2018 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to look professional in flats all the time — you may also want to check our more recent discussion on cute flats for the office for more updated brand and style options.
How can you make flats look good with conservative outfits for work, without looking frumpy? Reader N is particularly curious because she has MS and wants to look professional in flats ALL the time:
I’m sure you’ve encountered similar questions in the past, but…here goes: I am 31 and work in downtown Manhattan in a technology org for a big bank. Us females are a rarity in a mostly male-dominated environment. I simply must look good. ;) My biggest issue, specifically, is shoes. I have MS – thankfully without me telling you, you wouldn’t notice (until I throw on a pair of heels >2″….then I wobble around like I’m 3 sheets to the wind. Not cute.) I feel like my options are so limited! I can get away with reasonably flat-soled platforms, but otherwise I feel like I get either loafers or ballet flats. Which don’t always work with my conservative work attire. Any tips that won’t demolish my wallet? Thanks!
I think this is relevant for a lot of women (whether they have MS or not) — not everyone wants to or can kill themselves in 3″ heels all the time. We’ve talked about whether you can wear flats for a court appearance, and we’ve addressed other issues (such as how to buy shoes that you can wear socks with), but we haven’t talked about how to make conservative styles look good when you’re wearing flats around the clock. It can even be a challenge to find classic heels under 2″! (That said, if you can happily live with a 2.5″ heel your options expand dramatically). Personally, I still love a lot of the strappy, pointed-toe flats we rounded up for a Hunt last June.
In general, you’re in luck in terms of shopping — there are a lot of flat or nearly-flat styles that are trendy. We’ve included the 1.5″ Halogen Bianca Wedge before ($115 at Nordstrom), as well as the wide selection of mini wedges at Madewell right now. Oxfords are also still in (such as the cute Dolce Vita loafers pictured at top, available at ShopBop for $169.). Even Victoria Beckham is wearing flats!
A few general tips for you:
– Decide if you want to be “classic” or “fashionable.” If you’re going for a classic look, the trick for you is to find the very best pair of ballet shoes or low heels that work for you in terms of gait, style, comfort, etc — and then making an investment. I would almost say that if you find that perfect shoe, buy it in as many colors as you can afford — make it a quintessential part of your look. I would look at a lot of icons for inspiration here — Audrey Hepburn immediately comes to mind, for example,
– If you want to be on the more fashionable side of flats, I recommend window shopping at some of the trendier, pricier stores — ShopBop, Barneys New York, La Garçonne, Kirna Zabête — as well as some of the more forward-thinking boutiques like Zoë. This is an education of sorts — you’re teaching yourself what is new and cutting edge for adults, not teenagers. Once you get a sense for that, you can start looking for similar shapes and styles in your own price range. If you’re curious for ideas on how to style something, try doing a Google search for some of those fancier, high-end shoes, because you’ll turn up a lot of pictures of celebrities wearing them.
– Finally: know which conservative work looks do not look good with flats, and just avoid those. For example, I always feel like a pencil skirt absolutely requires a heel, even if it’s just a tiny one — and I’ve also often thought that flared trousers look a bit better with a pointed, not rounded toe (but any height is fine so long as the pant is hemmed correctly).
Readers, what are your tips — how do you make flats look as professional and conservative as heels? Do any of you only wear flats or very low heels, all the time?