It takes walking approximately 202 steps, or the equivalent of two city blocks, to determine how comfortable your shoes are. I know this to be true because I spent the greater portion of last week walking up and down the streets around my office building wearing several varieties of flat sandals in earnest and with gusto, like the hard-hitting investigative journalist I am, in order to determine the most comfortable styles. Because when the weather is nice and you live in a walking city, your shoes are essentially your car. They need to strike an even balance of comfort and good looks. When you’re dealing in flat sandals, not all shoes are created equal. So I conducted a walking test, pinpointing five different shoe styles. Each would be judged based on comfort and, depending on that, whether they were worth the wear (this worked in both directions; some were extremely comfortable but not particularly exciting to wear, while others were not comfortable at all but maintain the good looks of Jonathan Taylor Thomas).
It is curiously overwhelming to categorize different forms of summer sandals (there are so many: Are slides different from mules? Are cross straps different from a single bar that fastens across the foot?), so I demarcated by theme. The five themes were: doctor-recommended sandals (see: Dr. Scholl’s, but clogs could be included here, too), prototypically practical sandals (such as thongs or Tevas; I tried both), lace-up sandals (the ones I used are K. Jacques, with a very flat leather sole), slippers and novelty pairs (these are kind of a wild card; ones you get for the simple reason that you love them). Below are the scintillating results.
The doctor-recommended sandals:
Dr. Scholl’s slides, $54.99
I bought my first pair of Dr. Scholl’s last summer and was floored when I discovered, on the two-block walk from my apartment to a coffee shop, that a blister was developing on the outer corner of my left foot, about two inches south of my pinky toe. I also earned a small red bruise on the middle bone of both middle toes. It was tough to wear closed-toe shoes that weren’t soft (suede, satin) for about three days afterward. For this experiment, I tried a brand-new pair of red Scholl’s that I have every intention to ultimately break in. I did not develop a blister in the 202 steps I walked, which is perhaps a function of the weather (it wasn’t hot enough for my feet to swell). Either way, they passed the comfort test and were worth the wear.
The prototypically practical sandals:
Tkees flip flops, $50
The first thong-wearing of the season is just about as uncomfortable as a colonoscopy. You feel slightly violated and perhaps like you are being asked to ice skate on the sun. I developed slight bruising between my big and middle toes, but not enough to feel like I could not keep walking past the 202-step threshold. Did they pass the comfort test? Not exactly. Flip flops should make their wearer feel like she is rolling on marshmallows. Were they worth the wear? I get that flip flops are coming back in fashion (see: Dior’s most recent runway show, The Row’s current footwear offering), but I’m not exactly there yet. I’m holding on to them anyway. You know, just in case.
Prada Tevas, $495
Well, these were a doozy. And comfortable-as-fuq. Practically like wearing running sneakers with the added benefit of a platform. Did I feel like a dad on a guided tour of desert terrain in Israel? You betcha! Would I wear them again? Probably not. My feet are a little too pudgy for such a clunky, utilitarian shoe. For that reason, these earn the comfort badge but didn’t quite make the worth-it cut.
The lace ups:
K. Jacques lace ups, $268 (on sale for $93.80)
Speaking of pudgy feet — these ones make my toes look like pigs in a blanket. That doesn’t bother me as much as it should, because lace ups are dynamic enough to make a boring outfit (see: shorts and a T-shirt, a simple dress) feel much cooler. They do a really fun thing where if you wear them for long enough, they start to make your heels feel like they are actual hot coals. That said, the laces stay up if you are willing to suffocate your ankles and, as aforementioned, they add a good dose of jazZzZzZzZz~*~ to otherwise quotidian outfits. For that reason, they don’t necessarily win the comfort game, but are completely and utterly worth the blanket pigs.
And pro tip! They are fun to style with a bathing suit and absolutely nothing else.
Marcela B. lace ups, $530
I found these on Moda Operandi and was sure they would be extremely comfortable: The top is mesh, there is a teeny-tiny wedge and the lace ups are made from very thin, very soft satin. But the stretch, woven canvas at the back of the shoe (where the laces hook in to wrap up your leg) generated two generously sized blisters at the backs of my ankles. Neither of which has forbidden me from wearing closed-back shoes, which is a plus, but as far as comfort goes, they’re on the fence. Absolutely worth it given THE PUKA SHELLS stitched into the mesh across the front, but to be fair, they did also fuck up my pedicure (the leather lining on the mesh hits directly at the midpoint of my big toe). Overall score: uncomfortable, not worth it.
The Row sandals, $795 (on sale for $397)
I don’t know if you’ve ever had little steak knives cut into the corners of your feet, but that’s a lot like what breaking in The Row’s satin slippers can feel like because of the narrow straps across the sides of the shoe (great theoretically because they keep your foot from falling out of the slipper; rough in practice). It took like, 50 steps for these to reveal themselves as profoundly uncomfortable, but exactly five dedicated wears of powering through the pain to break in. There is not a single version of reality where I don’t deem them worth it. (If you, like me, want to feel like an extravagant woman on the French Riviera, wearing satin shoes around her yacht because she is so laissez-faire that she doesn’t acknowledge that she is surrounded by water in satin footwear, these are absolutely the shoes that can do that for you). So you’re in terrible pain for a couple of weeks. Whatever.
Alumnae sandals, $425
I really like these ones. I do worry about whether the green suede is going to stain my foot on particularly hot days, but it’s a trade well worth it when considering how supple the fabric is — it makes the shoes so damn comfortable. Added bonus: because you can walk in them, they’re perfect to wear with your fitness lewk (not to be confused with workout clothes), but are great with a silk caftan, too (I’m speculating). Overall, these probably win most comfortable and worth it.
But we still have…
The novelty pair:
Miu Miu slippers, $950 (on sale for $665)
As far as I am concerned, these define what escapist shoes are all about. Having a shitty day? LOOK DOWN. Feel boring from the ankle up? LOOK DOWN. Want an iced coffee but shit, you’re overcaffeinated…
The thing is, it’s tough to comment on the comfort level because you cannot walk a further distance than, say, from the bathroom in your 500-square-foot apartment to the kitchen. They are like fashion Prozac, though, and for that I think they’re worth it. But actually, I’m conflicted on that clause, too. When you are lucky enough to have legs that work and want to use them because the weather is nice, is it ever worth sacrificing mobility for shoes? I don’t know. Maybe these win the prize for most creative and simultaneously attractive bookends.
Photos by Leandra Medine; feature image by Edith Young.