Will Flats Fly in Court?

flats for courtToday’s reader mail comes from an injured reader who wonders if she can wear flats to appear in court —

I am a junior partner at a smaller firm in Pennsylvania. I am also a mother of two young children and therefore, on any given day, can be seen carrying my 8 month old in her carseat/carrier, holding a file in my other hand, with my laptop bag strapped across my chest and purse on my shoulder, prodding my almost-three year old forward with my knee as necessary. And of course, I commit this balancing act in heels. Unfortunately, I think this routine has taken its toll, and on Monday, I woke up with such tremendous back pain that I literally could not get out of bed. After four days on the couch and some visits to the chiropractor, I am finally mobile again. However, he has cautioned against wearing heels for a while, until I am feeling 100%. I am concerned about upcoming court appointments – the climate here is fairly conservative (judges have commented on female attorneys wearing pantsuits before, noting they are “inappropriate” for court) and I wonder how flats will play in court. How should I handle this? Should I say something, even informally, to make the court aware of my back issues? Apologize for the flats? Ignore the whole situation and hope that no one notices? I just feel like I won’t look professional enough wearing flats with a suit for court.

Feel better soon! To answer this Q, we asked a friend who had foot surgery — her doctor similarly put a blanket prohibition on heels.  Her thoughts: “I think flats are totally acceptable.  I wore them for months after my foot surgery.  It was only when I was wearing my sneakers for 2 months after the operation that I would say something to judges or attorneys.  The flats, however, should look as professional as high heel shoes which can be difficult to find.”  We agree 100%.

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If you know that the local judges do not like pantsuits, then continue to wear skirt suits — a number of readers on a recent post commented that they preferred to wear flats with pencil skirts, so you may want to try them with skirt suits like that.  (If anyone can remember which post it was, please point us the way.)  For our $.02, a more professional flat should be: a) made of good materials (skip anything with canvas details, for example), b) not have too many embellishments (avoid floppy bows or the “bejeweled” look, for example), and c) for court, should probably be in a dark, sedate color.  If possible, look for a shoe that has a slight point to the toe — the rounder-toed ones tend to look a wee bit like slippers. Pictured above: Nine West – Misty (Black) – Footwear, available at Zappos.com for $59 (with a fairly good rating from the 4 reviewers).

Readers, what are your favorite pairs of flats (brands, styles, etc.)?  Any tips for wearing them with skirts?

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  1. I have serious back problems and am absolutely forbidden from wearing heels of any height unless I want to have back surgery. As a result I’ve had to find cute flats that are professional, comfortable and appropriate.

    I’ve had great success with the BP brand flats found at Nordstrom. Some are not court appropriate but they have many that are. Plus, they hold up well and are inexpensive (average is around $60/pair).

  2. I just bought these and I LOVE them:

    I would suggest ordering 1/2 size down. Also, they are not the most supportive of flats, so not great for long-distance walking or anything like that. Zappos only has them in black but Nordstrom has silver and gold:

    What do people think of the Tory Burch Eddie flat:

    • not a big fan of Tory Burch generally, but those look a little too “rustic” to me.

    • Tory Burch Eddie looks good for commuting, but not for around the office. Just my take.

      • Oh, and thanks, Kat for answering this question! I’ve appreciated your flat picks in the past, but most have been cute occasional shoes – not everyday office basics.

  3. My $.02 – I think rounded or pointed toe flats work equally well with pants as a matter of personal preference, but I always think rounded toe flats look better (visually) with skirts. I don’t know what it is but the pointed toe flats always looks strange to me when paired with a skirt.

    I only wear flats (I have no back, foot, or other issues – I just prefer them). I like Delman flats for plain, round toe flats in neutrals but your office needs to be casual enough for elasticized sides to be appropriate, which is probably not the case for court. Honestly, I have yet to find a brand that is consistently good for work-appropriate flats – I either head to the shops or look online (Nordstrom, Endless, Zappos, etc) until I find some good options.

    One note – especially if you are having back pain, you probably want to look for something with good arch support. JCrew flats have no cushioning/arch support so, while cute, aren’t very kind to the foot.

    These probably won’t work for court but for the office, I highly recommend them – SUPER comfortable.


    • Anonymous :

      I agree—round with skirts, pointed with pants (most the time this is true for heels too).

      • Uh oh, I’m wearing pointed toes with a dress right now! I had no idea about that rule!

    • I wear a lot of flats, too – bunions, so always with rounded toe now. Goodwill got a massive donation of pointed toe shoes last year!

      Bought a pair of JCrew flats recently that had a shocking amount of cushion, so you may want to give them another shot! I also have a couple of pairs of Delman flats that aren’t elasticized around the sides, and I loove one pair (black linen, so comfortable) and hate the other (brown grosgrain). This isn’t that helpful I guess, the point is just that you never know until you try.

      Agree re the pointed toe and skirts – always looks odd to me.

  4. I’m a corporate attorney and it’s amazing to me that a pantsuit would be “inappropriate” for court and that a judge would actually comment on it. I think pantsuits look more authoritative, stylish and professional than skirt suits (which often either look cutesy or dowdy) and I rarely see female partners in skirt suits at my office. Maybe it’s a California thing.

    • I am in NYC and I agree. I also just find it completely sexist. If you are dressed completely appropriately, how on earth could it be a problem that you’re wearing pants?!

    • Agree… just on principle, I refuse to wear skirt suits to cater to a preference for them over pantsuits… My pant suits are just as formal as a man’s… also, I hate (hate, hate) wearing stockings… and if you wear skirt suit, you must wear stockings.

      • Be warned, though — you may be doing your client a disservice. I’ve heard of blind judges who made their law clerks tell them when women lawyers appeared before them in pants suits. For whatever reason, they really seem to care about it…

        • But what if the blind judge wanted to know whether you were white or black? If that occurred you would similarly be doing your client a “disservice” by, for example, refusing to appear in front of that judge, but isn’t there somewhere where we should draw the line? Why racism but not sexism?

        • When the whole kerfuffle about women attorneys’ apparel was ongoing last year, I wondered a lot about this. What about choices based on religious belief? I have to cover up my legs and so skirt suits are out of the question for me. I’m still a student, but the few times I’ve been in court, observing, I’ve always worn pantsuits. The judges didn’t seem to have a problem with it (most of the female attorneys I worked for also were wearing pantsuits) but there’s a possibility I might work in a less laidback jurisdiction in the future.

        • I don’t think it does anyone any favors to cater to outdated, sexist (or racist for that matter) notions… doing so just reinforces their continued existence. But maybe I’m just naive…

          • I also think this must-wear-heels, must-wear-skirt-suits thing is sexist and I refuse to feed into it. I have a trial next week and I’m wearing pant suits and Repetto Brigitte Bardot flats, and if the judge is going to get so distracted by what I’m wearing that he’s incapable of doing his impartial best as a judge, he can suck it.

            I, too, have heard a shocking number of older male judges unapologetically criticizing female attorneys’ appearances in court. But I consider it *their* problem, not mine.

      • If you practice in a jurisdiction like that..time to move!

    • Its not a California thing. I practice in New England and when I read “judges have commented on female attorneys wearing pantsuits before, noting they are ‘inappropriate’ for court” my jaw dropped! I had no idea that that viewpoint even existed. I typically wear pantsuits to court because I feel that it can be unprofessional to have your legs “out there.” I save my skirt suits for client meetings and depos.

      • I don’t think anyone is suggesting that these judges are correct or deserve to be indulged, but the reality is that they can make or break your case. And in a bench trial, they decide your case. Whether or not the judge’s decision or attitude is “right” is a matter irrelevant to their power to act in the way they see fit. And personally, no matter how much I would prefer to walk into every courtroom in a pantsuit, I am NOT going to make my client suffer because I’m trying to make a political point. If you have some religious or other compelling reason to do it, do it – and make a point to introduce yourself to the staff attorney or bailiff and explain if possible.

        I deal with cases involving millions to my clients and years of litigation. I’m not going to derail that a bit to prove a point that I should be able to wear pants. I should be able to. I’m not. Case closed.

        • Sorry – I didn’t mean this as a reply where it ended up – it should have been under the “screw the judges, I’m wearing pants” discussion.

        • A Different Liz :

          I understand your point, and I’m not directing my comment to you personally, but whenever I see this type of response, I always wonder if those who wear skirts and heels to satisfy a judge’s preferences and protect their clients from a decision made on the basis of the attorney’s attire would go along with excluding women from a trial team if it were a multi-million-dollar case and the judge didn’t approve of women attorneys.

          I also have to wonder if a judge who disapproved of pantsuits to the point of ruling against a party because an attorney wore one would react well to learning that an attorney wouldn’t wear skirts because of religious beliefs. It makes me think of a CLE I attended a couple of years ago where a man who had become a Sikh talked about whether wearing a turban in court negatively affected his representation of clients. He thought that while it initially distracted the judge, it worked out better for him in the long run because the judge paid more attention to him.

          • Both good points, and I guess the difference there is that gender discrimination and religious discrimination are both things that can be addressed under the judicial code of ethics. I would not hesitate to report a judge who was anti-woman. The problem with the skirt/pants thing is that a lot of the offenders are FEMALE judges and female attorneys. It’s a belief that skirts are more formal – not an actionable attitude against women.

  5. Kat, if you read this – my posts have been getting eaten lately – not sure of the issue.

    I mostly wear flats at work as well. I have several pairs of ballet flats from Nine West (I am not on a Delman budget!), and a pair of softwalk loafers that I wear with my pants suits. I like the look of ballet flats with skirts. Not sure what to tell you re: court as I don’t go often at all, and here judges don’t look askance at pants suits.

    • I’m the “Delman” anon – I’m not on a Delman budget either – I scour the sales for them. I think the most I paid was $70 for a pair.

      • Delman is also on gilt pretty often. I bought a pair of the quilted ones and had to return them because they rubbed. i felt like i was getting a blister within 2 minutes of wearing them, with pantyhose.

  6. associate :

    I love flats and therefore compusively check out other female attorneys’ shoes, as I’ve had this same question. I’ve seen a lot of people in the pointy-toed style flat in court and at professional events that look great. I’m not as big of a fan of round toe flats for a in-court look for some reason.

    • The round toed ones look either old or childish to me… I like the flats with at least a little bit of a squared off toe.

  7. Please don’t wear patent leather flats (or heels!) in court. I watch a lot of trials and patent leather draws the eye like nothing else, especially in carpeted courtrooms. Believe me, I am a huge shoe-aholic and own plenty of patent leather. When I realized how much light they bounce around in court, I was mortified to think I had worn them before.

  8. I tore my ACL while pregnant, and I, too, was put on a heels prohibition. I have found that Dr. Scholl’s has some very reasonably price, comfortable flats that meet my (very conservative) court’s standards. http://www.zappos.com/dr-scholls-graduate-black-pampero-leather

    Good luck!

    • I love those–thank you for that link! I will have to buy a pair!

    • I also have a pair of Dr. Scholl’s flats, and they are absolutely amazing! Expensive online, I always see them at DSW for $40. The only thing is, the buckles are plastic. I had one buckle snap in half when they were stepped on by accident. Wore them to Federal Court all the time, no negative comments from anyone. Of course, I’m in New England where most women wear flats anyway.

      Otherwise, I’d also recommend ALDO for professional flats. They aren’t bad budget wise, go on sale a lot, and I have a few pairs without ostentatious bows/sparkles. Not as comfy as the Dr. Scholl’s, though.

  9. I have found these Born flats to be amazingly comfortable. Cushioned with a decent rubber sole- zero break in time required. They also have a more plain looking flat, but I haven’t tried it.

    • I second Born for comfort, though it’s only recently they’ve started making decently cute shoes.

      Also, does anyone know how the cole haan air shoes run in terms of sizes? My shoes range between a 7 and a half and an 8, so if I’m ordering online, it’s always hard to tell.

      • I would go with the size 8 on the Cole Haan air. I have 2 pair of pumps (hana, I think), and a 5.5 would be too small for me, although the six is a teeny bit large. The flats seem smaller, and you would definitely want an 8 in them. (I just happened on a 75 percent off sale when shopping for something else last weekend!)

  10. I highly recommend Cole Haan Nike Air flats. I could go all day in them. I have some that a very flat and some with the hint of a wedge. Those with the slight wedge are the most comfortable and supportive for me. My favorite pair are open toe so not suitable for your needs but these look nice: http://vip.zappos.com/cole-haan-air-andi-ballet-black-opal-patent

    • Anonymous :

      I also really like Cole Haan flats and I have found all of my Cole Haan shoes on gilt or at DSW.

    • Anonymous :

      What’s this Zappos VIP?

      • newassociate :

        if you spend enough on zappos, they invite you to be a “vip” and then you always have free overnight shipping. the website has a better UI, too.

  11. While I personally am trying to get over the idea of anyone being bothered by a woman wearing pantsuits (and finding them more inappropriate than skirt suits!), I wanted to make a suggestion.

    What about something a little sturdier? A pair of dressy loafers, oxfords or cushy wingtips? I tend to have issues with my calves if I wear dress heels daily, so I alternate with dark oxfords. Of course, mine are not to be worn with skirts (and were super cheap), but I’ve seen some out there that could easily be worn with skirts. It’s a consideration.

    While skimming through this, I realised that while reading this blog is awesome, I might be out of the demographic – the costs of some of these singular items are about three or four times what I normally pay for similar things, and would damage my budget severely. Is this a high-income-only type of blog?)

    • No, there are plenty of people reading who are still in school or are in lower paying jobs. I think this blog is designed to help dress professional women with any budget.

      I am not really into the loafer/oxford with skirt combo- it just screams schoolgirl to me or it can end up looking too matronly depending on the style.

  12. I love the featured flats. Luckily I dont do court any more, because most of my shoes are patent!

    Here are some options:




    I might even buy these:

    I usually wear two pairs of shoes each day, especially with skirts or dresses. I save the heels for when it matters, but can’t normally do more than 3 or 4 hours in them total. When I am just at my office I wear flats.

    • Nice–love all of these perfectly professional options (the Eccos seem a tad casual for suits, but would be fine in my office on a Friday).

  13. Naturalizer has some good flats from time to time. I usually hit the Naturalizer outlet once or twice a year, and I can almost always find a cute pair or two or three of court-appropriate flats. The last pairs I got were styled like wingtip shoes. It’s hard to describe exactly, but they were cool and sophisticated. I bought a pair in black, brown/tan, and silver/gray.

    I typically wear flats to court because I’m 5’11” and a bit on the clumsy side. (OK, really clumsy.) I only wear heels if I know I’m going up against tough opposing counsel who might be taller than me.

  14. Great timing for this — I’m going to be starting a heels prohibition soon, once I’m able to wear something besides sneakers. :-) I’m looking for flats that either run wide or (and?) are cut out towards the back. I’ve got an air cast on my left foot/ankle for the next 3 months. So far, the only shoes I can fit into are one pair of Easy Spirit sneakers with a strap across the back (i.e., the strap stretches around the cast). But I’ve got meetings and conferences coming up … one pair of sneakers will soon be nasty and I’ve got to find something else.

    Has anyone here been in an air cast and found shoes that fit it? I may try the Dr. Scholl’s Graduate but am stumped beyond that.

  15. I have some Anne Klein flats that are comfortable and relatively supportive: http://www.sierratradingpost.com/p/,2342F_AK-by-Anne-Klein-Bannon-Slip-On-Flats-For-Women.html

    If you want real support, though, I would second the recommendation for Born. Sofft also makes some nice ones.

  16. I’m a fan of Nine West flats — I like shoes with a few details to keep them from looking geriatric – Like these Ralph Lauren Flats (on sale for $47): http://www1.macys.com/catalog/product/index.ognc?ID=443429&CategoryID=50296

  17. RKS:

    I had an air cast for a bit last fall prior to my current heels prohibition due to several ruptured disks. My BP flats fit my cast inside of them, as did most of my Nine West flats and my feet run a bit wide anyway. Plus both are inexpensive.

  18. These are expensive, but Attilio Giusti Leombruni flats are the most comfortable flats I have ever owned.


    • Really pretty!

      • I have a pair of these in black and love them. The salesman who made me try them on (I wasn’t looking for flats) said that they are by far the most popular shoes in the Bellevue salon shoes department and that a lot of his customers have them in every color. I just want one more–purple–but as much as I adore them, I think at that price point one pair is definitely worth it, but two, not so much.

    • The Nordstrom salesperson recommended these to me. I was so tired of wasting my money on uncomfortable shoes I was ready to pay up. Now I have them in black and nude. I noticed one of the salespeople in the shoe salon was wearing them, too.

  19. Anonymous :

    Inspired by this post, I checked out Cole Haan and they are having a fantastic sale on some of the flats mentioned. Just bought these two:

    Air Andi – down from $178 to $89

    Air Dana – down from $148 to $99 (they have a wide width option, yay!)

    Surprisingly, the prices on the Cole Haan website were better (in some cases much better) than other sites like Zappos, Nordstrom, etc. Plus, they were sold out on many of those sites. Never bought Cole Haan shoes before but I am excited to see if they bring relief to my tortured feet!

  20. I can’t imagine this would be helpful now, but I love J.Crew’s Princeton loafers and flats, circa 2004. I have three pairs and they are the most amazingly comfortable, classy looking shoes imaginable. They provide excellent arch support, though I do agree that J.Crew flats don’t anymore. Try ebay?

    I may get flak for this, but I also love Mia’s Hepburn skimmer. Maybe not a court-worthy candidate, but absolutely for the office or other tasks. http://www.zappos.com/mia-hepburn-tan-leather

    • Why would you get flak for them? I think they are adorable and in fact, I’m going to order a pair!