The right pair of heels can transform any basic outfit into an ensemble. I mean, heels have the power to make a simple T-shirt and jeans combo look chic. (Thanks to heels, the off-duty look is attainable.)
From “dressy” shoes (like the over-the-top footwear that Lady Gaga flaunts to those blue Manolo Blahnik satin pumps I’m still pining over) to a casual pair of low-heeled mules to chunky heels to ballroom dance heels, there’s a heel out there that’ll boost your confidence and elevate your outfit. You’ve just got to find the right one. Here are 12 options to kickstart your search for the perfect pair of high heels.
When it comes to piecing together your workweek and slightly-more-formal wardrobe, there just isn’t another shoe that has that “I’m not bossy; I’m the boss” look like a pair of pumps (also known as court shoes).
Unlike the average high heel, traditional pumps have a low-cut front (or vamp) that’s embellished with a shoe buckle or a black bow. By the turn of the 19th century, however, shoe buckles were out and over-the-top black bows were in. Today, most pumps are designed with a whole-cut leather top with a low vamp (with or without a bow).
Although the original pump was constructed for a man (AKA an upper-class gentleman), women’s pumps typically have some height to them. In the United Kingdom, the closed-toe pump was considered fashionable. Even so, many women still wore stilettos (of “kitten” or medium height). Remember, this was the late 18th century.
The stiletto heel was designed to do one thing—to pierce the hearts of onlookers. (I’m kidding.) The stiletto was named after the stiletto dagger, though. (So, food for thought.) Designed by Andre Perugia, the stiletto heel is characterized by a long, thin heel that varies in length (between one inch to 10 inches).
Instead of using wood, the stiletto was designed with a supporting metal shaft embedded into the heel—marking a revolution for footwear.
Kitten heels became a thing in the ‘50s. This low-heeled shoe was brought into the limelight by younger women and was often referred to as a “trainer heel,” as the kitten heel would help prepare young girls to walk in stilettos.
Before you get a creepy-I-put-my-five-year-old-daughter-in-pageants-vibe, you should know that the kitten heel is known not only for its aesthetic, but its practicality. (read: Kitten heels are super easy to walk in.) Not to mention, Audrey Hepburn put kitten heels on the market in her films “Sabrina,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and “Funny Face.”
Now, kitten heels are an inevitable item in every woman’s wardrobe—I mean, have you seen Michelle Obama’s chic collection of kitten heels? (If not, I definitely suggest Googling it.) Tip: If you’re going for a vintage look, opt for French heels.
If there’s one thing Carrie Bradshaw taught us, it’s that you can never go wrong with a pair of Manolo Blahnik slingbacks. A slingback, unlike an ankle-strap heel, has a strap that crosses behind the heel or ankle.
Although slingbacks can be considered a type of heeled sandal, they can come in a wide variety of styles, from dressy to casual, range in heel height and type (i.e. thick, like wedges-thick, or thin, like a stiletto), and can be either closed or peep-toe.
Shoes for everyday comfort, mules weren’t meant to be worn in public. In fact, these backless, comfy shoes were originally designed for one purpose: The bedroom. Today, however, “emergency mules” can be found in the handbags of hundreds of working New York women (myself included) and on the feet of several weekend grocery-shoppers. (Take a second to scan the floor the next time you go to Trader Joe’s.) They’re truly underrated footwear.
The term “platform heels” may evoke images of cheap, plastic heels you’d only wear on Halloween, but don’t be so quick to judge. Platform shoes can come in a variety of styles (boots, sandals, and even sneakers) and are, despite the rumors, quite practical.
While platform shoes didn’t get a fashionable presence until the ‘60s, in ancient Greece, platform shoes were used to lift “important individuals” in theatre performances. The first “modern” version of the shoe, however, was introduced to the Beverly Hills elite by the German-American actress and singer Marlene Dietrich during the disco era.
While platform shoes are characterized by a thick sole and a very high heel, wedge heels or wedged sandals form an actual wedge—one piece of material that serves as the sole and the heel, with the back of the sole being much thicker than the front.
Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo created the wedge shoe in 1935. Back then, wedge heels were made of cork and wood due to the rubber and leather shortage. Because cork is so light, sturdy, and durable, Ferragamo’s practical design stuck. (I mean, who doesn’t love a funky pair of cork high heels?)
Speaking of unconventional materials, espadrille heels or espadrille sandals (also known as alpargatas) are made from a canvas-like material or cotton fabric and have a super-flexible sole made of esparto rope.
Although these shoes may seem archaic (I mean, this style of shoe was invented more than 4,000 years ago), espadrille-style heels are perfect for spring and summer, whether you’re on a resort vacation or just wandering around the city. Cue, “Hot Child in the City.”
Chunky Heels (Mary Janes)
You can get just about any style high heel with a chunky base, but the OG chunky heel came on the scene in the ‘90s thanks to Mary Jane, a classic bar shoe originally designed for children. While Mary Janes were popular with flappers in the ‘20s, the ‘90s gave the classic shoe a brand-new life.
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, punk rock and goth subcultures adopted the block-heeled shoe as their own, pairing it with knee-high socks and dark-colored hosiery. The shoes became so popular that even Velma Dinkley, the intelligent brunette character who was always clad in bright red-orange on Scooby-Doo, sported an unforgettable pair of Mary Jane shoes.
If you’ve never heard of a “cone heel” before, don’t worry—it’s nothing out of the ordinary. A cone heel is a high heel that is triangular in shape—the heel starts wide at the sole and narrows, sometimes into a point. (They’re wider than a stiletto but not as wide as a wedge.)
The cone heel made its big debut in the ‘80s thanks to French shoe designer, Maud Frizon. And though Frizon and her husband sold their company in 99, her brand remains legendary. Even Sarah Jessica Parker cited Frizon as an inspiration for designing her own label.
Oxford heels, for the sake of time, are low heels with closed lacing and a low cut that exposes the ankle. The Oxford shoe originated as men’s footwear option in Scotland and Ireland (they were called Balmorals after the Balmoral Castle in Scotland). The shoe didn’t really take off until the Oxonian (a half-boot) became popular at Oxford University—it was, of course, an act of rebellion against the “stiff” traditional men’s boot.
Sure, Oxford shoes may give off a school-girl vibe, but if you do a bit of research, you’ll see that Oxford heels are the perfect way to complete any outfit, whether you’re wearing a feminine dress, a full skirt, or skinny jeans.
Boots are probably one of the earliest shoes created—after all, boots are basically the foundation of all modern footwear. (There are literally hundreds of reasons someone might wear a pair of boots, like to go hiking, riding, walking in the snow, etc.) Ankle boots, however, were introduced in 1804 as a fashionable footwear option for women.
In the 20th century, ankle booties (and other styles of heeled boots) became on-trend thanks to runway designers Dolce & Gabbana and Balmain. Now, ankle boots are a closet staple, for men and women alike.