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Best Shoes and Hemlines for Your Legs

Put your best foot forward with these mix and match styles

spinner image Best Shoes and Hemlines for Your Legs
Pairing the right shoes with the right hemlines can help you look and feel your best.
Alice Rutherford

We have fashion amnesia when it comes to shoes and boots. This magical ability to highlight great gams or forget about chunky legs, thick ankles, bulky calves and wide feet is why we fall in love with shoes that don't love us back. Let's be honest: Being obsessed with shoes and looking your leggiest best often are two different things, especially when showing some leg in skirts and dresses. You can have both with 10 optical-illusion tricks for trends.

1. Color-matched skin tone and shoes makes longer, slimmer legs.  A minimal color break between shoe and leg at the foot or ankle is the most magical maneuver of all. Get an authentic seamless effect with the shoes in an expanded palette of light to dark hues like blush, sand, camel, caramel, tan, mahogany, cognac, cappuccino and chocolate. Like the right shade of foundation, it's worth the hunt.

spinner image Color matched skin tone and shoes makes longer, slimmer legs
Alice Rutherford
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2. The wider your legs, the sturdier the shoe and heels. Swap spindly heels and narrow toes for substantial stacked and block heels in a low to medium height and fuller almond toes to balance solid leg and body proportions in style. Your bunions and hammertoes will thank you. Strong, muscular, athletic-looking legs are now cool, so stop calling them piano legs, drumsticks or tree trunks. Pump up in chunky velvet shoes like the French Sole Trance-X — go for the black or navy with gold heels! — and Walking Cradles Matisse styles. (Both available at and elsewhere.) Yes, velvet shoes are 24/7 now.

3. The wider the hemline, the slimmer your legs look. Skirt proportions also make a difference. You may love pencil skirts and sheaths, but it's the volume of A-lines, wraps, pleats and fit and flare styles that make legs look slimmer by contrast.

spinner image Keep skirt length knee-ish
Alice Rutherford

4. Keep skirt length around the knees. You need the right combo of shoe or boot style, skirt length and shape. A length that's somewhere between two inches above the knees and the top of the knees will be your basic. It's the lower leg where wide calves, ankles and feet visually add width and subtract length. Are you a midi-skirt fan? Keep hemlines below the knees at the point where your leg indents before starting to swell. Long skirts that stop where calves are fullest widen and shorten legs.

spinner image Pair higher clingy ankle booties with skirts
Alice Rutherford

5. Pair higher clingy ankle booties with skirts. Low ankle boots look great with pants, leggings and jeans, but opt for longer-necked booties that hug the leg. Stretchy suede, leather or microfiber gives a trimmer look with no obvious break — almost like socks — so check out the Mossimo Supply Co. Dania Crushed Velvet Sock Bootie or Donnie Side Zipper Sock Booties by A New Day (both at For a little more structure but a narrow extended top, try A2 by Aerosoles Strole Along Booties or the Journee Collection Heeled Buckle Booties (both at and elsewhere). Match your tights to your booties for the sleekest look.

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6. Wear sophisticated Mary Janes, not ankle straps. Ankle straps crop legs at the ankle, making them appear shorter and broader. For women with robust legs the ankles are your "thin" spot, even if you have cankles. A strap that crosses the instep is still flattering, but make sure to get a trendy pair. Try embellished velvet like Katy Perry The Saidee, the Nina Idette or a fancy cap-toe suede pair like SAS Cate. (Check and elsewhere.) And yes, along with velvet, pearls and glitz are for day, too.

spinner image D' Orsay shoes offer chic and sleek comfort

7. D'Orsay shoes offer chic and sleek comfort. The cut-out sides of a d'Orsay shoe update basic flats like Nine West Starship or Tommy Hilfiger Naree3 (both at and elsewhere) or low heels like Nine West Solis or Sam Edelman Telsa (both and elsewhere). The open-instep design exposes more foot, lengthening the leg in turn and providing roomier fit for swollen or puffy lower legs.

8. Peep-toe wedges are leg boosters (and make pedicures worth it). Yes, that little sliver of foot emerging is like an extension ladder to your legs. Try the combo of open toe and elevated wedge in black glossy patent or leather — like Naturalizer Olivia or Cole Haan Sadie Open Toe Wedge (both at and elsewhere) — instead of another black pump. The wedge provides support and complements fuller calves and ankles.

9. Keep knee-high boots lean, frill-free and neutral. Tall boots with a low heel straighten curves and even out leg proportions for a sleeker, more uniform look. This year gray suede or taupe with top-to-sole zippers — like Nine West Nihari, Corso Como Hoffman, Sam Edelman Penny 2 or Born Fannar (all available at and elsewhere) — are a fresh alternative to black or brown leather. So step on it! Another new option is a stretch over-the-knee boot like Journee Collection Sana Faux Suede Tall Round Toe Boots ( or Chinese Laundry Festive ( and elsewhere). These work like control leggings to mold and lean out power legs. 

10. Leopard is the best diversion of all. Spotty pumps (like Calvin Klein's Genoveva, Tahari Amanda or Cole Haan Justine) or ankle booties (like Anne Klein Gorgia or Dolce Vita Maude — all available at and elsewhere) with a block or kitten heel are so trendy, yet so classic, and flattering to all legs. You’ll love leopard footwear next year, too, when all the metallics and glitter fade away.

For more beauty and style tips for women age 50+, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style issue.

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