Comfort shoes step up

Today, the Passage dedicates its window to those who respond to shoes in former posts with, "Nice, but I have problem feet."

They are not alone. A stealth movement is underway; women who could be my granddaughters express dismay over shoes that come with an unwritten guarantee of pain. The categories of comfort and orthopaedic shoes, formerly limited to neutrals that looked more like the box than the shoe, are looking better all the time, and being worn by all ages.

Two caveats: First, because foot problems like bunions, arthritis, plantar fascitis and other conditions are not uniform, and everyone's anatomy is different, there is no one magic shoe. You will have to try them; few are lucky enough to find "that pair" on the first excursion.

If you have stores in your area, go early in the season, which for summer is right now. Though I can find shoes in my city, I will also order online to get the model and colour I want, and consider the shipping an investment in my health.

Second, these shoes are not going to be cute, ever. Cute is the province of the paper-thin ballet flat or delicate, whimsical sandal—nor will they be the breathily sexy Louboutin stiletto.

Many women put off buying specialty shoes till they limp into a podiatrist's and are read the riot act. How universal, sturdy and affirming vanity is! I find it one of the most endearing things about being human.

The level just short of orthopaedic has adopted the cozy label, "comfort". These shoes often accommodate orthotics (some replace the need altogether), have above-standard arch support and provide other stabilizing features.

Of such makers, Hopp (an offshoot of the venerable SAS) are the upstarts, and offer a sophistication not consistently found in the category. I featured their nerdy-in-a-good-way debut model, the Essential Oxford in an earlier post; they have expanded the line to other styles.

The python collared mule has the SAS insole, padded upper lining and a special shock-absorbing sole. Sizes up to 11; other colour options; price $215.

Cole Haan offer many super-cushioned styles in luscious colours, so if you can wear their last and have limited patience for looking around, start there. My friend Rachel just bought a pair of Ultralite Stitchlite Oxfords, price $215, for an upcoming tour of Italy that includes lots of walking, because the stretch knit uppers accommodate her two-different-height insteps. The soles are flexible and articulated like an accordian, designed to mimic natural foot movement, and have 'pods' at the forefoot and heel for increased traction.

Women with plantar fasciatis search for shoes with some stretch, but also with solid support. If they also need a specialty width, the field narrows but good-looking shoes are out there.

Left: The Softwalk "Hanover" looks like a fashion boot but has serious cushioning, and comes in wide and medium widths. Price, $US 129.

Right: Propet's "Ladybug"will work with both jeans and skirts and comes in narrow and wide widths as well as medium, and at $US 70, is a good price.

Some makers just say it right out that their shoes are orthopaedic. There is no single distinguishing trait; the footwear often has multiple points of cushioning, firm heel counters, and removable liners for orthotics. They're like compression hose: you hope they keep their assistance on the down low.  Now, such shoes are often indistinguishable from "regular" shoes or boots.

Left: Heels are available, even if you prefer to save them for special occasions; check out the Spring Step L'Artiste Bardot ankle boot, $130.

Right: Especially designed to address arch and heel pain and plantar fascitis, Naot's cork-footbed Sirocco boot, $220, has chic piping that hitches hip to healthy.

Sometimes, foot problems are so bedevilling you think, I want someone to make me shoes that really fit. Bespoke is an answer; several of us in the family have them, just to get shoes that fit perfectly. (One of my feet is nearly a half-size bigger than the other.)

I am not talking about a pair of board-flat gladiator sandals you pick up when you're on an island vacation; this is a full shoe built for you.

Not all bespoke shoemakers will address therapeutic needs, so check that before an appointment.  Researching this post may turn out to be dangerous to my financial health; when I found Daphne Board, a certified pedorthist in Massachusetts, I hit shoe heaven. (She makes all kinds of bespoke shoes.)

Two of her striking orthopaedic styles, below: a boot and a two-tone flat. Daphne Broad shoes are available by visit to her studio in western Massachusetts, but also by mail. Her  FAQ page provides excellent advice.

Bespoke orthopaedic shoes start at about $700, and climb rapidly, but like any expertly-made bespoke shoes, they last for decades with care, unless you fall for exotic skins.

Oh, I'm dreaming of her shoes! I'll make these turquoise boots my spring screensaver.


The Bardot ankle boots look like they're from John Fluevog, which are anything but stodgy! And I'm starting to swear by Abeo sandals for warmer weather - some of them are almost pretty, and I've been able to walk in them, for miles, the very first day out. I believe that's almost a footwear miracle!
Thank you so much for this post - buying shoes has always been traumatic - I was once told that I'm a shoe salesman's worst nightmare! I tend o shop Clarke's or Ecco's and I've always had good luck with UK made shoes - even ordering online from Hotter Shoes.
I've always said that if I ever win the lottery my one real indulgence will be to have all my shoes custom made! I have searched and searched here in Toronto but I've never had any luck so I will check out the woman you have recommended.

I know I should be out there now but I'm having new orthotics made in a couple of weeks so have to wait until they are ready.
LauraH said…
You must have done a great deal of research for this post, thank you.

Although I have bunions, luckily they are not painful but do cause difficulty in finding shoes with the width I need across the top and a narrow enough heel so my foot doesn't slip up and down causing blisters. Slip ons are out for me which eliminates a lot of shoes! A snug lace up or other firm fastening seems to work best. I wore the oxfordish Naot Kumara shoes to travel and they were great for walking. Shoes and boots from La Canadienne also work well for me.

Those Daphne Broad shoes are amazing. I love the two tone flat, that gentle curve is beautiful. And the turquoise boots..I can't look at that photo too long, they are so tempting.
Duchesse said…
Margie from Toronto: Three of us in the family have bespoke shoes from Nasser Vies, in Toronto. He is open by appointment and sometimes he's closed for weeks... but the shoes are fantastic and worth every penny. I had him make me a pair of fine leather oxfords. We loved working with him.
See his work at
If interested please e-mail me for contact information.
Thank you so much Duchesse - I took a look at the site and it mostly details his shoe making courses (which look amazing) - and I know exactly where he is located.

I will email you about contact info - thank you again.
Adele said…
I am pining for a pair of Daphne Board shoes, and she is right in my backyard! I even went so far as to email her. One day.....after I save up money for a restyled necklace a la Janis Kerman. Duchesse, your are a danger to my bank account :~).
I was very pleased with the two pair of Propét TravelLite Mary Janes I bought last year. I need shoes wide in the front, and they have to be Mary Janes or shoes with laces so as not to be wide in the back. I suspect I'm not the only person with "duck feet".

They are very light and would not be good for wilderness or hill walking, but I've walked in cities in them for hours. Now they have more colours and I find the style cuter, more like a fisherperson sandal, but with some toe protection. The insoles can be removed and there should be plenty of room to add a more supportive one if you need it.

I contacted Propét Canada and evidently can order them if the retailers nearby don't happen to carry the model I want. I so want a RED pair, though I also like the silver (grey), a good colour for travel.

Actually, I do think some clumpy shoes can be cute, but cute as in Hummel figurines.
Rita said…
I like Propet, they seem to fit me very nicely. I have a pair of lace-up shoes with a memory foam insole (I think they're Hush Puppies). They feel very comfortable, but after a while, my knees start to hurt.
Barbara said…
...some of them are almost pretty, lol, Janice Riggs.

Great work, Duchesse. My favourites are the Cole Haan sneakers and those blue Hopp shoes you featured. Unfortunately both brands are not available in my country. I don't take the risk to send them back by high costs.
Lately I found a British Brand: "Tracey Neuls" whose shoes I adore. And I can get them in my town. I tried a pair of "Geek" in winter (one size bigger, my size was sold out). Also love their "Dean", both models are flats. So I hope to get a pair from their Spring Collection.
I bought a pair of Chelsea Boots from Think! which are very comfortable and you can change the insole for an orthopedic one.
What I don't get is the enthusiasm for Birkenstocks. For me it's confusing that one cannot scroll (is this the right word?) their foot.

Duchesse said…
Barbara Schieren: Tracey Neuls are sold in Canada too (at Gravity Pope), and i have admired them there. I was trying to stay under the $400 mark, but if willing to spend, they are good looking shoes!

Margie from Toronto: Great- and Nasser is a man.

LauraH: Yes, it was work and then I found Daphne Board and...what fun!

Adele: Oh I would be a goner! I even opened a map and thought about a trip.

lagatta: I hope you find them; once you find a last that suits your foot, it is good to stick with them.

Rita: When your knees hurt it is usually a sign that the padding has compressed and you are no longer getting good shock absorption. (It is a sure sign to runners that their shoes need replacing). If there is room inside you could try adding a padded insole and seeing if you can get more wear out of them, especially if they still look good.

I also liked these - unfortunately the ones I've seen online at Hudson's Bay -on sale - only come in medium, and my feet are wide in front (duck feet!) I love the colours in the multicolour stripe.

And yes, Propréts fit my feet very well. They aren't shoes/sandals that will last a decade; they are sort of like the nice semi-closed urban walking sandals you featured some years ago on the site. I do like the removable insole, not only in the event one needs a new one, but also to wash them and leave them in the sun to remove any foot odour. I wear these without socks in the summer...

Barbara, some of my friends in Germany swear by Birkies, but they don't fit my feet at all and several other people I know have bought them and given them away to friends or charity shops. I don't like the "toeholes" - they are uncomfortable if one's toes don't conform.
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