IT ON if the shoe starts rocking from side to side or falls over.

Is there enough cushion?

Toebox cushioning should be a standard feature in all shoes. This goes double for heels since the ball of the foot carries so much of our weight, but somehow high heels are far less likely to have forefoot padding than flat walking shoes. This will not change until we stop buying the shoes that skimp on padding!

SKIP TRYING IT ON if the footbed does not budge when you press your fingers down on the area where your toes would be.

Is it roomy enough for my toes?

The big toe joint does a lot of work to push us from foot to foot. To do this, it needs a lot more vertical room than many pumps allow for, which often leads to the shoe digging into the top of your foot in the front.

DO NOT BUY the shoe if this happens! It will never “break in” because the entire top edge of the shoe is lined on the inside with topline tape, designed specifically to keep the leather from stretching. If it’s cutting into your tendons at the store, it will not get better over time.

Is it snug enough on my heel?

Put the shoe on and go up on tiptoe. You may feel the back of the shoe move against your foot a little bit, but it should feel secure.

DO NOT BUY the shoe if it slips off your heel when you go up on tiptoe. This means that the heel cup is either too wide for your foot or it is shaped incorrectly and will cause trouble, from blisters to sprained ankles.

DO NOT BUY the shoe if it digs into your foot anywhere in the heel area. The entire heel cup is reinforced with a piece of plastic between the upper and the lining, so no amount of stretching and breaking in will change its shape.
Good shoes and bad ones often look the same at first glance. The devil is in the details, which may seem subtle at first, but will make a world of difference in terms of the time you spend on shoe shopping and in the long-term wellbeing of your feet. Happy (shoe nerdy) shopping!

Maria Vassilieva is a technical footwear designer, blogging about women’s fashion footwear on www.shoefitnerd.com


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