High Heel Design Changes Aim to Offer Wearers More Comfort

Shoe shopping has changed.

ByABC News
August 1, 2016, 8:06 AM

— -- Shoe shopping has changed. Women’s dress shoes used to be geared towards 3- to 4-inch heels. But the overall fashion trend toward comfort has added more choices in the sensible category. Be they wedges or ballet flats, women are choosing shoes they can easily walk in.

But don’t despair, high-heel aficionados! Brands known for innovating comfort are making their shoes more fashionable. And podiatrists are bringing a high level of design and technology to sky-high heels in an attempt to make them feel better.

Take Dr. Joan Oloff, a California podiatrist and shoe lover who decided to rethink the structure of her shoes.

"To me, traditional high fashion women's shoes are abusive. ... The idea that pain is something that's natural makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up and women are finally realizing that no, I don't want to hurt," she said.

Her first technique is to minimize the angle of the foot in the shoe.

In traditional heels, "all of the weight of the body is in the ball of the foot. In my heels, your weight is evenly distributed throughout the foot," she said. "So because your entire foot is sharing that load, you don't fatigue, the muscles don't fatigue. You don't get hip pain. You don't get knee pain. You don't get lower back pain."

She shows us an X-ray of a foot in a traditional pump and one in her platform pump. In the traditional shoe, all of the body’s weight is distributed on the ball of the foot. The toes are contracting and Oloff said it's "unstable" and "painful" for the wearer.

In her shoe, she said, "there’s no pressure on the ball of the foot. The metatarsal is at a stable position ... because it's stable, the toes lies flat."

To compare her shoes to more traditional pumps, I buy a pair of 4-inch heels from a retail brand and get a comparable-looking pair of 4-inch heels from Dr. Oloff’s line and head to the Kezar Track in San Francisco. I put a Joan Oloff shoe on the left foot and the traditional pump on the right. As I start my walk I notice subtle differences: more softness in the Joan Oloff shoe, less pinching at the toe, a more stable feeling base as I walked.

I am not a regular wearer of 4-inch heels, and by the halfway mark on the first lap I realize why: the traditional pump is killing me. I can feel a blister coming up down on the side of my big toe and to put it mildly, I am in agony. The Joan Oloff shoe is much more comfortable: no rubbing or blistering and it feels softer, like there is more padding.

Dr. Oloff’s shoes are not cheap. They cost about $300 to $450 per pair, but they are beautiful and comfy. I also try out a pair of gorgeous heels from another podiatrist, Marion Parke. These are outrageously designed with intricate buckles and rich suede, and the price tag is equally outrageous: $650 per pair. But they were exceedingly comfortable for the level of couture they provided.

To get more in line with my own budget, I also try out a pair of Corso Como 4-inch heels: more reasonably priced in the $100 range and very comfortable. These are a cult favorite among the corporate dress crowd.

But even more realistic for me -- 3-inch heels under $100. To test out how comfy they can get, I buy a pair of Naturalizer and of Rockport black pumps, both around $60. They are both incredibly cushy. To truly investigate how cushy, I get out an angle grinder I have for just these types of consumer reporting situations and decide to investigate.

I cut open the Rockport shoe and a traditional shoe, exposing the inner construction of the soles. There is twice the amount of padding in the Rockport shoe with much of it soft rubber. The traditional shoe has some leather and synthetic layers of material that don’t feel very absorptive to the touch. Rockport touts Adidas Adiprene technology in its shoes and I note as I’m cutting the shoes the soles are much more flexible than the traditional shoe’s sole.

I subject the pair of Naturalizer pumps to a different torture test. I wear these stylish patent leather pointy toe pumps as I jog a quarter mile around the track. While not many folks are used to seeing a woman in business attire jogging a few laps in high heels, I only get a couple of comments on my run. Equally astonishing, the shoes are ridiculously comfortable. No blisters, no red marks, I could easily run a few more laps.

Since that test I have been wearing the heels on air at “GMA” -- even walking 20 blocks in New York City. Would I prefer to be wearing sneakers? Yes. But for stylish work heels, I am surprised at how far the comfort technology has come.