Growing up in a small town near the edge of the California desert, I always had what we referred to as “walking shoes.” “Walking shoes” were some kind of sneaker—trainers or off-brand Keds—that we wore to go for a walk, stroll around botanical gardens, to spend a day in downtown San Diego, or do anything that involved more than a quarter-mile stroll. Shoes that weren’t “walking shoes” included different dress or work shoes of varying types and heel heights. Often, they were quite thin and included very little support.
As I got older, I encountered professional situations that required lots of standing or walking—professional situations in which wearing “walking shoes” didn’t help me look as polished as I wanted to look. After moving to a walkable neighborhood, I learned to identify a new kind of shoe: one that fell somewhere in between the pretty, just-for-looks dressy shoe and the all-about-function trainers.
One of my cousins grew up in a walkable city and has a great perspective on shoes: in the suburbs, you need to spend time and money maintaining your car. But if you move to the city, you’ll need to spend that time and money on your feet. Think of your shoes as your wheels—sometimes they will also need to get flats fixed and tires rotated.
It took me several months and a few pairs of shoes to figure just the right shoes. So here are my tips to save you a few months (and shoes) of trouble!
01. The most obvious choice: Nice sneakers that aren’t trainers.
Converse, Sketchers, Adidas, Vans, and similar off-brand versions are all easy to dress up and down. Nice sneaks can look great with jeans and a blazer, or even a midi skirt and sweater. And if you need some more support, you can always slip in some inserts.
[Blogger Kayla Seah dressed up her sneaks with a metallic skirt and chic sweater.]
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02. Sturdy shoes with thicker soles.
On the one hand, shoes will get less dusty and muddy in the city than in rural or suburban areas, where parts of your neighborhood may not have sidewalks, but shoes should still be able to withstand stomping up and down multiple flights of stairs, hilly concrete, and gravelly, uneven asphalt. You will need shoes that can take this beating, and they won’t need to be hiking boots, but I understand now why flip-flops in the city aren’t a good choice.
And as much as I love cheap flats, their thin, flimsy soles don’t protect your feet much more than socks. They do not support your feet while pounding the pavement for long periods of time, and your feet may ache after walking on concrete all day without any cushioning. Instead, look for thicker, harder soles. The soles should still be a little flexible, but not so flexible that you can bend the shoe in half. Often, these thicker-soled shoes have better insoles to pad your heel and support your arches.
Sometimes, you can also use a thick insert from the drugstore to fix a shoe with a thinner sole. You have to make sure, though, that the shoe comes up high enough on your heel that an extra quarter- or half-inch of foam or gel won’t make your heels slide out every step.
Important note: you may need some extra padding even with a sturdy, cushioned shoe that you thought would be fine on its own: your feet will tell you what they need!
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03. Shoes with rubber soles (or to which you can add rubber soles).
Some dressy shoes and wedges have hard plastic soles. Even though there are grooves carved in, these shoes can be slippery, especially on manhole covers, subway gratings, sidewalk cellar-hatch doors, and other metal surfaces commonly found in urban settings. Leather-soled shoes, though they look very chic and can be comfortable, are also often quite slippery. If you already have comfortable plastic- or leather-soled shoes, you can have rubber soles attached to the bottoms at a cobbler’s shop. Cobblers are fairly common in cities, where resoling a shoe is the urban equivalent of replacing a tire!
[Kelly Larkin sports loafers and a bright blazer.]
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04. Flats or low-heeled shoes.
When I first moved to a walkable neighborhood, I assumed that a flat shoe would be preferable to any heel at all, but soon found that sometimes a small heel on dress shoes, sandals, or boots was actually more comfortable. Because they bear the brunt of your weight hitting the pavement, your heels may need that extra cushioning that a small half- or one-inch heel provides.
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05. Other tips:
- ·Even if they are very comfortable, alternate shoes so that you’re not wearing the same pair two days in a row.
You may easily walk all day in a loafer—or even all day for two days! But on the third day of the shoe rubbing against the same part of your foot, it may start to give you blisters. This is less likely to happen if you alternate types or shapes of shoes based on how they feel on your foot. For example, if you wear a pointed shoe on Monday, then you would switch to a rounded toe on Tuesday; and if you wore heels on Wednesday, you would change to flats on Thursday; if, after sporting a pair of hard patent shoes on Friday, you would then choose a more flexible material for Saturday. Alternating also allows your shoes to dry out, which is healthy for your feet.
- · Carry moleskin in your purse.
Apparently, moleskin is a best-kept secret: there’s a lot of fashion advice about using Band-Aids and tape to treat blisters, but I’ve rarely seen anything about moleskin. Hikers carry moleskin because blisters are a deal-breaker when you are hiking through the Sierra Nevada or down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Unlike Band-Aids and tape, moleskin’s sole purpose is to prevent blisters, so it’s much more effective. You cut a square the size of the hot spot on your foot, peel off the backing, and stick the adhesive directly on your skin, with the fuzzy side facing your shoe. This works best when you use it before the hot spot has bubbled into a blister. You can find moleskin at REI—and also at any drugstore.
- And my final tip: Your feet also need fresh air.
After walking around all day, especially in the winter when you will not be wearing sandals or breathable shoes, take both your shoes and socks off at the end of the day. This allows your feet stretch, and also helps to dry out any moisture between your toes, which can make you susceptible to fungi, like athlete’s foot. So let your feet breathe, too!