Many of my clients are picky about foot comfort. From bunions, hammer toes, blistering, plantar fasciitis, arch pain, burning on the balls of the feet, to Raynaud’s and ultra narrow heels that slip out of shoes. Some have extremely high insteps and arches that make footwear hard to fit. Some have pinky toes that slip out of sandals. Some need WWW sized footwear, and some need to fit custom-made orthotics into their shoes.
It’s tricky finding comfortable shoes, especially when our feet change as we age. Sometimes our shoes are comfortable one season, and uncomfortable the next. Count me in as someone who battles to find comfortable shoes. I walk almost everywhere, so unhappy feet ruin my day. That’s why I take extreme care with my feet and footwear making sure my shoes go the distance, and that my feet are well taken care of. Wearing comfortable footwear keeps my back happy too.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to keep my feet happy. My clientele, who have a range of foot challenges, have taught me some things too. Here’s a summary of the most important tips I know:
1. Right Size
Have your feet professionally measured at the shoe store. You might think you’re wearing the right size, but a slight adjustment in length and width makes a difference. Some of my clients battled with shoes that pinch their toes. That’s because they need to wear a W or WW size. For years I complained about my feet falling through the fronts of sandals. That’s because I need an N or 2A size in sandals.
2. Right Shape
Shoes will fit well and be the most comfortable when they follow the natural shape of your feet. For example, you might have wider feet and even length toes, making round and square-toed footwear your friend. I have long uneven toes that create a point at the end of my feet. They are also narrow, which is why pointier toed footwear is comfortable, and very round and square toe boxes are usually too short.
3. Right Heel Height
Choose heel heights that you can manage for short and long periods of time, and remember that half an inch makes a remarkable difference. If two inch heels are your sweet spot, pass on the two and half inch heels. I’ve learned that shoes with a thick one to one and a half inch stable block heel are my sweet spot. These days, anything higher than that is a disaster. But I can happily wear flat shoes and sneakers with a sturdy half inch heel because I have low arches and flatter feet. Clients with high arches tend to prefer shoes with a bit of a heel because their feet are naturally arched.
4. Foot Swelling
My own feet swell in very high heat making some shoes more comfortable than others. Sandals with soft leather that expand with your feet work well. Open shoes like thong sandals work well too. Or you might need to size up half a size for some Summer shoes.
5. Body Glide
If parts of your feet are prone to rubbing and blistering and especially in the heat, use an anti-chafing balm like Body Glide. Apply it liberally to the area just before putting on shoes, and experience the magic. Do not apply the balm to the underside of your feet because your feet will slip in the shoes.
6. Stretch Leather with Wet Feet
If the leather is soft, you can successfully stretch shoes that feel a little tight all over by walking around in them with bare wet feet. Do this a few times and the shoes will stretch. It’s a little squelchy at first, but the water dries quite fast. Also, this is better suited to Summer footwear so that you don’t feel cold.
7. At-Home Shoe Stretchers
You can successfully stretch footwear at home with fairly affordable footwear stretchers that are an easy online purchase. They stretch parts of the shoe, which might be your preference. Like the toe box but not the heels. And stretchers for bunions that stretch the area of the shoe that covers the bunion instead of the entire shoe.
A bit of strategically placed moleskin on the inside of a shoe can do the trick. Sometimes the inside seam of a shoe can rub, or there’s a rough edge somewhere that appears after a couple of wears. Or the tongue of the shoe is annoying your ankle. Place a patch of soft moleskin on the area, and the problem might go away. Just yesterday, the seams inside a new pair of sneakers were irritating my pinky toes. I placed moleskin on top of the seams, and the problem is solved. You can purchase moleskin at the drugstore.
9. Orthotics and Insoles
Custom-made orthotics that are inserted into shoes are life-changing. Storebought orthotics from Pedag and Superfeet can be an effective support as they change the shape of the shoe and align it to the contours of your feet. Orthotics do make shoe fits a little harder, and you can’t insert them into open shoes. Clients with orthotics often size up half or a full size, and/or take the existing footbed out of the shoe to make room for the orthotic. Not all shoes have removable footbeds, but brands like ECCO do.
I often need to doctor the shape of closed shoes because styles seldom come in narrow sizes. I add one or two foamy insoles to the footbed to take up some of the volume of the shoe, and I get cushioning comfort to boot.
This sounds obvious, but keeping your toenails fairly short increases the comfort of closed shoes. Longer toenails, or nails with rough edges can catch on the threads of socks and hosiery, and the inside of shoes when you’re barefooted, and cause discomfort. A pedicure helps too.
11. Epoch Moisturizer
If you like to have soft, smooth and well-groomed feet that look polished without regular pedicures, apply Epoch Sole Solution Foot Treatment once or twice a day. It’s pricey but by far the most effective foot cream I’ve used. It lasts, and is fragrance-free.
12. Heel Lifts and Heel Grips
You might find that the backs of your heels rub up against the edges of shoes no matter what you do. Sometimes, adding a heel lift that is inserted on the inside of the shoe can help. It alters the position of the foot inside the shoe, which can prevent rubbing. It can also relieve pain caused by heel spurs and plantar fasciitis.
Heel grips work with varied results, but are worth a try. They help shoes stay on your feet when your heels slip out of them by closing the gap between the heel and shoe. Shoes with heel elastic like AGL flats keep flats on your feet, but the elastic can dig into your skin so watch for that too.
13. Supportive House Shoes
If your feet need more support than slippers, socks, flip-flops, footies and going barefoot at home can offer, wear supportive shoes that are for at-home only. These shoes do not go outside. One of the best style and footwear decisions I made this year was dedicating two pairs of brand new supportive fashion sneakers for at-home use only because wearing slippers too frequently was hurting my arches. The at-home-only sneakers make my WFH outfits look better too.
I chose sneakers because that’s my favourite type of shoe to wear these days. But you can choose flats, loafers, boots, Birkies, Fitflops, Vionics, or something else that tickles your fancy. I’m back to Camper slippers when I change into comfy loungewear in the evening.
14. Road-Test New Shoes
Do not take new shoes on vacation unless you’ve road-tested them beforehand and are happy with the results. I know it’s tempting to wear cute new shoes right out of the box on a trip, but it’s awfully risky. Take tried-and-tested footwear and road-test new shoes at home before you commit to them. After that, put them through their paces outside, and only when they pass with flying colours is it safe to pack them for a trip.
15. Re-evaluate Socks
Sometimes it’s the socks that cause footwear discomfort. Foot seams that rub, footies that don’t stay put, fabric that is too thick or thin, and versions that slide off as you stride. Check that your socks are doing a good job. Sometimes it’s better to go without socks. Or wear knee-highs and trouser socks.
16. See a Foot Doctor
If you continue to have challenges with your feet and footwear comfort, see a foot specialist. It’s time and money well spent, especially when you’re on your feet and walk a lot. Clients and friends have had good experiences going this route, and are especially thankful for custom-made orthotics. Some do daily foot exercises that make a difference too.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to add your own tips and thoughts in the comments section.