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%.

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?

Comments

  1. As an aside, I notice that the link I provided doesn’t include the black and brown leather versions among its options. They do exist, I promise! The electric pink snakeskin variety is not the one I was suggesting ;)

  2. Beware Michael Kors flats! I have a few pairs (for some reason I am drawn to them) and I have found many of them to be crazy slippery and it has resulted in some very public falls before I could get them to my shoe guy (I always want to wear new shoes immediately after buying them…). I love the ones I have but test the bottoms carefully or take them straight to someone who can put something on the bottoms for you!

    • If you’re in a pinch try using fine grain sandpaper on the bottoms to cut the slippery factor (I’m the same way… As soon as I find something I want to wear/use it… it’s so hard to wait when it’s a cute short sleeve shirt on a clearance rack in November!)

    • Auuughhh, me too! I bought a brand-new pair at Goodwill, and fell down later in the grocery store, landing on my knee and hurting my back. No wonder they were at Goodwill! I am taking them to the shoe repair shop to get rubber on the bottom.

  3. I would like to thank all of the ladies for the excellent suggestions! I also really like the flat C (or K? what do we call you now??) suggested. I can’t wear heels (except for the occasional wedge) due to an injury a few years ago, so I am always on the lookout for professional, cute flats.

    • You guys can call me whatever you like — C, Kat, whatever… (Just not Kathy — never liked that nickname for myself, but now I’ve gone and married a man named Griffin. Thus: I will hurt anyone who calls me Kathy.)

  4. Another Mel :

    I have a similar story, very pleased to know I’m not alone!

    I injured my knee a few years ago and my surgeon has warned that wearing high heels everyday will just mean more surgery, so I try and wear flats everyday (although do wear heels on the odd occasion when I need to) I picked up a couple of great pairs from Kenneth Cole. They weren’t cheap around $99 to $125 but look good with both pants and skirts. Also they had flats with ankle straps – not for everyone – but are great for me because I find flats usually stretch and then fall off my feet when I walk.

    Just checked the Kenneth Cole website and there are some on sale.

  5. criminaldefense :

    I’m a criminal defense attorney — in the South even! — and I am baffled by this post. I go to court every single day and women are always in pantsuits and flats. We have to visit multiple courts, walk between buildings, even go to multiple counties in a day. I would say flats are downright normal in criminal court.

    Wouldn’t say I would wear flats for a jury, I mean this is the South, but I would just have the heels in my bag.

    • Exactly! I’m a defense attorney too, and I wear flats (usually boots) with pants suits all the time. I’m in multiple courts, running back and forth to cells and up and down stairs. Also, with all the travel that my job entails (circuit courts, small planes, dirt roads) heels are often very impractical.

      Suggestion: flat boots. Slightly more polished, less weirdness about round toe v pointed toe.

  6. I used to work in a very conservative court. This is not something I would bring to the court’s attention by apologizing etc.
    The judges who were most hung up on the flats vs. heels issue in my experience tended to be the older female judges (who would talk about this more than you’d think, unfortunately). Is it at all possible to wear flats while traveling to court and slip into some very low heeled naturalizer-type shoes before you go on the record?
    If not… I recommend the “me too” brand flats. They are not too pricey and very comfortable.

  7. Does anyone have any suggestions for pointed-toe kitten heels? They are my all-time favorite work shoe and I have recently worn a hole through the sole of my favorite pair!

  8. I not only have a heel prohibition, I almost always wear ankle-foot orthotics on both feet that require lace-up shoes. My savior? Finding a specialty shoe store that deals with diabetic and other difficult to fit feet. They don’t just have boring orthopedic shoes in stock, despite what they may look like from the outside, and are responsive to requests like “anything but old lady shoes!” – definitely worth tracking down a store like that if you have problem feet.

    • L from Oz :

      Ladi – I have the same problem and the same solution. I have a fairly low hit rate from specifically orthopedic shops, but have a lot of luck with specialty shoe stores. Anything un-old-lady-ish can be wickedly expensive, but it works, and I get complimented on footware despite my limitations. (Loafer tip – Think! from last year. Hope they’re in stock again this spring, as my orthotics have ground down the inside lining and I need more pairs.)

      Many of the shoes suggested in this thread are pretty, but as someone with permanent problem feet (it’s actually genetic in my case), most of them would lead to just as many doctor’s appointments as heels. (Anything really flat can lead to ripped tendons; anything high stress fractures. Sigh.)

      Maybe it’s because I’ve always lived in public-transport friendly locations, but does everyone else drive everywhere? That’s the only way I can explain a lot of the shoes I see advertised/hear people praising.

      • anon - chi :

        I take public transportation most of the time and don’t own a car, but a lot of my sky-high heels are really only worn inside my office or going out to dinner. I often commute in flats, and sometimes even sneakers or flip flops, depending on the weather. On the other hand, I have a fairly high shoe-related pain tolerance and can walk over a mile with no trouble in a lot of my heels.

  9. Wow. I find it downright SAD that a woman would even need to ask this question. Have we not progressed enough as women that we can avoid wearing shoes that INJURE our bodies without asking for approval from a blog?! High heels are terrible for women’s bodies. Ask any doctor. Flats are perfectly professional – I’ve been everything from a judicial clerk to an attorney at a conservative DC office of a national law firm, and I assure you that no one (at least no one worth caring about) cares if you wear professional-looking flats.

  10. I don’t know your budget but Cole Haan has great flats and you might like Ferragamo’s slightly pointy flats (or their super low Vara/Varina heel). You can wear these even later.

  11. To the original questioner – it’s not enough just to wear flats with a back injury. You need to wear shoes that provide adequate shock cushioning and arch support and keep your posture in line. A lot of flats are even worse than heels in this regard.

    There’s no one style or brand of shoes that works for everyone. You need to have your feet evaluated, either by a podiatrist or at a comfort-oriented shoe store, to find out what problems may be causing you pain and get shoes that fit well. In my case, I have very low arches that tend to fall, and I distribute my weight disproportionately to my heels. I overpronate and have had plantar fasciitis. I have had a herniated disc, and wearing heels even for a day shift my posture to the point that I feel pain where the disc was (is) herniated. The brands that work for me best are Dansko, Rockport and Naturalizer. I also do well with Alegria (not work-appropriate, though) and I can wear Clarks with orthotics. Clarks makes a lot of very court-appropriate flats.

    If you’re in the DC area, you can get your feet evaluated at a Comfort One shoestore. They have this scanner device that’s actually pretty neat.

  12. ha ha. Men wear flat shoes every day.

  13. Sofft makes some great low heels and flats that go well with skirt suits and pants.

  14. Steve Madden makes some patent flats just like the ones pictured, they are affordable and look really good with black tights.

  15. Flats are fine for court (I would say the same about pantsuits but applaud your deferring to the Judge’s opinions since they’ve made them clear. No sense antagonizing!)
    Spectator flats are usually out this time of year in blue/white or black/white and even beige/black combination. Sometimes you’ll see them in a slingback flat version.They look super stylish and are very versatile.
    There are also a variety of brands of solid flats with a grosgrain bow on the toebox. This is a nice look I have worn to a variety of highly professional settings in the past.
    Best of luck!
    Anne Clarke

  16. Unless you have a medical issue, flats should not be worn during trial. It’s like wearing separates instead of a suit. Obviously in your situation, you cannot physically wear heels. When I had an ankle injury last summer and had to be in trial, I wore flats but also had my ankle wrapped to show why I was wearing flats. The wrap also supported my ankle during the long trial days.

    • Can you explain why you think it is like wearing separates instead of a suit? I understand why separates are more casual than a suit, but I don’t understand why flats are more casual than heels.

  17. Anonymous :

    For any of you who believe that heels always look more professional than flats, can you please explain why you feel this way? I’m honestly curious to know why heels are perceived by so many to be the better professional option. Thanks!

    • anon - chi :

      Probably for the same reason skirts are still considered by some to be dressier than pants, at least when it comes to suits – historically, that’s the way it was. Women wore skirts and heels to dress up. We’ve moved away from that somewhat with suits, but we still haven’t with heels vs. flats. I also wonder if it’s partially because heels are less comfortable, the same way that men’s ties are less comfortable than going without and serve no actual purpose, but still make a man’s outfit dressier than if he went sans tie.

      • Heels make the legs look prettier for most women, especially those with cankles, like me! They also tend to make most women stand straight and tall, giving an air of authority. When I am wearing heels that are comfortable, I feel stronger and more powerful. When they are uncomfortable, I feel like an idiot.

    • chic chick :

      Yes, I have always been baffled by this. I alternate between flats and heels quite a bit. A quality pair of flats can look very elegant, in my opinion! My suggestion: where whatever makes you feel most confident, taking into account comfort and medical issues, of course.

  18. I always wear loafers to court. I think it is completely professional.

  19. The post regarding flats with pencil skirts was a comment made in the Frump thread I believe…

    http://corporette.com/2010/02/09/some-thoughts-on-frump/#comments

    For what it’s worth, I think flats can be just as professional as heels, as long as they are dressy and not casual. The same can go with heels…not all heels are professional automatically.

  20. For similar bad ankle reasons I have become a total flat all the time wearer of shoes. I wore flats everyday during a 4 week trial recently and did not even get weird glance. As long as the flats are professional looking — I say go for it. And thanks everyone for the links.

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