Style

Hip, hip, hooray for high heels that don't hurt!

How many pairs of shoes are in your closet right now? The average American woman has 24 pairs — and is about to add more. Footwear is red hot! Shoe sales in American department stores (which totaled $42 billion in 2005) are up a whopping nine percent from 2004 because there are so many new options to choose from — wedges, peep toes, patents, metallics. But how many of those shoes are comfortable enough to wear the entire day?

In the August edition of SHOP Etc. magazine, editors wobbled around in piles of heels to present the first SHOP Etc.  “Comfortable Heel Awards.” We tested all the new heels for now and fall and found 40 new pairs that don’t hurt. For "Today" show viewers, we edited those 40 pairs to just the absolute six best. Here’s the list:

Women of America, there is no reason to sacrifice fit for fashion ever again. Why? Comfy shoes used to equal ugly, orthopedic-looking shoes, but brands known for comfort such as Easy Spirit and Aersoles have gotten hip, hiring fashion-forward designers. And for the first time this season, Cole Haan is using Nike technology to make high heels fit like sneakers… ahhh! These advances make for happier feet.

Five things to know when shopping for heels:

5.Go for padding. As we age, we lose padding in the ball of the foot where we can carry up to seven times our body weight. So press your thumb along the ball of the foot area and the arch. If your thumb springs back, there’s good padding.

4. Choose rounded toes over pointy toes; wedges over stilettos.

3. Walk on a hard floor. Step off the carpet while you’re in the shoe department. Every shoe feels better on carpet!

2. Don’t scrimp on shoes — scrimp on a blouse or jewelry instead. Comfy shoes can cost more because of the extra padding and technology.

1. And the #1 lie about shoes: “You have to break them in.” Your foot shouldn’t have to mold itself to the shoe, but vice versa.

Before we begin the awards ceremony, (on the "Today" show) I’m wearing Ashley Dearborn “Coco” Quilted Wedges with a 3 1/2-inch heel that feel like slippers thanks to the padded foot bed. ($230, sizes 6-11; Also in brown suede, metallic black, turquoise. Available at TNT, Canada, 416-488-8210, or revolveclothing.com after 8/1).

The Comfy Heel Awards: The six most comfortable heels to add to your shoe collection:

1. THE MOST BRILLIANT BUY IN A COMFY HEEL

Colin Stuart for Victoria’s Secret Catalogue Platform Sandals. Our tip was expect to pay more for a comfy heel — most of our award winners were not inexpensive. Here’s one exception: These $58 winners from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue are the bargain of the list! Get it in brown, black or pewter — or all three. ($58 (sizes 5-11) At Victoria’s Secret Catalogue, 800-888-8200, or victoriasecret.com.)

Why are they comfy? The padding and platform made them easy on the foot, even with the high four-inch heel. Stacked, thicker heels are more comfy than spindly skinny ones because they distribute your weight more evenly and keep the pressure off the balls of your foot.  (Valerie (model on the show) is wearing J.Crew floral skirt, $88, and GAP favorite cami, $9.99.)

2. BEST SLINGBACK FOR WORK

No question, it’s “Vivien,” from Coach $198 (sizes 5-10). These slingbacks from Coach, really work for work. Super soft leather molds to your feet so you can run around the office in them, just like our testers did — even with the 3.5-inch heel. Also in black. (At Coach, NY, 212-754-0041, or coach.com.) Open-toed cutouts that show the arch of the foot give toes wiggle room. Not having them smashed together in a crowded little toe box makes more comfort. (Jen (model on the show) is wearing an Ann Taylor Loft Short Sleeve Shirtdress, $79.)

3. BEST FOR COMFORT ACROSS ALL CATEGORIES

Tara Subkoff for Easy Spirit “Edrie,” $240. This shoe got the biggest raves. You may have heard of Tara Subkoff, she’s the designer of the edgy fashion line, Imitation of Christ. After reading about women turning to injections in order to survive in stilettos, Tara wanted to empower women to feel good from the inside out, so she joined forces with Easy Spirit, the company that coined the phrase “looks like a pump, feels like a sneaker.” When word got out about this marriage, there was a waiting list for the first time at Easy Spirit stores! Her shoes are finished in the same quality leathers and suedes used by Lanvin and Ferragamo, but the soles are constructed with Poron, a thick padding and shock absorber. Even with the 3 3/4-inch wedge, one of our testers said it felt like a pillow. Go to Easy Spirit now, because it was a limited partnership and this is the last season. Also in six other colors. At easyspirit.com.

This shoe is proof that a streamlined shoe with high tech comfort does not have to look orthopedic! (Kristy’s (model on the show) Vivid Flowers Sleeveless Top, $44, and Cropped Flat Pocket Pant, $39, are from Ann Taylor Loft.)

4. BEST BUY IN A WEDGE

Aerosoles “Sleigh Thread,” $79. More comfort in the trendy wedge you will not find for $79. Our deputy editor Theresa O’Rourke tested it for us, and the minute she took them off, purchased them online. Here’s why: Rubber soles are more flexible than hard leather, and they grip the floor, which ups your comfort level. Also, there’s a diamond-patterned sole which distributes your weight, and even the leather dying is done in a special way that adds more flexibility. The result: An easy to wear a three and a quarter-inch heel. Also in black, British tan and fatigue. At Aerosoles, 800-798-9478, or aerosoles.com.

Why do wedges keep coming back?

Women love wedges because they have a larger base than standard heels so it’s easier to balance in them, and they also provide more arch support.

(Alex (model on the show) is wearing Forever 21 floral dress, $34.80, at Forever 21 stores.)

5. BEST SLINGBACK FOR DRESS

Cole Haan “Tivona” Air Slings in Black Patent Leather, $275. We have a first here in this sexy slingback. Cole Haan teamed up with Nike years ago to design sport shoes and flats with the “Nike Zoom Air Bag,” technology, but this is the first time it’s in a high heel. The “Air Sole” is hidden in a platform under the ball of the foot and in the heel of the pumps to balance your body weight evenly. We have to credit Cole Haan’s Gordon Thompson who came from Nike and connected the dots between sports and walking in heels. As in, “If the Air Bag works for football, soccer and baseball, why can’t it work walking in high heels?”  Plus, it’s sexy. You can wear these to a cocktail party without having to kick off your shoes the second you get home. How many of us can relate to that? Also in dark chocolate suede. At Cole Haan, 800-695-8945, or colehaan.com. (Justine’s (model on the show) Embroidered Dot Dress, $129, is from Ann Taylor Loft.)

6. BEST STILETTO

Kate Spade “Karolina,” $250. We saved the biggest AHA 'til last. You probably think there is no way this four-inch stiletto will last a minute before you’re in total pain. But bravo to Kate Spade. These spiked heels are so comfy that one of our testers didn’t want to take them off, let alone give them back! Black patent leather is all the rage this fall. Rounded toes gives your tootsies more room to breathe. Ready to jog around the track? At Kate Spade, 866-999-5283, or Saks, 877-551-7257.

Tip: In an enclosed round-toe, make sure when you’re standing, there is one thumb’s width from your big toe to the tip of the shoe. Wish I would have known that sooner! (Casey (model on the show) looks hot in Club Monaco’s black dress, $139.)

For all 40 Comfortable Heel Award winners, pick up your August issue of Shop Etc. magazine or go to Shopetc.com. Happy shopping! Hope we proved that you don’t have to choose between chic and comfort.

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