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?

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  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    • I love kitten heels also –

      Try Stuart Weitzman Poco – I have ordered them so can’t comment on comfort, but they look gorgeous!


      I also like Calvin Klein Diema – they look similar to the Poco’s but aren’t nearly as expensive. I think they are fairly comfortable – good enough for a full day at work in the office.


      Does anyone have other kitten heel suggestions?

      • I have the Calvin Klein ones, and, while cute and seemingly comfortable at first, they morphed into medieval torture devices after two city blocks. They lack the ball of foot padding that higher Calvin Klein heels have, and they hit my toes and feet at really odd locations.

        I always forgive shoes after the first wear because I’ve had shoes be painful the first wear and then be the most comfy shoes ever. So, second wear was today. Let’s just say I’m barefoot in my office rubbing my toes. :(

        But damn they are cute!

      • Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

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

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

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

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

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


    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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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.



  20. 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+

  21. 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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  23. 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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