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For many of us, heels are a fashion item that we hate to love—they can be stylish, provide some inches of height that perhaps we once hoped we’d grow into, and elevate a look to a level that’s most appropriate for a work presentation or otherwise sophisticated event. However, the price of them often comes not just in a dollar amount, but in several kinds of aches, pains, and ailments in our feet, legs, and back.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, is a New York City-based Podiatric Surgery Specialist at City Podiatry. She has a Bachelor of Science from Fordham University and earned her DPM from New York College of Pediatric Medicine.
Dr. Emily Splichal, DPM, MS, CE, is a New York City-based podiatrist at the Center for Functional and Regenerative Podiatric Medicine. She is also the founder of Naboso Technology, a sensory product line that optimizes the way people move, feel, and live.
If you haven’t surrendered completely to the idea of flats for every occasion, you’ve likely gone down a rabbit hole reading customer reviews from retailers upon retailers, weighing the validity of everyone to come to some conclusion. In creating this list, we did that work for you, with the guidance of two New York City-based podiatrists, Dr. Jacqueline Sutera of City Podiatry and Dr. Emily Splichal of the Center for Functional and Regenerative Podiatric Medicine.
For the best comfortable heels on the market right now, and advice from Sutera and Splichal on how to minimize the pain if you find yourself in uncomfortable shoes, read on.
Best Overall: Sarah Flint Rosie
Heel height: 1 inch | Colors: Black Suede, Taupe Suede, Chocolate Leopard Hair Calf, Navy Suede | Size Range: Womens 4-13
Sarah Flint is well-known for her ability to design chic luxury shoes that don’t sacrifice comfort or foot health, which is why her shoe styles place in several categories on this list. The Rosie is the best overall because it has a very low block heel, extra padding, and a roomy, almond-shaped toe box—features that podiatrists say, on their own, are paramount to comfort in any pair of shoes, and when combined into one shoe, create the ultimate comfortable heels. They’re also tastefully designed and versatile; you can wear them to work, run errands, or attend lunch with friends.
Best Budget: Amazon Essentials Women’s Two Strap Heeled Slide Sandal
Heel height: 2.66 inches | Colors: Black Micro, Cognac Micro, Leopard Micro | Size Range: Womens 5-13
Simple and sensible for their versatility, these slide sandals with a block heel are rated highly among reviewers for their quality, comfort, and overall wearability for the price. At around $30, these are a steal compared to any other number on this list. If you're a Prime member, you can even order several sizes for free and only get charged for what you keep, so you can find the perfect fit.
Best Low Heel: Aerosoles Yorketown
Heel height: 1.25 inches | Colors: Black Leather, Leopard Combo, Tan Leather, Natural Snake, Bone Leather, Black Faux Shearling, Natural Faux Shearling | Size Range: Womens 5-12
For something with a little lift and a lot of cushion, Aerosoles has just the shoe for you. The Yorketown style is an everyday slip-on leather sandal with a 1.25-inch wedge, so it supports, rather than strains, the feet. Its maker has a great track record of creating comfortable footwear and is generally podiatrist-approved.
Best Platform: Aerosoles Dada
Heel height: 2 inches | Colors: Black, Soft Gold, Off-White, Tan, Forest Velvet, Taupe Velvet, Navy Velvet, Grey Velvet | Size Range: Womens 6-12
By nature, the platform is one of the most comfortable heels, Sutera and Splichal say. This pair by Aerosoles keeps the feet flat yet supported with a natural arch. It’s also extremely wearable—you can quickly complete a look with a basic T-shirt and cropped jeans. We particularly love the several velvet renditions for chillier months.
Best Wedge: Castañer Carina Wedge Espadrilles
Heel height: 2.5 to 3.5 inches | Colors: Ivory, Black, Rojo Rubi, Olive | Size Range: Womens 5-11
Castañer has perfected the espadrille, in terms of quality, versatility, and comfort—at least that’s what reviewers on several e-commerce sites, like Shopbop and Revolve, write along with their five-star ratings. The brand’s signature wedge was created by the husband and wife designer duo in the early 1970s for a customer you might recognize: Yves Saint Laurent. They’ve been a mainstay in fashion ever since.
Best Pump: Sarah Flint Perfect Pump 85
Heel height: 3.3 inches| Colors: Black Calf, Black Suede, Taupe Suede, Navy Suede, Gunmetal Lame Fabric, Sand Calf, Chocolate Leopard Hair Calf +more | Size Range: Womens 5-11
Public figures from Lady Gaga to Meghan Markle love Sarah Flint’s pumps, which the designer says she created with the idea of good-looking comfort at the fore. Handmade in Italy, the widened toe box and V-shape of this particular style prevent toe crowding without eliminating toe cleavage. It’s also made with extra padding in the footbed and arch support—the must-haves for podiatrists—and rubber soles for better traction, which the designer felt was necessary to make her luxury heels most practical.
“[The rubber sole] was something that I always used to get added to my shoes after buying them, which I thought was crazy that you could spend so much money for luxury shoes and then have to go to the cobbler to get that added on,” Flint says in a video on the brand’s Youtube channel.
Best Luxury: Dior J’Adior Slingback Pump
Heel height: 2.5 inches | Colors: Black Technical, Nude Technical | Size Range: Womens IT 34-42
If you’re looking for a slingback and willing to spend for a well-crafted shoe that’s rated for comfort, look to Dior. The quality of these shoes speaks for itself; this pair of slingbacks is lined fully in Italian leather and has a cotton ribbon backing that won’t dig into the top of your heels. Plus, this particular pair is made from the brand’s signature technical fabric, which has more give than patent leather, so it’s fairly easy to break in.
Best Boot: Naturalizer Verney Waterproof Boot
Heel height: 3 inches | Colors: Black Leather, Ciderspice Leather | Size Range: Womens 4-12
The best footwear is versatile, comfortable, and weatherproof. Naturalizer does a great job of checking all of these boxes with the Verney boot—a waterproof boot with an almond-shaped toe, side zip closure, and thermal sock liner for heat retention. Reviewers say they also love the rubber sole, which offers great traction and a modern look.
Best Sandal: Crocs Brooklyn Low Wedge
Heel height: 1.75 inches | Colors: Black/Mushroom, Black/Black, Pale Blush/Mushroom, Oyster, Army Green/Mushroom | Size Range: Womens 4-11
For a sandal that you can wear all day long, Crocs has you covered. The ‘low wedge’ is a platform that keeps your heel low as if you were wearing a very supportive flat. With a foam footbed and deep heel cup. the style has nearly 1,300 five-star reviews, many of which cite comfort as a great benefit.
Best Slide: Maryam Nassir Zadeh Agatha Sandal
Heel height: 2 inches | Colors: Black | Size Range: Womens IT 35-42
Minimalism makes for a very versatile shoe, while quality materials and thoughtful design yield a comfortable shoe. Both are desirable, and given that this shoe by Maryam Nassir Zadeh offers so much in terms of support and versatility, it leaves little to be desired. Made in Italy, it features an open round toe, a leather upper, and a lining in luxurious grained calfskin, and a 2-inch block heel—all must-haves for the making of a comfortable heel. On versatility, its clean lines and neutral color make it easy to dress up or down, and pair with other neutrals or a more vibrant palette.
Best Bridal: Sarah Flint Perfect Sandal 85
Heel height: 3.33 inches | Colors: Blush Nappa, Black Suede, Gold Nappa, Sand Calf | Size Range: Womens 5-11
Sarah Flint’s pumps are highly rated for comfort and style, and so are her sandals, which were designed with a woman’s need for a great wedding shoe in mind, according to the brand’s website. Much like her pumps, the Perfect Sandal 85 has a wider toe box to prevent crowding at the front of the foot and support for the wearer’s natural arch. It also has a steel rod stiletto for durability and 6 millimeters of extra padding to ensure comfort. In other words, these heels can stay on the dance floor.
Best Block Heel: Sarah Flint Perfect Emma
Heel height: 2 inches | Colors: Black Suede, Taupe Suede, Navy Suede, Chocolate Leopard Haircalf, Merlot Suede, Sand Calf, Espresso Suede
This style has been favored by A-listers like Amal Clooney and Alexa Chung for its low block heel, as well as many of the features for which Sarah Flint is known, like a wide toe box, arch support, and additional padding. Reviewers say this style is “unbelievably comfortable” and rival even the best of luxury brands, like Jimmy Choo.
Best Strappy: Naturalizer 27 Edit Abilyn Pump
Heel height: 3.5 inches | Colors: Black Leather, Gold Leather, Taupe Suede, Dragonfly Croco Leather, Satin Pearl Croco Leather, Cocoa Suede | Size Range: 5-11 (in narrow and medium widths)
This pair of heels by Naturalizer is strappy, sculptural, and very comfortable. They have a full leather lining, extra cushion, and a rubber outsole for shock absorption and traction. Reviewers rate this pair highly for its classic design and cushiness. Plus, there is a color option to pair with essentially any outfit in your closet.
Best Ballerina: Repetto Camille Ballerina
Heel height: 1 inch | Colors: Noir, Patent Navy, Linen Beige, Flamme | Size Range: Womens IT 34-41
Repetto claimed bragging rights years ago when Brigitte Bardot sported the Cendrillon style for the film "...And God Created Women." But it’s continued to produce stylish footwear through the years, expanding beyond ballet flats to pumps, oxfords, boots, and more. Our favorite style is this hybrid shoe, or a small step (1.25 inches, to be exact) above the standard ballet flat. Made in France, this style is wrapped in leather, lined in cotton canvas, and soled with rubber for waterproofing—perfect for the fall, spring, and early summer seasons.
Best Kitten: Vionic Josie Kitten Heel
Heel height: 1.75 inches | Colors: Tort, Sand Leather, Light Grey Leather, Wine Croc, Snake White Black, Black Leather, Black Suede, Navy Leather, Black Croc, Leopard Tan | Size Range: 5-12 (in wide and regular)
With a nearly 2-inch heel height and a classic pointed toe with a toe box that’s wide enough to keep the feet comfortable, Vionic’s Josie Kitten Heel is ideal for long days on your feet, like for work or any other occasion that requires hours in sophisticated dress. Reviewers, who cited issues like plantar fasciitis and bunions, said these shoes served them well.
Best Chunky: Swedish Hasbeens Toe Strap Clog
Heel height: 2.25 inches | Colors: Black, Nature, Turquoise Metallic | Size Range: 6-11
Swedish Hasbeens makes slightly clunky casual shoes that you can’t help but love, and this toe strap clog style is no exception. It’s lined with leather and has a leather insole, which is great because this material softens and molds to your foot with wear, making it easy to break them in. It also has a rubber outsole for good traction when walking.
What to Look for When Buying Comfortable Heels
Podiatrists agree that the most comfortable heels tend to be block heels, wedges, and platform heels. That’s because these types “transfer body weight across a greater surface area when compared to pumps and stilettos,” Sutera says. Beyond that, it’s important to check shoes for a cushioned sole with arch support and shock absorption, which best protects your feet and joints from the impact of walking, particularly on hard surfaces.
Wearing the correct size and wide “will save your soles,” Sutera says. A large shoe won’t keep your foot in place, so you’ll constantly feel like it’s falling off, and small size will create crowding, which can be very painful.
Which types of heels are most damaging to your feet?
Stilettos with a pointed toe are the “most damaging to your feet because your body weight is concentrated on a very small area of the thin high heel, and your forefoot gets pinched and crammed in the toe box with weight being shifted toward the ball of the foot,” Sutera explains.
Both doctors agree that extreme heel heights put great stress on the feet, knees, and lower backs. Customer reviews across the web indicate that the most comfortable and supportive shoes are generally 3 inches or less, though the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) has studies that show any heel over 2 inches is capable of causing damage.
How do you measure heel height?
True heel height is the distance between the heel and the toe, rather than the floor and the heel. “This is [how] platform shoes can be misleading,” explains Splichal. For the most accurate heel height, place the shoe on a flat surface or tabletop, then measure from the back and bottom of the heel to the point where the heel block connects to the front shoe seam.
How do high heels impact the body?
When you wear heels, your body weight shifts toward the balls of your feet or the metatarsals. “This creates a misalignment of the entire skeleton,” says Sutera. “When weight gets shifted forward, the knees and hips go forward as well, and the back has to hyperextend.” This effect not only causes short-term issues like blisters, shin splints, and sore muscles from the feet to the back, but it can also allow for Achilles tendons to become strained and bunions and hammertoes to worsen. Pinched nerves, stress fractures, arthritis, and nail problems are also long-term side effects.
What are some ways to prevent heels from hurting?
Aside from choosing heels and shoes that are as feet-friendly as possible, Sutera suggests taking breaks from heels, rather than wearing them all day or every day, by opting for very low heels, flats, or sneakers, whenever possible, like on a commute to work.
To keep the legs strong and supportive, Sutera says to try some isolated exercises, such as; calf raises, toe grips, or picking up an object with your toes and holding it, alphabet outlines, or drawing the letters of the alphabet in the air with your big toe, moving only your ankle joint and balancing on one leg at a time.
Massaging your back, upper legs, calves, Achilles tendons, and arches—be it with the help of a professional or on your own (perhaps with the help of a foam roller)—will curb a buildup of tension, Sutera says. And for isolated foot treatments at home, Splichal suggests using two products from Naboso Technology, a sensory product line that she founded: a neuro ball for nerve stimulation and toe spacers to keep the feet aligned.
After wearing high heels for a few hours, Sutera says the best thing to do for your muscles and joints is to stretch your calves. The practice relieves tension and stiffness by keeping the muscle flexible. Here are a few stretches that Sutera says to try sitting with your straight legs in front of you, wrap a yoga band, or towel, if you need to improvise, around one foot. Use it to gently pull your toes back and your foot up. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then switch sides. Get situated in a downward dog position, and hold for 30 seconds. Stand facing a wall with your feet staggered. Bend the front knee slightly and extend the back leg fully. Place both hands in front of you, then lean forward against the wall until you feel a stretch in your back leg. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then switch sides.
Why Trust Byrdie?
This shopping guide was written by Byrdie contributor Hayley Prokos. A seasoned commerce writer and editor, she’s constantly on the hunt for products to make getting ready easier. Her work has appeared in SELF Magazine, Newsweek, and the daily Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, and she holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Northwestern University.