How to Choose the Right Heel Height for You

I believe that there is no single item that can move an outfit from casual to formal as well as a high-heeled shoe. Suddenly, a T-shirt and jeans can look chic rather than casual, whereas dress is made instantly more glamorous and fancy. Unfortunately, high heels are dreadfully uncomfortable, especially if you wear them for a long time… Or are they? In this article I will tell you the secret to choosing the right heel height for you.

How to Choose the Right Heel Height for You

While it’s doubtlessly true that a high heel will not be as comfortable as an orthopedic running shoe, it is also very possible that the reason why your feet hurt after you wear high heels for long is that you are simply wearing the wrong heel height.

One thing I know for certain is that flats can be much more harmful than a pair of high heels. After working for years on my feet, doing makeup applications and giving skincare consultations day in and day out, I developed some serious foot pain. At the time I was convinced that since I was working such long hours, the only shoe option I had was a flat; in reality, the flats were my downfall.

After switching to one-inch heels with an orthotic insert, the pain quickly disappeared. I also always noticed that while I could go out in some pair of heels and party all night, other pairs would leave me in pain after a mere 20 minutes.

Why Is It That Some Heels Are Comfortable, and Others Are Not?

For many of us, our feet have a natural angle, which indicates what heel height would feel most comfortable on our feet. When you walk without any shoes on, do you find yourself almost naturally walking on your tiptoes, or on the ball of your foot? If so, you might be more comfortable in a high heel.

As podiatrist Emma Supple explains for the Daily Mail, what has the biggest impact on what shoe heel height would be best for you is the flexibility of your ankle, which in itself depends on the size of the cavity that is between the ankle and the heel (called the sinus tarsi). Those who have a very stable ankle joint will do better with a flatter shoe, while those whose ankle joints are a little looser will benefit from higher heels.

How to Find the Right Heel Height for You

How to Measure Your Perfect Heel Height

This is the trick to figuring out the perfect heel height for you. Before you start, you might need a friend to help you do these measurements. By measuring the angle at which your foot naturally wants to rest, you will be able to finally find the perfect heel height for you!

• Remove your shoes, and sit on a regular chair, with good posture. Make sure the chair has a flat seat, and that you are comfortable, with your back straight.

• Lift one leg up, so that it is extended in a straight line in front of you. Leave the other leg down, with the foot comfortably resting on the ground.

How to Measure Your Perfect Heel Height

How to Measure Your Perfect Heel Height

• With your leg extended, relax your foot and ankle. You might find the front of your foot sags down a little (this means you will be more comfortable in high heels), or you may find that they stay upright (this means you will be more comfortable in flat shoes).

• To measure the exact height of your perfect heel, draw an invisible straight line from your big toe to where your heel ends. This line will create an angle with your foot. The line that will close the angle is the distance between the end of the invisible line and your heel. The length of that line is also your ideal high heel height.

How to Measure Your Perfect Heel Height

How to Measure Your Perfect Heel Height

Other Important High Heel Features

To ensure your high heels are comfortable, and less likely to cause painful bunions or corns, there are a few other things to keep in mind, other than just the heel height.
For example, you want to make sure that your toes have enough space in the toe-box. Many high-heeled shoes have toe boxes that are too narrow, which compresses the toes, and can lead to a variety of foot problems.

You also want to make sure the high heel itself is well situated, so that the high heels don’t throw you off balance. The heel itself should have a fairly narrow width, but start closer to the front, where it can properly support the ankle.

To make sure the high heel properly supports the whole foot, instead of putting all of the pressure on the toes, a tighter instep can help. This means that the shoe will hold the foot above the arch, rather than allowing it to slide down and cause pain.

To summarize all of this, you should buy well-constructed high heels that support your feet, have room for the toes, and are well balanced. Usually, this also means buying well-made shoes, which won’t come cheap.

When Different Heel Heights Are Best

1-1.5-Inch Heels

This height is actually quite healthy for many people. It gives a bit of a lift, and arch support, without throwing you off balance. This kitten heel is also super cute and feminine, especially when paired with a retro hourglass silhouette.

Some low-heel designs just look like weaker versions of higher heels, so aim for Mary Jane or ankle straps, which look perfect with the low height.

Healthiest Heel Heights: Rene Caovilla 1.5-Inch Heels
René Caovilla Sandals With 1.5-Inch Heels Available at Net-a-Porter

2-2.5-Inch Heels

This height is perfect for giving you a boost both in height and confidence, and it’s a bit more impressive than a low heel, without veering into traditional high heel territory. Also known as a midi heel, this height looks great in a peep toe, a cone heel, or a slingback strap. These heels will not be out of place in the office, or at a more casual, spring/summer party.

Healthiest Heel Heights: Tabitha Simmons 2.5-Inch Heels
Tabitha Simmons Pumps With 2.5-Inch Heels Available at Net-a-Porter

3-3.5-Inch Heels

At this height, these heels are perfect for every occasion, from the office to the fanciest of galas. If this is your ideal height, according to Emma Supple’s equation, you are in luck, because you can look summery and casual in a wedge, or fiercely elegant in a pump.

If these are a little too high for your foot’s liking, you can still wear them for short periods of time, or when attending events where you will mostly be sitting down.

Healthiest Heel Heights: Gucci 3-Inch Heels
Gucci Sandals With 3-Inch Heels Available at My Theresa

4-4.5-Inch Heels

In my humble opinion, unless your feet are on a serious angle, this heel height moves from the chic to the beginnings of absurd, because of the angle. If you have what Emma Supple calls dancer’s feet, however, by all means go for it!

At this heel height, you can opt for femme fatale point-toe shoes (just make sure your toes have enough wiggle room), or something more cheeky like a peep-toe. However, avoid mules or any other shoe design that won’t support your ankles and in-step.

Healthiest Heel Heights: Dolce & Gabbana 4-Inch Heels
Dolce & Gabbana Sandals With 4-Inch Heels Available at Net-a-Porter

5-Inch Heels and Above

At this height and higher, these shoes should be avoided. Heels this high will put anyone’s feet into an unnatural angle that will throw you completely off balance, and could damage your toes, joints, and foot tendons. Really, they are quite absurd and best to avoid.

Healthiest Heel Heights: Giuseppe Zanotti 5-Inch Heels
Giuseppe Zanotti Sandals With 5-Inch Heels Available at Net-a-Porter

Platforms

If your heart is truly pining for extreme height, a platform shoe might be the way to go, but tread carefully. If you are hoping for a 5-inch boost, a 1.5-inch platform could make it so your foot is actually sitting at a 3.5 angle.

However, because the platform sits under the toe, it will throw you off balance, and might cause more rigidity than is necessary below the arch. The key to the perfect platform heel is trial and error. Try on shoes, and see if you can balance on them easily.

Healthiest Heel Heights: Saint Laurent Platform Heels
Saint Laurent Platform Sandals Available at Forward

One Last Important Caveat

This article is about high heels, and foot pain. While a great high heel at the right height might not be harmful to your feet, it will still slow down your walking speed, and in the long term might cause problems with the knee joint.

As long as you don’t wear high heels every day, and alternate them with lower shoes that have the appropriate insole, your feet and joints will probably be okay. If you have pre-existing joint problems, you should probably be extra careful.

Did you try the measuring equation? What’s the best shoe heel height for you? Let me know in the comments!

Photos courtesy of Alterations Needed, Black Palms, Song of Style

Don’t miss: Your Questions About High Heels Answered

Tips on How and What With To Wear Platform Shoes

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