Fashion fit: The right shoe combines comfort with style

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Linda DeAngelo realized a long day in a pair of stylish high heels wasn't worth the pain of looking fashionable.

She went in search of more comfortable footwear. But she refused to give up style.

“Your feet tell you when you are ready and that you need a comfortable shoe,” says DeAngelo of Squirrel Hill, a professor at University of Pittsburgh, shopping at Gordon Shoes in the Waterfront, Homestead. “I have started buying shoes in the category where there is arch support and a lower heel, but that didn't mean giving up fashion. Fashion is very important to me.”

DeAngelo is not alone in her search for good footwear. Many individuals want shoes with the correct support that aren't “old-looking.”

It is important to shop at specialty shoe stores, such as Gordon and Little's Shoes in Squirrel Hill, where the staff is knowledgeable about proper footwear, says Dr. Kathleen M. O'Connell, a podiatrist and partner at Allegheny Podiatry with five area offices.

“They have the expertise and will measure your foot properly and give you a wide selection of choices,” O'Connell says.

Opt for shoes that contour your arch and distribute weight over the entire foot, says Phillip Vasyli, podiatrist and founder of Vionic Footwear with Orthaheel Technology, a line of shoes for men and women with built-in orthotics.

“Your best option is to aim for a 1 12- to 2-inch heel with a wedge sole,” Vasyli says. “Look for well-constructed shoes made from breathable leather and nonsynthetics, with shock-absorbing materials in the ball of the foot. ... The higher you go (with stilettos), the more force you are going to put on the ball of the foot, and you're only going to be able to wear them for shorter periods of time.”

O'Connell agrees with Vasyli on choosing a wedge style if you want a shoe with some height, because it will give you more support than a skinnier heel.

Don't go in with a preconceived notion about any brand when shopping, O'Connell says. Manufacturers are more aware today that women — and men — still want style with their comfort.

Companies such as Birkenstock are not the “ugly brown” shoe they used to be. O'Connell owns a pair with a flower pattern. And the Fly London brand offers fun shoes that won't hurt your feet.

Dansko is popular for those in the medical field who are on their feet all day, says Justin Sigal, co-owner of Little's with dad Joel Sigal.

Or try a comfortable Mephisto sandal, Justin Sigal says.

“At one time the word ‘comfort' meant distasteful,” Sigal says. “It used to be, you chose between comfort and fashion. But over time, the two are blending together, because shoe designers don't want their shoes to be the pair sitting under your desk because they aren't comfortable to wear.”

A lot of the comfortable shoes have cork and memory foam as well as a rounded-toe box.

“Some of these shoes are definitely worth paying more for,” O'Connell says. “They might cost you $150 or more, but they will be worth the investment.”

There are places where it is OK to wear the 5-inch heel, she says, just not all day.

“I wear stilettos, just not to the office,” O'Connell says. “There are plenty of options that are comfortable and good for your feet, and they aren't ugly anymore.”

There is no certain age when you should consider these types of shoes, O'Connell says. Sometimes, health — osteoporosis, arthritis, bunions or injury — prompts a move to different footwear. As we age, a foot's natural cushioning can wear down.

“It is worth paying more for shoes that are good for you and can be stylish as well,” says DeAngelo, who bought a pair of shoes with a wedge heel and jeweled detail. “I love shopping at Gordon Shoes because I tell them my foot problems, and they help me find a quality shoe. They help me find shoes that aren't from the grandma set.”

Helping customers find the proper footwear is the job of St. Louis-based Mike Baumann, a representative for Mephisto.

Baumann understands most women want style, and “the right shoes can energize your whole body.”

Make sure you have the right fit to start, says Chuck Gordon, owner of Gordon Shoes. “The thing about shoes is, they have to fit the foot and the mind,” he says.

Frank Belczyk of Beaver Falls says he lives in Merrell shoes, which offer a cushioning that helps his back condition.

“If not for Merrell shoes, I would have a difficult time ambulating,” he says. “They are worth every dollar. Look at the cost of physical therapy. It's worth spending the extra money on good shoes, because your health can be affected by the quality of shoe you are wearing.”

The Merrell line is considered a premium outdoor shoe that is comfortable and casual, says representative Jason Bodamer of Mt. Lebanon.

“The way a shoe is cut, it can force you to over-pronate (turn foot too far inward), but these shoes won't,” Bodamer says.

Think of all the wear and tear on the 28 bones in the foot when a person takes 6,000 to 10,000 steps per day. Wearing proper footwear is extremely important, says Dr. Stephen Conti, clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery and orthopaedic specialist UPMC.

“A relatively narrow foot with an elevated heel ... is the worst possible scenario for the foot,” Conti says. “It's sexier because of how it elongates the legs. I understand a woman's love of shoes. There is no piece of apparel women are more passionate about than shoes. Well, maybe handbags.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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