Poll: Are very high heels inappropriate for work?

L.A.M.B. - Juva (Black Multi) - Footwear
We haven’t taken a poll on this in a while, but gauging by recent comments we should. Here’s the question: are 3″ heels appropriate for work? (Pictured:  L.A.M.B. – Juva (Black Multi) – Footwear, available at Zappos Couture for $353. (They’re 4″.))

Opinions tend to run the gamut on this one, as we know from personal experience as well as from previous posts. For some women, anything over 2″ isn’t doable — too hard to walk in a graceful way, too hard to run down the hall when you hear your phone ringing, too hard to walk while carrying a box of documents — plus, a lot of folks tend to think of very high heels as “going out” shoes (when put politely) or “stripper shoes” (when put impolitely). For other women, anything below 3″ is dowdy and matronly, and ultimately not grown-up enough for the office.  For our $.02, we try to keep our heels at 3″ or under (but even then, a lot of our shoes live at the office and don’t actually see city streets).

Readers, what are your thoughts?



  1. @#$@#$ — we hate when we have a typo in a poll. (It isn’t fixable after it’s live, unless we reset the votes.) For the record, we meant that even Cole Haan shoes HAVE a 3.5″ heel.

  2. I’m very short–5’0″, so I wear (and would like to think get away with) higher heels in professional settings. I think the taller a woman is, the more difficult it is to pull off a 3.5″ or 4″ heel at work.

  3. I think it depends on the outfit and on a person’s height, especially if you’re wearing long slacks. Some pants just don’t look right after they’ve been tailored.

  4. I voted that “it depends.”

    My go-to black pumps are 3″ and I wore them more days than not last year. They were perfectly comfortable. I loved them.

    Then I sprained my ankle this spring. Now, even more than 3 months later, I can’t wear anything over about 2.5″ without pain in that ankle. When I try to wear my old black pumps, I find myself favoring the ankle and hobbling a little bit.

    I don’t think that 3″ heels are inappropriate in the office overall. I do think that they are inappropriate for ME — at least until my ankle is back to 100%.

    The usual concerns apply, too, obviously. 3.5″ Cole Haans are not the same as 3.5″ clear-heeled platforms.

    • Sorry about your ankle. I severly sprained my 6 or 7 years ago and still can’t wear 3″ heels. All my work heels are now between 1.5″ and 2.5″. And I still need to alternate between heels and flats or my ankle will swell and hurt.

      Maybe my shoes are matronly and dowdy, but sometimes comfort comes before fashion.

      • Miss Dimples :

        Re: sprained ankle – it happened to me and I went to see why I couldn’t wear any of my heels without pain or swelling. Turns out I had a hairline fracture, not a sprain, that healed on it’s on and caused scar tissue. 3 months of physical therapy on the ankle broke through the tissue and I’ve been in my heels ever since! :-)

  5. Jennifer C. :

    I second DSD’s “it depends” with a reference to pants — with long or wide-legged pants, I think a 3″ plus could look fine. Also, I think some shoes with 3″ heels don’t really look that high. Cole Haans were specifically mentioned, and some of those shoes have thicker, sturdier looks that can pull off a professional look even at a high height.

  6. I have an 80-something year old female relation who wore very high heels all her working life. She is now using a walker because her feet are a mess, I mean they don’t even look foot-shaped any more. Another elderly friend wore moderate heels almost always and her feet are fine, she walks for miles in regular sneakers or sandals.

    Just so you know.

    • I second that. Heels are SO not good for you. Take care and don’t wear it if it hurts!

  7. I try to keep my office heels to around 3″. It’s not easy to find stylish, appropriate heels below that height, and any higher than 3″ and I get a bit wobbly.

    I’d like to comment on the other comments re: height – I don’t think there’s anything unprofessional about tall women wearing heels. I’m 5’10”, and I’m not going to wear flats every day just because some people are uncomfortable with a woman being over 6′ tall. I’m tall. That’s life.

    • Being only 5’2″, I can’t personally relate to your situation. But I personally think there’s something really awesome and amazon-goddess-like when a tall woman rocks high heels.

  8. I voted it depends, because:
    – 3 inch heels with pants look professional
    – i have seen women pull off 3 inch heels with a skirt suit and look 100% appropriate at conservative jobs
    – many women can walk in 3 inch heels all day with no pain (i am not one of them)
    – at my old job (conservative in-house) 3 inch heels would have been fine, but at my current conservative law firm, I do not think they would be a good idea
    – one’s height and other’s heights are a consideration (I am almost 5’10” and even if I could walk in 3 inch heels I would not want to be taller than all the male partners i work for)

    So yes, it depends, but at the end of the day, after having hurt my knees wearing 3 inch heels every day, and finding it increasingly hard to walk in them, I just do no find them worth it. I also am seeing an increasing number of women develop foot problems from regular wearings of 3 and 4 inch heels, so that’s another reason i tend to not buy such high heels much.

  9. This brings up a question for me, that you may have already answered (apologies if so) – what do you wear to and from the office if you leave your high heels there? I have been searching in vain for months for a pretty but comfortable black flat to wear on a commute – something with the comfort of a Keen’s but a little more sophisticated. Can anyone name some brands that might do the trick? THANK YOU!!

    • I think the style of the shoe makes more of a difference than the heel height. For instance, I find that booties tend to look fairly unprofessional regardless of the heel height, especially when paired with a skirt. I don’t get booties at all and can’t imagine them being worn in a corporate environment, especially booties with peep toes. I also think that high stilettos tend to look inappropriate as do shoes with a higher platform.

      Jane- with regards to good commute shoes, I’ve worn Privo (Clarks) or Puma ballet flats. They still look a bit athletic, but I think they’re daintier and more sophisticated than Keen. I work in an area where we get a lot of flooding, so I can’t really wear commute shoes that could be ruined in the rain.

      • Jennifer C. :

        My “commuter shoes” are Danksos — ugly but comfortable, and with a nice, chunky heel, they work with longer pants.

      • Ecco makes the best walking shoes, and their dressier ones look great. Try the Coto ballet flat.

    • If I’m wearing a skirt, I often commute in ballet flats. Repetto are the most comfortable (they are actually ballet slippers) but hard to find. I’ve also used Tory Burch and Kate Spade ballet flats to commute in–both are very stylish and comfortable. If I’m wearing pants, I just suck it up and wear heels to work, taking a different route to work that involves more walking but fewer hills than my usual one.

    • There are some amazing black flats on sale at Target right now. They’re $12.99, buy one get one 1/2 off, and if you spend $50 you get free shipping. I’m wearing a pair at this very moment and they are comfortable.


      • Absolutely second you on the Target flats. I found them a couple months ago in-store and bought them in bronze. I went back and bought them in black and then again in purple! They’re as comfortable as slippers. Love ’em!

  10. With pants and skirts around the knee you look fine. The higher the skirt, the more you slide into inappropriateness.

  11. Elizabeth :

    I answered ‘it depends’. I think wearing 3″ inch heels has a lot to do with how you wear them. If your walk changes when you’re wearing 3″ heels, you probably don’t know how to walk in them properly and that’s going to be obvious. You also need to pay attention to what you’re wearing with them. Pants? great. Skirt? If it’s too short and you’re wearing nothing on your legs, it’s probably going to be a bit too much.

  12. I think it depends on the shape of the shoe itself (and the details). I’d wear a classic pump or peeptoe (or even a wedge) at 4″– and I’m 5’8. However, I wouldn’t wear a 4″ heel that’s blinged-out, has a lot of buckles or studs, or a really non-traditional cut.

  13. Also, Jane– I am a new convert to a pair of Cole Haan flats with the Nike Air technology. They feel like sneakers, but look super cute. I got them a few weeks ago and have been wearing them all. the. time., including on my 40 minute walk to & from work.

  14. Re: heels on tall women. Quite the contrary, I think you DO want to be taller than the male partners if you can. I am tall even without heels, and I have no doubt my physical presence is helpful with colleagues and opponents.

    • Amen. I have found my height (5’10”) and corresponding size (size 12 up) to be an asset, not a liability. My overall presence has reduced the sexism I might have experienced as a 1984 law graduate.
      I have often thought that the ratio of leg length to heel height was important. If your legs are too short relative to your heels, you goose step and look like you are on stilts.

    • Me too. I am 5’8″ and wear heels ranging from 2.5-3 inches (not taller; I have a 10 minute walk on my commute) on purpose because I like to be taller than the male partners for whom I work.

      • operaghost :

        I’m 5’11” and I LOVE wearing tall heels. The best is when I show up to court to argue something and tower over the opposing counsel. :)

  15. I second the danger to one’s feet done by heels. My personal choice is to wear kitten heels/flats as much as possible with higher heels only on days when I know I’ll be sitting more than normal. But I think with the appropriate platform (subtle, but makes the heel feel a lot shorter), higher heels are perfectly acceptable. But pants are almost always a must!

  16. I also voted “it depends.”

    When I was practicing law full time, I would max out at 4″ heels when covered by pants or 3″ when worn with a skirt. Now that I’m in a more creative field, I rock tasteful 6″ heels (with long pants) on occasion.

    Along with the usual concerns — tastefulness, appropriateness based on ensemble — I think it’s also important that you are able to walk gracefully in your heels. There’s nothing worse than watching a woman teeter and shuffle because she doesn’t have the balance to walk in the heels she’s trying to wear. Inability to walk gracefully in heels can make any professional woman (in any height heels) look like she’s playing dress up in mom’s “big girl” clothes.

    • Tasteful 6″ heels?

      • Yes, it’s possible. See my response to KZ below.

        I’m not saying that a 6″ heel is appropriate for a professional office, but for a creative work environment– fashion, design, media, etc.– a 5.5″ YSL hidden platform pump would not be at all out of place.

  17. Anne Vohl :

    I have occasionally worn very high heels to work with a classic, long-sleeved silk shirt-dress, and with appropriate hose, and I think I looked great!

  18. 3 inches is the upper limit

  19. I have a couple of comfortable, stylish 3” shoes which are office-appropriate, but the idea that a woman has to wear high heels to be grown-up is more uncomfortable than my 6” stilettos.

    Surely a nice shoe with a 1” heel or perhaps – gasp! – a flat heel isn’t a shoe waiting to graduate?

    And surely men don’t look girlish in their flats? (Though Sarkozy has a few pairs higher than the boots I bought today…)

  20. i answered “it depends” – some women can walk in 4″ stilettos like they were born in them. And hopefully there are some (other!) women like me who grew up wearing nothing but tennis shoes and can’t last all day in 2″ heels. I stick to cute flats or kitten heels so that I’m not walking bow-legged at the end of the day, which strikes me as far more inappropriate than my preferred shoe choice.

  21. I think it all depends on the height of the heel each woman is comfortable wearing. The important thing is to look and feel comfortable. Some women can kick ass, take naps and close deals in 4′ heels while others can’t. Wear what you’re comfortable in. Just please, none of those heels with the clear platform and heel…

  22. I voted “it depends” — I think the office environment is one factor, but the style of shoe is another. I think a 3″ stiletto is usually inappropriate, except maybe with pants, while a chunkier heel is totally OK. I have 3″ red mary-jane style heels that are perfect for the office, and 3.5″ black patent leather ones (with a thick heel) that are also great, and both are more comfortable than even some of my flats.

    I’ve never even seen a professional-looking 4″ or higher heel, so I’d draw the line @ 3.5″ for office. Anything higher is for going out, and a higher stiletto is probably a stripper shoe.

  23. I think women look far more professional in heels, generally, but I am sorry:

    There is no such thing as a professional 6 inch heel. Period.

  24. I couldn’t picture how anyone could walk in 6 inch heels, so i decided i needed a visual on six inch heel for reference. Almost every hit on the first page included the words “sexy” or “stripper,” so i’m guessing never appropriate for work.

    but for lower heels, i think it depends on pants vs. skirt. I think a better question is can anyone suggest a really great pair of work-appropriate flats that are comfortable? i have a hard time finding flats that don’t rub the back of my heel, though any shoe with a heel doesn’t seem to have this problem (perhaps because they shift your foot down?)

    • I’ll be the first to admit that 6″ heels do not belong in a professional workplace, but not all 6″ heels are “stripper” shoes. Both YSL and Christian Louboutin made gorgeous 5.5-6″ platform heels this year, and both vibe very high-fashion and artsy in my opinion. As for walking in them, both feel as comfortable as 4″ heels thanks to a substantial hidden platform.

      For comfortable, yet stylish flats that don’t rub the back of your heel try Beirn’s Watersnake Ballet Flats. They are available in a huge range of colors and are on sale at Bluefly.com for 40% off retail price.

  25. You cannot walk gracefully and at a normal professional speed in high heels–you have to mince or trot. Sorry.

    Now, if that doesn’t matter to your job, I guess it’s okay. I used to have to almost run to keep up with the guys going through the Loop to meetings, and I have long legs (34+ inseam) as it is. If I wore anything more than an inch or so, I had to trot to keep up–or gallumph. Not good either way.
    In my smaller southern city, no one goes anywhere—everyone does everything electronically, so it doesn’t matter how fast I walk.

    I still wear low heels or flats. I love my feet.

  26. I would beg to differ on two points.
    I think a slim traditional stiletto heel on a traditional pump is the most professional like the 3 2/5 inch louboutin pumps below, which I consider to be the epitome of the classy professional shoe:

    I think chunky heels look horrible, regardless of the height. I do agree that he style of the shoe is far more important than heel height alone when considering appropriateness and professionalism.

    Finally, at 5’5″ I believe heels higher than 3 inches actually look out of proportion to my height. I think someone who is a few inches taller looks better in higher heels than that; It’s hard to imagine wearing 3 inch heels if I were even shorter.

    • Agree re the chunky heels. Reminds of what teenagers wear when they are first learning to walk in high heels. If you look at the shoe lines aimed at HS to college age, they are chunkier heels than the grown-up counterpart, e.g. BCBGirls

    • This is what *I* think of when I say chunky — I wear shoes similar to this with pants all the time in my office.


    • I agree, those are beautiful. But I fear wearing them, as I injured my back around 10 months ago and am just now starting to wear heels twice a week (up from flats 100% of the time). This, after months of rehab and strength training.

      Fortunately, Cole Haan makes a shoe which I think is similar. Yes, it lacks the beautiful Louboutin red underneath, but for a slim heel it’s another option:


      Also, since we’re talking about “chunky” heels, what’s your take on these?


      To me, the size of this heel fits the style of the shoe. It works for me, in both form and function. I also think this shoe is fashionable and sensible at the same time — meaning, I won’t run the risk of someone looking at me and saying “How can you walk in those?” YMMV, of course.

  27. I am of the opinion that it does not matter…and more importantly *should* not matter. If you can wear a 4″ heel and look appropriate, then why worry? I think we all have very different tastes, different styles and different comfort levels. What works for one does not always work for all. I think that you should wear what you are comfortable in whether that be a flat, 2″ heel or a 4″ heel.

    I also tend to agree with the commenters that said the TYPE of shoe rather than the inches is what is important. I think if I showed up to work in knee high lace up booties with a 4″ heel I would be in just as much “trouble” if I showed up in Dora The Explorer Pink Sneakers.

  28. A Different Liz :

    I think it depends on the shoe and the outfit. As for needing at least a 3″ heel to avoid looking “dowdy and matronly, and ultimately not grown-up enough for the office,” I think that’s rubbish. Since when did looking grown-up require a 3″ heel? So long as the shoe is clean, not worn-out, and coordinates with the outfit, why would the heel height matter?

    At any rate, I have bunions, and I’m not going to wear painful shoes when there are plenty of lovely, professional styles (both pumps and loafers) with lower heels available.

  29. I voted it depends. I prefer a smaller heel but have one pair of 3″ basic black pumps to wear with skirts/dresses. The sales woman at the store told me that a basic work heel is 3″

  30. It depends on:

    -height of the person
    -length of the skirt (this is very important)
    -material the shoe is made of (patent leather 3″ probably not appropriate)
    -various shoe embellishments

    My rule of thumb: if you question it, don’t wear it.

  31. Woman of Color :

    I posted these earlier when the discussion was in regards to child-whores. http://couture.zappos.com/n/p/dp/40483580/c/168688.html

    I just got these from zappos couture and they are labeled as 4 inches. They don’t seem that high to me, however, I always feel weird in flats, especially when I wear skirts (I am 5’8). But I do agree that foot problems are perhaps not too far away. I guess I should stop day dreaming then about all of the outfits that I can wear these shoes with. Sigh.

  32. 100 out of 100 podiatrists will tell you that heels are bad. I have 1 pair of 3″ classic mary jane type heels that I wear once in a while for amusement, if I am in the office…otherwise, a 1″ heel is fine. Outdoors on the mean streets, I never wear dress shoes. Things you cannot do in heels: carry things, run up and down stairs, run for a train or bus, drive.

  33. The problem with high heels in a professional environment is that the higher the heel, usually, the sexier the look and although we may want to look a *little* sexy, you don’t want to drip of sexy. So, that’s why it depends–it really just comes down to how sexy are the heels? Even if you can walk in 4 inch heels, if they’re too sexy, you probably shouldn’t at the office.

    Height is also a factor. When you’re essentially walking on your tippy toes, it’s probably over the top. This is why shorter women have a tough lot–taller may make you feel more confident, but the higher heel on a smaller foot means a more severe angle, and thus a sexier look. Taller women can pull off a much higher heel without looking too sexy.

  34. I voted “it depends”.

    I’m 5’10 and I wear everything from flats to 4 inch heels (but most often I wear 2.5-3″ heels). It does not bother me to be taller than most of the men at my work when I wear taller heels. And, I can only recall 2 or 3 times where I received a negative reaction to my height (and it was never from a superior). Lastly, I grew up in a tall family and wore heels my whole life so I have no problem whatsoever running down the hall, bounding up the stairs or lugging around a bankers box of docs. I think no matter the heel height, if your shoes are uncomfortable, you will always look wrong.

    Plenty of the women in my office wear 3-4″ heels and look very classy and professional. However, none of the women would wear those heels with a super short skirt or too tight outfit. Also I agree with the other poster that said not every shoe with a high heel is a clear stripper shoe, lol.

  35. housecounsel :

    I feel completely unprofessional and horribly frumpy in flats. I’m not saying no woman can look good in flats, but I simply don’t. I also feel un-powerful. I’m 5’7″, but in the office, I’m always 5’10”. I think I’d pass out if I walked into a courtroom in flats. When I had to do the train station-to-office commute, I wore Aquatalia boots in the winter, and black Puma or Cole Haan flats in summer.

    Who says one can’t drive or run or do anything else in heels? After almost twenty years of practice, I can do just about anything in them. Do my feet hurt? Yes, sometimes, but that’s a sacrifice I’ll make cheerfully .l . . but I am also a woman who had her nose broken for beauty. In any event my Taryn Rose and Cole Haan pumps are pretty comfortable.

    I wouldn’t wear the 5.5-inch Yves St. Laurent shoes in my office (in-house health care) but can absolutely see how they would work AND look professional in a creative field.

  36. I have to agree with those who said that the thick heels look dowdy. To be honest, while I usually LOVE this website, I tend to just skip over shoe recommendations since they tend to be – in my personal opinion – too chunky and not professional enough. But maybe I am just not up to date enough and the chunky heels are more in fashion than I realized?

    Is this an East coast/West coast thing? In LA, it seems like 3 inch heels stilettos are the standard – like the Cole Haan ones – but maybe that is different on the East Coast?

    I would also point out that the high/”sexy” shoes tend to work best when balanced out by a very conservative outfit (and vice versa)

  37. I’m 5’1″ and wear 3 inch heels regularly to the office.

  38. Chloe Grey :

    I voted that 3″ heels are perfect, because they are, for me, at 5′ 2″. I can walk in them and I like how they look with my work clothes. However, if you can’t walk nicely in heels, then please, please, please don’t wear them. I have a colleague who routinely stomps around in 4″+ heels and it drives me nuts. The noise is annoying, plus I worry that she’s going to break an ankle.
    I do wear flats to/from the office, but it’s difficult to find ones that aren’t too sporty/clunky, yet still have arch support. Does such a thing exist? IMO, ballet flats are entirely too flat for comfort and my clogs don’t really go with everything.

  39. All of my heels live at the office. I commute in sneakers. No, they don’t look good, but as someone who has had injuries in the past, I don’t want to fall on my a** when I am commuting.

    I am 5.8 and my heels for work max out at 3″. I can’t do any higher. Also, thankfully my office is on one floor (small firm) as I have a heck of a time doing stairs in them (up is ok, down is not).

  40. Put me in the “it depends” camp.

    Generally, Repettos all day, every day. I have bad feet, back issues, and hypermobile ankles, so I stay away from heels. I have about 20 pairs of Repettos. They’re wonderfully made and work with my wardrobe.

    However: When I have a deposition, negotiation, meeting, court appearance, etc., I pull out the 3″ to 4″ heels. I’m 5’10” but the extra inches add a very real psych-out factor that’s, sadly, highly effective against male adversaries.

    And: I dance en pointe several times a week, so I get the stilts-fix that way and don’t miss heels for a second.

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