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How to shop for comfortable footwear for the office, according to a podiatrist

Why you should swap out those stilettos with something more supportive.
Vivian Le / TODAY

Recently, we've seen a massive wave of professionals returning to the office, and with that comes the need for a business wardrobe upgrade — starting with footwear as we prepare for more walking and commuting.

Over the past two years, many have come to cherish the socks and slippers life that came with working remotely. And we wouldn't blame you if you're worried about going back to a time when sacrificing comfort for fashion was standard practice. We hear you, which is why we spoke to podiatrist Dr. Miguel Cunha to get his tips on the kinds of shoes that can give you long-lasting comfort when you're on your feet a lot.

How to shop for work shoes

If you want to ensure optimal comfort, Cunha recommends getting your feet measured regularly. "Just because you’re [a size] six and a half [or] seven and a half with one manufacturer doesn't mean that the shoe is going to feel the same with another brand," he told Shop TODAY. This tip is especially relevant for pregnant or postpartum women, whose feet can widen due to hormonal changes. "Overtime, you develop ligament laxities, especially after having kids, so your feet do change size over time," he explained.

When you finally make the purchase and get that shoe delivery you've been waiting for, don't believe you can just try them on and call it a day. According to Cunha, it's important to consider when you're trying on footwear. "Your feet tend to swell with the cumulative effects of gravity, so your feet and legs are going to be more swollen at the end of the day than they are at the beginning of the day." He added that it's best to test new shoes in the evening when your feet are in their worst shape. "If the shoe feels comfortable then, most likely it's going to feel comfortable throughout the day," he said.

If a shoe is painful from the get-go and your plan is to allow for time to break them in, you should probably re-think that strategy. "If you feel like you have to break them in in order for them to be comfortable, then you're not getting the right size shoe," Cunha said.

What shoes provide the most support?

To pretty much guarantee long-lasting comfort, Cunha recommends sporting an athletic sneaker over anything else. "Those are the shoes that are best equipped to provide the shock absorption to support [and] withstand the pressure of the ground forces impacting your feet with every step," he said. And luckily, with heels becoming less expected in the workplace and office-wear trends gravitating more towards "elevated casual," sleeker options in this style are becoming easier to find.

A sneaker also provides the best design for long-term wear — as long as it has the right features. "Make sure that the shoe has a wide toe box to accommodate your forefoot; that it has a rigid heel counter, which is the support on the back of the heel, so that it prevents any type of ankle sprains; [and] that it has an arch," said Cunha.

Cunha also suggests going for mules, flats or ballet slippers since these styles won't aggravate the foot as much as a heel. Just be sure to stay away from pointed shoes, since they can cram your feet in the toe box.

Though, if you love to wear heels, Cunha said a little bit of lift is OK, but he doesn't recommend a heel height above an inch and a half, since anything higher can start to put stress on the forefoot and Achilles. "The higher the heel the more your momentum and center of gravity is placed forward, putting pressure on the front of your foot," he said. Style-wise, you should focus on heels made of leather or suede — as they are likely to be more comfortable and last longer — as well as options with a thicker, clunkier heel, like a wedge.

At the end of the day, Cunha's No. 1 rule for shoe shopping is to remember that your shoe should accommodate the foot — not the opposite. "Is it durable? Is it supportive? Does it have shock absorption? Does it have an anatomical arch? Does the shoe have a wide toe box? Those are the things [you want to look for]. It has to serve its purpose to allow you to get from point A to point B, pain free."

Based on his recommendations, we found we found 10 styles that you can wear the next time you're headed into the office.

Comfortable work shoes

Banana Republic Knit Sneaker

Featuring a cushioned footbed and a thermoplastic rubber midsole, these sneakers were clearly designed with comfort in mind. And they look office-appropriate, too. "I've been looking for a sneaker to wear to work that doesn't look like I'm headed to the gym," said one five-star reviewer. "This is perfect!"

Lifestride Washable Slip-Ons

This shoe had us at "around the clock comfort." We're also pretty sold on its other key (and cozy) features, which include a Soft System insole and arch contouring, according to the brand. Plus, we can see this style pairing nicely with a pair of relaxed slacks and a button-up for casual office wear.

Dr. Scholl's Time Off Platform Sneaker

When shopping for a sneaker, Cunha says to opt for a more breathable option that provides proper airflow to prevent bacteria growth and odor. According to the brand, this pair by Dr. Scholl’s is designed with anti-microbial and anti-odor technology embedded into the cushioned insole to keep your feet comfortable and fresh.

Raid Patent Platform Lug Sole Mary Janes

If you're looking for height, but don't want to risk the discomfort of a traditional heel, Cunha recommends trying platforms. "They help distribute the weight across the entire foot instead of just the ball of your foot." Consider trying these Mary Janes, which feature a trendy patent leather look and a secure strap.

Cushionaire Nila Block Heel Sandal

When opting for heels, Cunha recommends pairs with a strap around the heel or ankle to offer more support. This sandal is perfect for sporting during cooler end-of-summer days, and it even includes a padded insole and a long-lasting traction outsole, according to the brand.

Universal Thread Maura Mules

The heel on this mule is practically just what the doctor ordered. "You want the heel to be short in height and thick in width. If it's thick in width then you have more support distribution throughout the whole bottom of your heel, [and] you’re less inclined to sprain an ankle or invert your foot and fall," Cunha said. Coming in at .75 inches, not only is the height on this shoe great for all-day wear, but it also features memory foam cushioning that is said to conform to your foot.

Obtaom Round Toe Slip-On Ballet Flats

This round-toe flat comes in 17 different color options, making it easy to pair with your favorite office outfits. More importantly, the brand says each pair is made with a flexible outsole and soft footbed for increased comfort. They're also said to be durable and lightweight.

Hoka One Bondi SR

If your dress code allows for an athletic sneaker, Cunha recommends the brand Hoka One One for the most support. The Bodi SR option might be on the pricier side, but its memory foam collar, slip-resistant outsole and cushioned inner seem like they make it well worth it.

Universal Thread Keeley Chelsea Boots

If a higher heel is more your style, you're better off with a clunkier style, like this wedge boot. Not only is it totally on-trend for fall, but we imagine that the memory foam insoles and stretchy fabric will help keep your feet comfortable even after hours of wear.

Tamaris Auberon Flat

We're not sure if you can do any better than these chic flats. They are designed to provide customized support to the wearer, according to the brand. They're made with Touch-IT technology, which is said to help the footbed conform to your foot.