How to wear heels all day and survive

In Look Your Best, Style over 50, Weddings by Joni

Have you already bought your dress for your daughter’s wedding?  Well now it’s time to think about shoes.

Most dresses for formal occasions are designed to be worn with heels.  That’s great – in theory.  But the problem is that for mothers this might be a six hour sentence of sheer torture.  It’s hard enough for younger women to wear heels all day but for us over 50’s it’s a great deal more difficult.

If you want to minimize the pain of high heels you need to buy the right shoes, customize them and change the way you walk.

How to buy the right pair of heels

  • Take your time
  • Wear your dress
  • Take pins to try shorter hem
  • Shop late in the day
  • Consider thicker heels and platforms

Take time to window shop in the weeks leading up to your purchase.  If you only look at people on TV or in magazines you’ll get a biased view of what people really wear.  Remember that those fabulous shoes may only be on the star’s feet for a few minutes while the scene is filmed or she’s posing for the press.  You need shoes to take you through the day.

You’ll need to take your dress with you when you buy your shoes.  The hem length makes a big difference to how you look in heels.  It also decides the style to some extent. So take some pins along too so you can shorten the hem and see how lower or thicker-heeled shoes look.

Remember to try shoes on after you’ve trailed round the shops for an hour or two.  That will mimic all the standing around you’ll be doing on the day of the wedding.  Your feet expand as the day goes on so late afternoon is the best time to buy then you can be sure of choosing a large enough and wide enough size and style.

The great thing about heels is that they make your legs look longer.  As the makers of Barbie are well aware, we all find long slim legs very attractive.  So you need to keep an eye out for styles that do that.  But that doesn’t mean you can only consider stilettos.

Lower heels, platforms and thicker heels can all look good.  But you might find you need to take the hem of your dress up a bit to balance things out.  A mid-calf dress with thick chunkier heels has a retro or school-mistressy look, however slim your legs are.  An above the knee dress with stilettos has a young or flirty look.  As Mother of the Bride you want to find something between these extremes.  So if your heels are thicker than average you may need to make your dress a bit shorter.  And if you can wear thin heels you will look elegant in a mid-length frock.

Platforms will usually suit all lengths of dress, especially if they are open-toed.

In fact platforms are a really great style for you.  They elongate your legs and silhouette and give you the extra height you’d like without forcing your feet into a swan neck.

What makes heels hurt?

  • Your centre of gravity has shifted
  • The area touching the floor is smaller
  • Pressure is greater on the ball of your foot
  • Your toes get squashed in the pointed toe
  • Your feet push forward and rub against the side
  • The joint of your big toe gets pushed out of shape
  • Your arch gets stressed
  • The back of the shoe does not fit your heel shape

The commonest problem is pain on the ball of the foot.  Your centre of gravity is nearer your toes the higher the heels you are wearing.  Instead of your weight being supported right across both your heel and the ball of your foot all your weight is on the smaller area nearer the floor.  This means that the pressure is higher on the ball of your foot than usual.

If you rarely wear heels these days your feet will find this shift in pressure difficult.  And they will complain!

As your foot is pressed forward your toes try to take some of the weight.  So they get pushed forward further into the shoe.  Compare how you can waggle your toes when you are wearing comfortable flat shoes or trainers but you can’t waggle them in high heels.  When your toes are pushed forward they press against the narrowing point of the toe of the shoe and get constricted.  That leads to numbness and with a little bit of rubbing on the sides of the shoe that turns into a blister.

Narrow toes, as most high heeled shoes have, cannot accommodate your toes easily so your foot is pushed into a shape that fits.  That means the joint of your big toe is pressed back up against the ball of your foot and it moves outwards to find a space for itself.  This often leads to bunions.  Bunions make your feet wider than normal at the front of the ball of your foot which make your shoes pinch.  Your little toe gets squashed and if there’s even the slightest moisture making it drag against the leather you’ll develop a blister and later perhaps a callous.

Other aches and pains along the arch of your foot, your heel and into your leg can be caused by the unnatural position of the arch of your foot.  The arch is supported by a muscle running the length of your foot and helps your balance.

How to customize your heels

  • Consider a larger size
  • Wear a cushioning gel insole
  • Try a structured insole with arch support
  • Use patches of moleskin
  • Wear tights
  • Use talc
  • Stick a pad on the inside of the back
  • Buy custom-made shoes
  • Get your shoes stretched

The first thing you can do to avoid pain is to buy shoes that are half a size up from normal.  This will give your toes more space but will also allow you to customise the interior of the shoes.

The thicker the sole of the shoe, the more your foot is cushioned when it hits the ground.  This is why platform shoes can be ideal for you.  The platform is made from a lightweight material such as cork or synthetic rubber.  This acts as a slightly flexible barrier between you and the floor which absorbs some of the shock waves of the impact on your foot as you walk.  Even quite thin platforms will help your feet.

With normal thin soles you can get a similar protective effect by using insoles.  These come in a variety of shapes and thicknesses.  You will need that extra half size space in your shoes to wear the most protective.

Dr Scholls https://www.drscholls.com produces transparent gel insoles that either cover heel to toe or just the ball of your foot.  They are lightweight and re-useable and washable.  They reduce the impact on your foot every step you take.  They also help to keep your foot in the correct place in the shoe as they have a slightly sticky surface that adheres to the shoe and to your foot.  So they can help you to avoid blisters by keeping your toes from slipping too far forward into the pointed toe of your shoe.  They are inexpensive and you might find yourself wearing them even in flat shoes if you tend to spend a lot of time on your feet in daily life.

To help with pain along the arch of your foot or the heel you can try a three-quarter insole.  These are separately designed to fit the right and the left shoe.  Put them in from the heel and they will stop just before your toes.  This is to avoid squashing your toes any more than the shoe already does.  They are quite thick and pre-formed and work well.  But you can’t really wear them in open sandals – you need sides to the shoes because of their built-up construction.  They take up a little space in your shoes so you will need to allow for that when you decide which size shoes to purchase.  Dr Scholls also do a cushioned leather insole designed specifically for heels at least 1.5 inches high.

A favourite way of protecting your feet from blisters is to use their moleskin padding roll.  This is a thin protective layer with flannel lining.  It comes on a short roll which you cut to size.  Because it is thin you can use it in dressy shoes. Just cover the areas of your foot that you know are likely to chafe if you wear your heels too long.  Make sure your feet are perfectly dry before applying the moleskin.  Don’t use any body or foot lotion either.  The moleskin should keep in place all day and ensure the shoe can move freely against your foot without rubbing your skin.  Not suitable for diabetics.

One good way of avoiding shoes rubbing is to wear tights.  It’s not ideal but a lot better than bare feet getting slightly sweaty and causing shoes to rub.  But you may prefer to have bare legs if your daughter is having a summer wedding or a destination wedding on the beach or in a climate that is likely to be very hot.  In that case use moleskin.

Talc has traditionally been used to keep skin dry and slippery.  I’ve never found talc very helpful but give it a try and see if it works for you.

The heel is often the place where shoes chafe the most when new.  All our feet are differently shaped and that goes for heels too.  So don’t blame the shoe designer for your sore heels.  Other people may find them perfect.  There are lots of shoe heel pads and grips available.  Dr Scholls do gel ones that I like.

Finally you have the option of getting custom-made shoes.  These range from very high fashion shoes as worn by celebrities and costing a small fortune to simple heels at prices that are no more than the high street.  I have never had shoes made so I don’t feel I can recommend anyone.  I would advise you to spend half an hour on Google to see what’s available.

If you buy your shoes and they immediately feel rather uncomfortable because they are too tight in places you can go to a shoe-repair shop and ask to have your shoes stretched.  I have done this with boots but never with formal shoes.  You can also buy shoe stretchers.  The softer the leather the easier they will stretch.  If you wear them around the house often enough they will stretch anyway.  It’s a dilemma whether to buy stiff shoes that look good for a long time but are merciless if your foot is the wrong shape for them, or soft leather shoes that offer more comfort and can be stretched to fit better but which may lose their lovely shape and start looking a bit baggy after a few times of wearing.

Treating sore feet

When practising in your heels a good idea is to wear a pair of socks.  The extra thickness they add to your feet will help the shoe to stretch so that they feel less snug when you put them on bare feet.  But socks are also a good way to avoid corns.  If you have soft, beautifully cared-for feet that are used to wearing flat sandals and soft sneakers they will definitely complain when you start wearing those new heels around the house.  Soft skin gets rubbed into a blister very fast.  Just think of your hands when you use a garden tool for an hour or two if you rarely garden.

But what to do if, despite your best efforts, your feet get damaged?  Of course you won’t wear those shoes to the wedding but now even your regular shoes might cause you pain.

Here’s the low-down on callouses and corns and how to treat them.

Plantar callouses are areas of toughened thick dry skin that develop on areas of your foot that are under a lot of pressure.  So they are found on heels and the ball of your foot.

To get rid of them you should soak your feet in warm water for ten minutes or so.  Then use a pumice stone or metal heel file to rub the top layers of dead skin away from your callous.  Then comes the nice bit – massage foot cream or good quality body lotion all over your feet paying particular attention to your callous and all areas of your foot that are under more pressure than normal.  If practising with high heels that will be the ball of your foot.

If you visit the doctor for help he or she will likely remove the hard skin with a scalpel or recommend patches that contain salicylic acid.  Put these patches on after soaking and pumicing your feet to get the best effect.  Never attack your callous with anything sharp yourself!

Corns are smaller than callouses.  They are circles of inflamed skin with a hard centre which can be painful when you press them.  Unlike callouses you get corns on areas of your feet that are not under pressure from bearing your weight.  That’s because they are caused by constant rubbing against the side or top of your shoe.   

There are small pads you can buy to put over your corn while it is healing.  They will help cushion against the rubbing and stop the corn getting worse and help lessen the pain when you put your shoes back on.

There are also over-the-counter treatment patches available although some doctors think it is wise to get a medical practitioner to look at your feet first before you self-medicate as these patches contain salicylic acid which can inflame soft skin.

If the sore areas of your feet look inflamed or feel unnaturally hot, see your doctor, as your corn many have become infected and is treatable with anti-biotics.

If you have diabetes and suffer from foot problems include corns and callouses always consult your doctor.  Numbness and poor circulation to your feet can cause complications.

I am not a doctor so this advice is taken from https://www.nhs.uk, https://www.mayoclinic.org and https://www.healthline.com.

How to walk in heels

  • Stand very straight
  • Step out from the hip
  • Place your foot straight in front of you
  • Move slowly
  • Practise lots

Because your centre of gravity changes in heels you need to walk differently.  Are you the busy must-push-on type of mother who walks fast and likes to get into her stride?  I admit that’s me!  But when we walk fast it’s because we are wearing low heeled or flat shoes.  We need that stability to move quickly.  We probably lean slightly forward, with our back and head curving in the direction we are going.

With high heels you have to be aware of the need to stand very upright.  Your back must be straight and your head held high as if you are being pulled up by a string.  This stance will allow you to balance.  But it doesn’t allow you to rush!  So reduce your pace however stressed you are on the day.  Move elegantly and slowly from place to place.  Stand tall when you are simply hanging around waiting.

To move well in high heels you need to lift your leg from the hip and place your foot straight in front of you.  The more your foot is central the more your hips will seem to be swaying.  So practise in front of a mirror or in front of your daughter to get just the look you feel comfortable with.

Then, practise, practise, practise.  Wear your new shoes on a carpet first to cushion your steps (and just in case you decide to take them back!).  Then practise on harder surfaces.  Practise in the garden and on the street.  Find where the shoes might nip you.  Try out some of the customisations here.  Then practise again.

By the time the wedding comes you need to feel these shoes are your old friends.  You know all their little foibles.  You forgive them for their little imperfections and for not always agreeing with your foot shape.  After all, you’ve made adjustments.  Now you can slip them on in a moment and feel instantly taller, slimmer, younger and more elegant.

Don’t stand for painful feet!  If after several practices your lovely shoes are still uncomfortable.  Then sorry, but you need to discard them and buy a different style.  You may be able to resell them on Ebay or take them to a charity shop or recycle depot.  But just get them out of your sight otherwise you will never stop regretting all that money wasted.

At least second time around you will understand the style and height of heel that can work for you.  If your feet are wide then try shops with wider fittings.  They may not always be quite as stylish but they’ll remove that tired frown from your face.  Or accept that you will need a much lower heel – a kitten heel perhaps.  I love these.  They don’t elongate your leg as much as real heels but they do look very feminine.  You are unlikely to sprain your ankle in kitten heels as your balance is nearer to what it usually is.

If I don’t wear kitten heels for my daughter’s wedding I will be wearing nude-coloured platform sandals.  The colour helps to continue the leg line and the platform gives diminutive me a bit more standing in the world.

Lots of brides today change out of their heels for the dancing. My daughter has some specially embroidered ‘Mrs’ sneakers all ready and waiting. So why not do the same? There are so many designs for sports and casual shoes available that you can still look glamorous. I love to dance but not in heels. I’ll be taking along some flat shoes or glittery sneakers too.

Can the Mother of the Bride wear flat shoes?  Yes, of course she can.  Just make sure that they are prettier and dressier than what you usually wear.  Ballerina pumps can look lovely.  Shoes with a lower front or open-toed shoes look the part.  You can embellish simple flat shoes yourself.  Take a look at Etsy and Pinterest to get ideas.

Can the Mother of the Bride wear boots?  Well, if this is a destination wedding to the snow why not?  Or perhaps you are the life and soul of every party and decide to wear Texan cowboy boots under your floaty lace dress.  It’s your daughter’s day but your personality and it is that personality that has helped to shape your daughter and make her the wonderful young woman she is.  You might want to OK your choice of boots with the bride but be sure to get yourself noticed whatever you wear.