The Only Shoes You Really Need
We rely on our shoes for more than just walking around. They’re the one accessory that can add a finishing touch to any outfit, completing your look with that special bit of personal flair. And they can instantly change the mood of what you’re wearing.
So it’s easy to argue that you need many different styles of shoes. (Best to be prepared, right?) But indulge in too many and you risk being left with a closet full of barely worn shoes (and a much lighter wallet). The best way to avoid that yet still look stylish? Focus on styles with real staying power like these 10 classics. They’ll cover you in almost any situation — now and for years to come.
The most basic style of women’s shoes, pumps have existed in one form or another since the 1600s and were first worn by men. Fast forward to the 1900s, the early pairs were accentuated with low chunky heels. Gradually morphing from round toes to pointy toes and back over the decades, they continue to reach heel heights that some of us would only dare to walk on.
The classic black leather pump has served women well over the years: With a flattering low upper, a pump never appears to “cut off” the leg, but lengthens and emphasizes a shapely feminine calf. At virtually any heel height, a pump works day and night on every woman and is appropriate in almost any situation.
How to Wear ’Em: Pumps can create a powerful statement, particularly if the heel is high and the toe is narrow. They always make the perfect partner for your day-to-day work look.
Audrey Hepburn made the ballet flat hugely popular when she wore hers in the iconic ’50s film “Funny Face,” although they were first introduced by Coco Chanel in her early, prolifically inventive years. Comfortable and classic, the ballet flat comes in every iteration known to man. Shoe companies that specialize in nothing but ballet flats exhaust the creative possibilities every season: Quilted, studded, beaded, made from plastic, faux leopard and crafted in any color, ballet flats are a much relied-upon essential.
How to Wear ’Em: Slip into a ballet flat for a more casual work look or if you’re buzzing around on the weekend for a pretty, polished moment. They can also look extremely chic with a short, sweet dress, day or night.
High Heel Daytime Shoes
Other than a classic pump, every woman needs a great pair of wearable heels in other silhouettes, if nothing more than to vary your looks and add color and pattern to your wardrobe. High heel Mary Janes, sandals, peep toes and slingbacks add spice to your style life. As shoe styles get more and more outrageous, this is the place where you can have fun with trendier looks. Thankfully, there are many brands that specialize in well-priced, fun heels.
How to Wear ’Em: If you’re dressing to impress, complete your look with a special shoe that shows off your unique style. Platforms, patterns, colors and skins can turn basic into bold in one easy step.
Strappy Evening Sandals
An absolute must in every wardrobe is a pair of evening shoes. The strappier, the better, as this is the perfect time to bare more of your foot. Black and metallics are the most timeless and are therefore the best investment because they work with more looks in your closet. If a high evening sandal sounds daunting, try one with a low platform for comfort — ideal if you’re standing or dancing.
How to Wear ’Em: A fun night out calls for a fabulous evening sandal. Don’t be shy, slip on something sexy and unexpected. Something that makes you smile every time you wear it.
Espadrilles or Cork-Sole Summer Wedges
Coco Chanel was the first designer to propose cork-soled shoes for women in the 1920s. Because necessity is the mother of invention, Chanel introduced this style to women for her own benefit during the hot summer months, easing sweaty, swollen feet. Cork soles are extremely comfortable and can give you a lot of height with great walkability.
Espadrilles are another classic and go hand-in-hand with the ballet flat. The first espadrilles were worn about 4,000 years ago by peasants, both men and women, but are now highly fashionable and are available in many colors and fabrications, although the chicest remain the classic cotton and jute versions, flat or on a wedge.
How to Wear ’Em: Ideal for travel to hotter climes and more polished than a sneaker, mid-heel summer sandals can be worn with everything from a boho peasant dress to crisp shorts.
High Heel Boots
Not only do boots keep us warm in cold weather, they can also look incredibly chic when worn with the right outfit. Whether you choose a high heel bootie, which can be very sexy, or go more classic with a taller style, boots create a sleek uniform line to the leg. If you are tall and blessed with long, slim gams (sigh!), a taller style will suit you perfectly. But if your legs are not quite as long or as slim as you’d like, then a chic, sassy little bootie will serve you and your legs better.
High heel boots look great with skirts, but it’s important to watch your skirt length so you avoid creating any awkward matchups with the top of your boot.
How to Wear ’Em: A tall, high heel boot looks great with a knee length skirt that just skims the top of the boot. If you’re long and leggy this is a look that never gets stale. If you’re going for a punky bootie with a high heel, you have loads of option and endless combinations from narrow, fitted trousers, to short skirts and lady-like dresses.
Low Heel Boots
The equestrian style flat boot became the first popular low heel boot. Elegant and clean, it smacks of a certain preppiness and classic manner and remains a timeless style in many closets. Low heel boots have morphed from groovy beatle boots and androgynous combat boots to boho desert boots, motorcycle boots and funky punk-rock boots.
A low heel boot gives a lot of women the look they want, but without the complication of adding height. Tall women look great in low heel boots because they don’t need the addition of a high heel. Shorter ladies should be wary of a low heel boot with rounded, squared or stubby toes that tend to shorten the leg.
How to Wear ’Em: Work a low heel boot with your best bohemian dress or tuck in your favorite pair of jeans, casual but styled with a cool insouciance.
Masculine Lace-Up Shoe
The mannish brogue, whether flat or on a heel, has been with us since the early 1900s when women wore laced-up shoes on a medium heel. Brogues, which have the classic toe cap and wing tip seaming, were first designed for walking and were slowly but surely adopted by women in sleeker, more feminine versions.
The menswear trend has hit a high point in fashion today, and with it come the shoes in many creative versions. Comfort and mobility are the secondary benefits to an oxford, which might have some women scratching their heads at why women’s shoes continue to be so uncomfortable (shoe designers, I’m talking to you!). The clean, buttoned-up look of a man’s tailored shoe plays on the twist of androgyny, a centuries-old theme which continues to play out today.
How to Wear ’Em: Rock out a masculine tailored trouser suit with a chic pair of classic brogues, or try a high-heel pair with a very feminine dress or sexy skirt for contrast.
Flat, Open Summer Sandal
There is a certain joy to exposing your feet, toes and all, during the hot, sticky summer months. Who wants to cram a foot into a closed-up shoe when the weather gets warm? Although baring your feet with nothing more than a few skinny straps and some glittering jewels on it might not be appropriate for work, they make great off-duty shoes and are the ideal alternative for work to dinner footwear in the warmer months.
The Capri sandal was made famous by First Lady Jackie Onassis in the ’70s when she was photographed walking the rustic streets of Capri in those glorious local-made sandals. In that moment, another style icon was born (the shoe, not the woman). Years later, the open summer sandal is still one of the strongest shoe styles and continues to be a go-to for comfort and chic.
How to Wear ’Em: This is a shoe you can almost live in during the summer. Perfect in any casual situation, open summer sandals look great with anything, even your swimsuit.
Now, I’m not referring to the shoes we all wear for sport. I’m talking about those comfortable, cool kicks that serve our feet well on more casual outings. The classic white Keds and Converse sneakers are worn by women of every age and every demographic. Their importance and timeless appeal is not to be understated. They make a great stand-in for a more polished shoe with denim, trousers and even skirts and give every outfit an easy, carefree look.
How to Wear ’Em: While sneakers work in any casual capacity, try lacing on a pair with your man-tailored trousers. Since they come in so many colors and materials, even grey cashmere, you can turn a basic look into a bravo moment.