Will Flats Fly in Court?

flats for courtToday’s reader mail comes from Reader L, an injured woman lawyer, who wonders if she can wear flats to 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?


  1. My office is one block from the courthouse, and I often have to walk that block with a client, who is usually a very tall male. We walk FAST, on cobblestones, and therefore flats are a must. Flats are great for the courtroom, but to buy something that looks right in that venue, you are going to generally have to go over the $100.00 mark! Sometimes well over! Cheap flats look like bedroom slippers, especially on the heavier leg.

  2. Blonde Lawyer :

    For the people posting with temporary injuries – be aware that as your injury heals, your foot is going to change shape. I had a broken big toe and could barely fit into any of my regular shoes. Eventually I could but the bigger, swollen, mishapen toe stretched out my favorite flats and low heels. Now that my foot is more or less back to normal it slips out of the shoe. My point is doing spend a ton on your transition shoes thinking you will wear them when you are better and don’t jam your foot into your fave shoes b/c you might ruin them! I know I can put inserts in mine to make them fit again but they just aren’t the “same” as they were. Boo.

  3. I have no idea where you practice but in courtrooms around CT flats are the norm and anyone wearing 3″ heels stands out like a sore thumb

  4. Boston JD :

    I personally prefer flats and agree that it is hard to find a pair that looks professional. I have had some luck getting a coupled of beautiful Elie Tahari pairs from Nordstrom. I also recently bought a couple of pairs from Jones New York at DSW and they are very nice and comfortable. Not sure if they would be serious enough for a more formal court setting but they do just fine in my firm’s office.



  5. If you want something cheap and temporary, try Payless. They almost always stock VERY basic black flats and medium-low heels. I have cute ballet type ones from there with the little bow at the front (not for court because they are a little too cutesy, but almost anywhere else and I have gotten oodles of compliments), but I have also seen plain ones with no decoration. Also, they are usually under $20, which is great if you only need them for a couple of weeks.

    • http://www.payless.com/store/product/detail.jsp?skuId=073998065&productId=66383&subCatId=cat10276&catId=cat10088&lotId=073998&category=&catdisplayName=Womens+

  6. skirt-hating lady, esquire :

    During my federal d ct clerkship, the only time I *ever* noticed a lady lawyer’s shoes was when she was wearing really high heels. I call shennanigans on everyone saying that anyone (jury or judge) is going to care about flats vs. heels as long as you look generally presentable and fit in. It’s just not going to be the deciding factor. My firm just won a huge jury verdict and I can guarantee you that nobody was wearing heels.

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  8. I broke my ankle in 2005 (the day before my 25th birthday). I haven’t been able to wear heels since. I again broke my ankle in 2008 and not only can I no longer wear heels I have to wear special support socks (no stockings or pantyhose) to support my ankle which REALLY hurts when it’s wet out. I also have a very high instep so I cannot wear pumps. I wear what my mother used to call “Granny Grumps” (or nun shoes)…it may not be professional but I’m better with a good solid sturdy shoe. Mind you, I have never compromised comfort or fashion.

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