Spring is a gift to our feet. Liberated from boots, tights and socks, winter feet get indulged with pedicures and comfortable sandals. However, this is also the time when bunions, hammer toes, soles and heels make us think: “Uh-oh. I better stock up on a good supply of Band-Aids!” You’d think the open-air approach would solve everything, but experience has taught us that not every shoe we fall in love with will love us back. Here are 10 ways to make sure your new picks do.
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PHOTO BY: Nordstrom; Macy’s; Nordstrom
1. Know your feet may have grown
Just like breasts, feet change in shape and size with age. After age 50, feet are bonier and lack padding and they may even be bigger. In fact, your usual size 7 may now be an 8. Don’t get stuck on a specific size since size varies brand to brand. Since one foot is usually larger than the other, size each shoe to that foot. Whether you’re buying shoes in a store or online, try them on at the end of the day, when your feet have swollen with hours of walking and standing. And here are two tips on returns: Never keep shoes that feel a tad too small. They won’t stretch with wear — that’s a myth. If your toes hang over the front edge of sandals, say no again. They’re too darn small.
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PHOTO BY: DSW (2); Walmart
2. Look for flats with support
No matter what’s trending, ballet flats remain one of our favorites. But if you can bend those ballet flats in half, beware. Those with thin flimsy soles and no structure or inner cushion are tough on mature feet. They can lead to a painful condition known as plantar fasciitis, in which the band of tissue running from heel to toe becomes inflamed. Take ballet flats like the Kelly & Katie Jayde Flat ($50, dsw.com/en/us), Time and Tru Women’s Soft Square Toe Ballet Flat in Camel ($15, walmart.com) and Lucky Brand Alba Flat in Cobalt ($69, dsw.com/en/us) with padded footbeds (your gold standard), and look for additional healthy feet features like knit uppers, square toes and a higher vamp, so your toes don’t feel crunched like sardines.
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PHOTO BY: Kohl's; Everlane; Nordstrom; Famous Footwear
3. Stick to a 2-inch heel or wedge
Stilettos are no longer part of our 50-plus vocabulary, but the leggy effect of wearing elevated shoes sure is. Right now, there are plenty of sturdy-looking block heels and wedges with a 3- or 4-inch height. Don’t get fooled! They’re actually jamming your toes forward and shifting your body weight onto the balls of your feet. Ouch! If you want a leg lift, stick with a height of 2 to 2 1/2 inches, which puts less stress on your feet and ankles but provides enough of a rise to stretch your silhouette. Always check the fit at your arch in a mirror. Too big a gap, and the contour of the shoe and your arch is not a good match. Choose a block heel sandal like the Bella Vita Jodi Sandal in Navy Fabric ($90, nordstrom.com) or Journee Collection Women’s Perette Block Heel Slide Sandal in Yellow ($49, famousfootwear.com), a pump like the Everlane The Italian Leather Day Heel in Light Taupe, Bone Stacked or Black ($145, everlane.com) or a casual wedge like the Bzees Smile Women’s Washable Wedge Slide in Berry Mimosa Stripe ($85, kohls.com).
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PHOTO BY: Zappos; Nordstrom; Zappos
4. Consider a slingback
Let’s face it, a shoe that connects with your heel in some way is a little more dependable than a mule or slide when climbing stairs or walking quickly, and looks polished even in trendier versions. Slingbacks are a good breathable alternative to open sandals and a more businesslike option for work. Flats like the SoftWalk Sandy in Taupe or Beige ($100, zappos.com), a ballerina style, or the Born Inlet in Taupe, Turquoise or Black ($95, zappos.com), a peep-toe with airy instep, are modern ways to go. For a more classic look, opt for a sling with a low kitten heel, like the Open Edit Cammie Slingback Pump in Green Obi or Black ($50, nordstrom.com).
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PHOTO BY: Nordstrom; DSW; H&M
5. Choose toe- and foot-friendly mules and slides
These comfy styles are backless: Slides have open toes; mules, closed ones. One of the hottest trends for both looks is a sandal with one or two soft, wide woven bands that gently but confidently secure the foot. They’re easy on bunions, corns, hammer toes and other front-of-foot and mid-foot issues. The Trotters Nora Slide Sandal in Red ($100, nordstrom.com) has wide crisscross straps and a block heel, the more casual H&M Braided Slides in Dark Beige ($25, www2.hm.com/en) have a single puffy band and the Marc Fisher Calvie Slide Sandal in Dark Pink ($60, dsw.com/en/us), with a low block heel and a braided strap, will make your feet say ... ahhhh.
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PHOTO BY: DSW; Walmart; DSW
6. Treat heels to TLC if you love backless shoes
Who doesn’t love the open feeling of backless shoes? However, a steady daily diet of mules, slides and clogs can leave heels extra vulnerable to calluses and cracking, due to the constant friction. Be sure to use a moisturizing cream on the edges of your heels at the soles every evening. The other issue here is keeping the shoes on your feet. If you’re a fast walker, have sweaty feet or end up using your toes as “clingers” with every step, try using adhesive inserts on the balls of the shoe or swipe your soles with stick antiperspirant deodorant to prevent backless shoes from flying off.
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PHOTO BY: Old Navy; Famous Footwear; Ann Taylor
7. Choose shoes with a comfortable toe-box
Wiggle your toes. If you can’t, your shoes are too small or too narrow. Be sure your front-of-shoe toe-box width and shape are comparable to your feet. Podiatrists always suggest giving up pointy shoes, but some pointy shoes out there actually work, and here’s why. Though some styles are needle sharp (avoid these!), plenty of others — even those labeled pointed-toe — have a more gentle point bordering on an almond shape, like the Cliffs by White Mountain Women’s Gracefully Wide Loafer in Light Blue or Butter Cream ($59, famousfootwear.com), Old Navy Faux-Leather Pointed-Toe Loafer Shoes for Women in Bare Necessity ($30, oldnavy.gap.com) and Ann Taylor Suede Tassel Loafer in Countryside Blue ($138, anntaylor.com). Whether you prefer a pointy-ish toe or a more rounded one, choose shoes in the softest leathers and suedes for toe comfort and be sure all toes, from pinky to big, have room to flex when sitting and standing. Wiggle and walk around for at least 10 minutes before heading for the cash register, or do a day test-run at home before designating them as keepers.
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PHOTO BY: Kohl's; 6pm; Famous Footwear
8. Check all shoe details by hand
Those strappy sandals, suede loafers and pedicure-revealing thongs may look beautiful, but how are they making your feet feel? Sometimes even the comfiest shoes have irritating details that go unnoticed. Play detective by sliding your fingers all along and under the straps and collar band of shoes. Check edges of bands and peep-toes, and any hardware — especially buckles, zippers or chains — for sharp spots, and run pads of fingers along all points where shoe meets the skin of your foot, inside and out. This is one step we usually neglect to do when buying new shoes.
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PHOTO BY: Famous Footwear (2); Zappos
9. Rotate your shoes every day
Stinky shoes are a fact of spring/summer life, especially if you have the same sandals on repeat and don’t give them time to air out. That’s not good for you or your social life! First of all, alternate shoes since they do need time to dry, breathe and have a chance to reduce bacteria buildup. Change shoe type and heel height, too, to give your feet, ankles and back a break. You might vary your rotation from espadrille wedges to ballet flats to sneakers to slides and back again. To reduce shoe odor overnight, give one of these a try: sprinkle baking soda in shoes before bed (and dump it out in the morning or at next wearing); stuff shoes with scented fabric softeners to absorb moisture and freshen; or make DIY sachets to live in your shoes. Just snip off the toes of old, clean pantyhose, fill them with tissues dampened with essential oils (eucalyptus and tea tree are particularly effective deodorizers) and secure with a ribbon.
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PHOTO BY: DSW; Macy's; Zappos; Macy's
10. Break in travel shoes before you leave home
How many times do we not wear “special” shoes till day of? This includes those purchased for trips or events, like a wedding or reunion weekend, getaways to the beach or a road trip. While an emergency kit of gel pad inserts is a good idea, a better one is to spend some at-home time (a full day) wearing your new shoes for a test-drive before venturing out. Slip on a pair of light socks if you really want to give those shoes and your feet every opportunity to get used to one another.
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.