Fashion ESQ: How To Find Shoes That Are Work-Appropriate

Finding footwear that is appropriate for work can be a difficult thing.  Unlike our male counterparts, the options available to women are wide-ranging yet inadequate, which leaves us wondering is this pair too dressy?  Too casual?  Too trendy?

If, like me, you opt for heels over flats, what heel height is most appropriate?  In general, anything over 3” is considered a “high heel,” and anything over 4” should generally be saved for special events where minimal walking is required.  Anything at 3.5” and below is considered appropriate for the office place.  If you prefer flats, stick with those or try something with a kitten heel to add a little sophistication. 

In addition to height, there are several important subjective considerations you should make when looking for a pair of shoes for work. 

First and foremost, can you walk in them? 

For some of us, walking around in a 4” heel is totally doable, while others become wobbly at 2”.  Whatever you comfort level is, stick to it.  No pair of shoes will look good and you will not feel professional if you cannot walk around your office or the courtroom with ease. 

Secondly, are the shoes otherwise comfortable?

Nothing is worse than buying a new pair of shoes and realizing that after a few hours of wear, your feet are suffering.  To avoid this, when you buy a new pair of shoes, wear them around your house on carpeted surfaces to see if they will be accommodating for longer than an initial try-on.  Be careful to not scuff the soles or sides, and if they don’t pass the test, you can return them. 

Finally, is the style befitting of your office environment?

The answer to this question depends entirely on where you work and what you do for a living.  The more casual or expressive your office tends to be, the more options you have in terms of footwear.  For those who work in a conservative office or field, simplicity is best.  This means, avoid overly bold colors, patterns, and textures in your office footwear (i.e. studs, jewels, etc.).  Instead, opt for straightforward leather, suede or patent flats or heels between 2-3” in black, brown, gray, or a neutral beige.  If you are a recent graduate and are working to develop your professional wardrobe, you should also start out with a black and neutral basic heel or flat and build in more unique options from there.   

J.Crew, L.K. Bennett, M.M.LaFleur, Banana Republic, and Zara all offer work-appropriate flats and heels in a variety of colors, heel heights, and price points. 

We welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions for future columns.  Please email me at to make topic suggestions or to submit an article you’ve written on a professional fashion topic. 

Kathryn “Kate” Conway is an attorney at the trial law firm of Power Rogers & Smith, where she represents injured people and their families in cases involving wrongful death, medical malpractice, premises liability, product liability, automobile and trucking collisions. She is also a fashion lover and member of the WBAI Board of Directors.