High Heels vs Flats – How They’re Similar and Different

It’s time to take on the toughest style question of them all: high heels vs flats. Which wins? How much do you know about these two titan types of shoes and how do you know which one you should choose to express your own personal style?

Close up of a person's feet as they try on high heels with other pairs of shoes all around

High Heels

Though many trace the origins of modern high heels to the court shoes of Renaissance Europe, elevated shoes actually date back to ancient times. Actors on the stage in Greece wore platform shoes that lifted them up to four inches off the ground. However, high heels are much older than this. Wall art dating to 3,500 B.C. shows people wearing a type of elevated shoe.
In medieval Persia, men wore heeled riding shoes. Heels gave them a firm grip on stirrups while on horseback. These shoes were usually made in bright colors and opulent designs. They became popular in Europe in the 1500s and were worn by royal women and men. Louis XIV famously wore them in order to look taller.

Woman walking across street wearing high heels

High heels were a big part of fashion during the Victorian Era of the 1800s and became strongly associated with female fashion. Many designers began to experiment with high-heeled shoe and boot designs using different materials, different heel styles and their own imaginations. Stilettos, the famously thin high heels, were invented in 1954 and changed fashion for good.

Flats

High heels and skinny stiletto heels have ruled the fashion scene for decades, with the most glamorous movie stars, royals and music artists stepping out in taller-than-tall creations that look painful on sight. But lately in fashion, flat-soled shoes have started to become much more trendy. It’s the era of the fashion flat. Stylish loafers, flat sandals and ballet flats are becoming more and more popular.

Person holding several pairs of flats

Flat-soled shoes were the first types of shoes ever created. After all, heeled shoes weren’t exactly practical during the Ice Age. Fashionable flat-soled shoes made as much for style as for practical reasons date to at least ancient Egypt. Pharaohs and queens wore shoes that were a lot like modern flip flops. However, these sandals were made with gold and other precious materials so they definitely weren’t made for walking.

Like high heels, flats are made in many different styles. Any shoe with a flat sole can be called a flat, though usually sneaker designs and athletic shoes, styles that have rubber soles, are not included in this category. The term “flats” usually refers to fashionable women’s shoes made for style, rather than for athletic performance.

High Heels vs Flats

The battle between high heels vs. flats is certainly not a new one. This is truly an epic style feud for the ages, one that dates back to the ancient days of fashion. High heels are famous on fashion runways. Entire TV shows have practically revolved around wearing high heels as a high fashion gal. Some celebrity women are famous for wearing them and swear by wearing them. High heels help you maintain good posture and make your legs look more toned, which creates a look that many women love.

Person switching from high heels to flats

Flats, however, are pretty cool, too. Movie stars like Katharine Hepburn were known for wearing more comfortable shoes and cultivating a more casual style. Podiatrists and proponents of foot health advocate wearing only flat shoes and never high heels. In addition to a host of foot problems, high heels can cause pain in the calf muscles and joints.

Though it doesn’t get mentioned as often as the many other foot problems that can result from wearing heels, ingrown toenail is a very common problem. This can be very painful. Typically, it’s caused by a pair of high heels that are too tight and/or pinch the toe area. Heels can also cause plantar fasciitis, a painful condition of the Achilles tendon that causes a lot of misery in the heel of the foot. Special toe stretches can help treat this condition.

Wearing heels puts the feet in an unnatural position and changes the way you step and stand. Ultimately, a pair of these shoes can cause damage to the feet and they increase your risk of problems like twisted ankle injuries, sprains and falling.

Both types of shoes are available in a huge array of styles, colors and materials. The most famous shoe fashion designers have dabbled in creating both styles of shoes.

In the great debate between the two, flats are definitely safer and healthier for your feet. And they can be very stylish, too. However, high heels have always been associated with high fashion and designer style. While there have been TV shows where characters swear by their expensive high heels to the point that the shoes are pretty much a character on the show, the same can’t be said of flats. High heel shoe looks are still the style of choice for the runways and the red carpet, however unsafe and uncomfortable they may be.

However, there needs to be no war between these two shoe types. Wear both! Choose flats for days when you’re being active, running errands and dressing casually. For special events and times when you want to create a catwalk of your own wherever you go, slide into your favorite fierce high heels. Because at the end of the day one truth still remains: you can never have too many pairs of shoes.

FAQs

Do you still have questions about high heel shoe styles and flats? There’s a lot to know about these two leaders in fashion footwear. Get the answers to all the most common footwear questions and soon, you’ll be able to talk about high heels and flats like a footwear expert.

Women wearing flats and skinny jeans on a cobbled street

Do you need to wear pantyhose with heels?

Okay so…do you need to wear pantyhose with heeled shoe styles? Pantyhose are an infamous piece of fashion that continues to haunt women’s style. Are they necessary? When?
Most of the time, you can totally get away without wearing pantyhose no matter what type of shoes you may have on your feet. But sometimes, you might want to consider pantyhose if you’re wearing a skirt. When you go to church, a job interview or any type of ceremony, from a wedding to a baptism, you need pantyhose.

However, you can never wear pantyhose with open-toed heels. If you have on open-toed heels, stay bare-legged no matter what.

Which type of shoes is best for professional women?

In a professional environment, you have to maintain a certain look. It’s important to look polished and put together down to every detail, including the shoes. However, it can be very uncomfortable and downright painful to spend a day at work while wearing super-high stilettos. So which shoes will work in a professional environment

Flats can be a really great choice for work when you want to be comfortable and still stylish. Choose stylish loafers or flat pumps. Ballet flats may look too casual. Wear these shoes without socks while wearing pants. If you’re wearing a skirt, consider a lower heel. Pumps are easy to wear and they’re conservative enough for any office environment. Kitten heels are usually a very low heel height, so they’re fairly comfortable to wear and made in chic styles that look great in professional environments. Always, always wear closed-toe shoes in a professional environment.

Which type of heel is the most comfortable?

If you wear high heels a lot, you’re going to have a lot of uncomfortable days and may experience bunions and other big problems. According to Manhattan-based podiatry group Gotham Footcare, bunions are created by a deformity of the metatarsal that shifts and changes the angle of the toe bones. Their records show that women are 10 times more likely to get this condition because of the footwear choices they make.

Try switching it up and wearing comfortable heel designs whenever you can. All heel shoe styles elevate your heels and shift your weight forward, which is not a natural position for the feet. This means that all heeled shoes can cause some degree of foot pain. You may feel it in your feet, legs or joints. But more comfortable heels can help.

Block heels and chunky heels, which are more supportive, can be much more comfortable than skinny stilettos. Wedge heels are also very supportive. Look for lightweight styles that won’t make your feet feel weighed down. Heels that are lower in height, three inches and under, are more comfortable than the taller designs.

Can you wear flats with a dress? What about a wedding dress?

Aren’t there some occasions when wearing flats just isn’t okay? Can you wear flats with a dress and look stylish? Could you even wear them with a wedding dress? To get the answer, we turned to the expert on all etiquette and hosting topics: Martha Stewart.

In short, the answer is yes. You can wear flats with anything you want, even your wedding dress. In fact, it’s a great idea. You want to be supported and walk steadily on your wedding day, rather than tottering around on uncomfortable shoes that will give you blisters. Flats are actually ideal for outdoor weddings, as your heels can get stuck in grass and be downright dangerous on gravel. Flat heels are more likely to have supportive insoles that are comfortable for your feet and leg muscles.

Everyone is the designer of their own personal style. And if your personal style is wearing comfortable flats with a dress, grab those flats and strut. Many celebrities have made flats look amazing on the red carpet. Channel your inner A-lister and make flat shoe styles fashionable.

Are flats too casual?

But aren’t flats too casual to wear with a cocktail dress or fancy attire? Aren’t they meant for skinny jeans and trousers and everyday looks? No! Flats can be just as fancy and fashionable as the most expensive pair of high heeled shoes. In fact, they look great with skirts in all lengths and fancy evening pantsuits, too. If you’re going to have a night out where you might want to dance and have fun, aren’t flats the better choice anyway?

Can you wear flats with a formal outfit?

If you style them the right way, you can even wear flats with formal wear. A sparkling evening gown looks just as glamorous with the right flats. Look for flats that have a more eye-catching design, such as a metallic or sparkly look. You also want a very streamlined, sleek design. Avoid thick soles and clunky, heavy designs.

Are heels bad for your back?

High heels do shift your center of gravity and change the way you walk. This means that you can experience backaches and heel pain from wearing heels. There are various stretches you can do before and after wearing high heels to help prevent pain associated with high heels. However, it’s much healthier for your legs, feet and lower back to simply not wear heels at all. A flat foot is always a more comfortable foot. [Source: American Osteopathic Association]

Is there a way to have heels and flats at the same time?

Maybe you don’t even need to worry about the battle between flats and heel styles. Pashion Footwear makes convertible high heels that are also flats. Yes, seriously. They design shoes with heels that can be removed, turning the heels into flats in a quick second. How cool is that? They make a variety of different shoe styles and all of them can be either heels or flats, depending on what you want.

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