By Gabrielle Ulubay
June 29, 2023
As seen on marieclaire.com
There are few aspects of fashion more notorious for causing discomfort than shoes. Style fiends find themselves stowing emergency Band-Aids in their wallets and extra pairs of flats in their bags, donning painful cuts on their Achilles tendons, and limping at the end of a long night—all because of the idea that comfort must be sacrificed in the name of style. However, there are a number of comfortable shoe brands out there that look and feel great, creating loafers, flats, heels, and more types of shoes designed to last for years to come.
But how do you identify whether a shoe will be comfortable when you're shopping? And which brands are best known for creating long wear-friendly styles? To answer these questions and more, I asked Marion Parke, a podiatric surgeon and founder of her eponymous comfortable shoe brand, for advice on all things comfort. Get ready to break up with blisters.
What to Look For in a Comfortable Shoe Brand
When hunting for comfortable shoes, many shoppers pay attention first and foremost—if not exclusively—to the height of the shoe's heel. However, Parke points out, "When it comes to comfort, heel height isn't everything. I think many women have worn a high heel for several hours and also worn a flat that was torture after only a few minutes."
Instead, she says, one should pay attention to other important factors, the primary of which is fit. "The key is fit throughout the shoe and avoiding slippage," she says. "Slippage is the number one cause of discomfort in a shoe."
Parke also emphasizes that fabric can make or break the shoe-wearing experience. For instance, she says, "Leather and suede will soften and stretch with wear over time. Patent leathers tend to be stiffer and take a bit longer to soften."
Parke reminds us that there are two soles to be mindful of when shopping for comfortable shoes: the insole and the outsole.
"For us, we of course spend a great deal of time, effort and resources on our insole," Parke says of the production process for her own shoe brand. She says the using high-quality material for the insole that disperses pressure, follows the natural curves of the foot, and molds to the individual's foot over time is essential for creating a premium comfortable shoe.
In terms of the outsole, though, much is up to the individual's preferences and needs. "For an outsole, comfort really depends on the activity of the wearer," she explains. "For example, a hiker won't be as comfortable in footwear with a thin outsole as they would be in a thicker outsole with more shock absorbing properties."
What to Avoid
Just as there are certain qualities that make a shoe comfortable and suited for all-day wear, there are also characteristics that can make a shoe unbearable for day-to-day life. Luckily, there are ways to check shoes' suitability for everyday wear, especially if you're shopping in person.
• Lack of Support and Flexibility
"When shopping for shoes, whether you are shopping in person or once you have the shoe delivered at home, I recommend holding the shoe from heel to toe and flexing it to see where it bends," says Parke. "A supportive shoe will bend only through the widest part of the toe box. I don't recommend wearing a shoe that bends through the arch for extended periods of time during weight-bearing activities."
Weight-bearing activities include climbing stairs, dancing, jogging, and even walking for long periods of time. So if you're a city dweller who often catches themself running for the train, or if you enjoy leisurely lunchtime walks, prioritize a supportive shoe that won't bend at the arch.
• Tight Fits
The bane of every shoe aficionado's existence is, of course, blistering. These uncomfortable sores are painful, take ages to heal, and can easily become infected, but Parke says that they can be easily understood—and avoided.
Many people attribute blisters to the certain fabrics, like leather and vinyl, but Parke says that it's not so simple. "Blisters are often caused by motion in a shoe (i.e. when the foot slips or shifts around) more than a particular material," she explains. "There can sometimes be a fine line between a well-fitting and a poorly-fitting shoe, where it is not too tight, not too loose, or a strap or top line hits in the right or wrong spot."
And if the shoe fits perfectly but still chafes against your ankles? Consider getting the pair stretched, especially if the shoes are leather.
"In general with leather shoes, it's better to go with a tighter shoe and have it stretched over any tight areas at a shoe repair shop," says Parke. "Basically, when trying to decide on a shoe size, buy the shoe that fits your foot length from heel to toe; and if more volume is needed, then have the shoe stretched at a shoe repair shop."
• Consider the Occasion
While there are a number of shoe brands that design all their pieces with comfort in mind, there's no such thing as an all-occasion shoe. Any shoe can be uncomfortable, or even inappropriate, if worn during the wrong occasion.
"When it comes to shoes recommendations, I like to ask where someone is planning to wear them and what the ground or surface will be like," Parke says. "For example, if you're going to a garden party, then avoid stilettos and kitten heels and opt for a flat or a wedge."
Similarly, your ultra-comfy flats or boat shoes might be great for work, but they'll undoubtedly become uncomfortable on a long nature work. And most sneakers, while suitable for walking and running, do not have the right grips on the bottom for safe hiking.
Of course, Parke highly recommends her brand, aptly named Marion Parke, for those looking for a premium comfortable shoe. Parke uses her experience as a podiatric surgeon when creating her designs, focusing on details such as block heels that "give you height and stability while standing for an extended period of time" as well as on insoles made to support the wearer's arch.
"Several things make our insole unique," she explains. "It's contoured to follow the natural curvature of the plantar aspect (bottom) of the foot. That contouring increases surface area contact between the foot and the shoe, which helps the wearer to disperse pressure rather than focusing it in a small area. Our insole has an arch support, which helps reduce foot soreness and fatigue over time. Also, we use a medical-grade material for cushioning that has similar properties to the naturally occurring soft tissue on the plantar aspect (bottom) of the foot. Lastly, our insole has a special layer that encourages the foot to be in a straighter and more stable position in high heels."