Wearing Sensible Shoes

I just got the cutest orthopedic shoes!!!

Wait, I don’t think we’re supposed to say “orthopedic” shoes anymore, but they are made with orthotics and designed by podiatrists, and I know, I can hardly believe it either; I keep looking down at my feet to make sure I’m not imagining it, as well as checking in with myself to make sure I haven’t become someone else entirely, someone other than Shoenista Pia who recoils at the very thought of even sensible shoes.

My love of fancy footwear and super-high heels is truly the most stereotypically “girly” thing about me; I can’t explain it, but the force is strong within me. Two things I don’t do, however, are uphold rigid gender stereotypes or foist my tastes upon others, so I would never side-eye a woman at a formal event in flats or a man strutting around in heels, as long as they were comfortable with themselves and their choices. Just to be clear.

As for me, however, that word, “comfortable,” takes on a topsy-turvy and totally twisted meaning when it comes to my shoes. When I’ve tried to unravel the origin of my fetish, the best I can do is go back to flashes of dance classes I took as a little girl. What certain dance instructors and their approaches can do to the mind/body associations and self-image of little girls could fill a shelf of books, but for me, it was the feeling of performing in heels that I loved.

I did my best to fake it, but I never had the build for ballet, and though this was many years before I grew to my full height of six feet tall when my height was actually average for my age, my weight was above average, which was a “defect” that I was told might be “minimized” by wearing a pair of potentially “slimming” heels. Also, the theater dance styles that I excelled at the most were the ones performed in heels. I don’t remember how old I was when I got my first pair of character shoes, but I remember thinking finallyyyyyyyyyy!

sensible shoes for work
I was a child, and it was a much simpler time.

I loved those stumpy 1.5″ starter heels, which I had gotten with the help of a teacher who looked out for me. (I had a rough childhood, and I’m fortunate that much of my art education was facilitated in a number of ways by kind teachers who took me under their wing.) I hadn’t yet learned how glorious real heels could be.

Fast-forward through many more years of classes, professional performances in much higher heels, injuries, and foot surgery, and foot pain is my comfort zone. Shoe shopping for me is a mission at Black Ops level, with my checklist of requirements to accommodate injuries at full odds with my desire to be the baddest bitch below the ankle, at least, if not head to toe.

sensible shoes study guide
It takes searching, but I generally find a way to make it work.

Ankle braces, back pain, and orthotics have also been in heavy rotation with each passing year, especially since moving back to NYC from LA, i.e., going from a place where virtually no one walks as a mode of transportation to one of the top walking cities in the world. I despise the feeling of wearing flats, but unless I’m intentionally in streetwear, I prefer the aesthetic of a non-sneaker to sneakers for non-athletic pursuits, and yet most fashion flats can be just as harmful to your feet as the highest of heels.

Then there’s my habit of wearing flip-flops as shoes; I’ve lost count of how many pairs I have, and there’s no doubt that they’re far more suited to walking on sand along the coastline than running to catch a cab in Columbus Circle.

Enter Vionic.

Vionic is a footwear line developed by Phillip Vasyli, renowned Australian podiatrist and founder of Orthaheel® Technology, which is built into each pair of Vionic shoes to provide essential stability and support. I was curious about how this might improve upon my prior experiences with orthotics, so Vionic kindly sent me some of their shoes so I could see for myself. The company says, “With a contour seamlessly engineered into each shoe, sandal, and slipper, Vionic helps support natural alignment from the ground up.”

That’s fine as a slogan, but what I say is, they feel like a hug for my feet! Any inserted orthotics that I’ve previously used have been phenomenally inflexible. This is largely by design, of course, but that discomfort is a world away from the expected pain of tipping around in sky-high heels—orthotics are meant to help.

Also, due to varying levels of injuries past, I’ve tried a few pairs of a certain well-known “comfortable” shoe manufacturer’s shoes, and not only did they not offer options that I found aesthetically pleasing, but their version of “support” often pinched at the toes or chafed the back of my heels with their rigidity.

The Orthaheel® Technology feels supportive but also comfortable, like an embrace from a dear friend when you’re going through a tough time. I especially appreciate how I can feel that support with each step, but the shoes are still incredibly flexible.

Vionic footwear

As a pink-aholic, these sneakers don’t look out of place in my closet at all, and I’ve been wearing them all over. I had been putting insoles in my other pairs of sneakers for extra cushioning, but there’s no need with these. Of course, sneakers are the expected go-to for comfort footwear, so I think where Vionic really shines in the non-active footwear categories, particularly their ballerina flats.

Ballerina flats are notoriously lacking in support, but they can be a wardrobe staple nonetheless. As much as I prefer heels, age and being back in New York have beaten a bit of footwear practicality into me, and these ballerina flats in the Minna style are just what the doctor ordered. Quite literally, Vionic footwear is recognized by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), which is truly the last thing I ever thought I would be saying about a pair of shoes that I actually love wearing.

Ballerina flats
I don’t know if I’m more jazzed about the exotic print or the fact that they’re also indicated for people with Plantar Fasciitis!

Renowned integrative health expert Dr. Andrew Weil has partnered with Vionic, saying that “Feet need to be properly aligned and supported, and I very much support this combination of good technology and style.” Dr. Jackie Sutera is the newest addition to what Vionic calls their Innovation Lab, the dedicated collective of nationally recognized podiatric experts who contribute to ensuring that every Vionic design puts your foot health first, and as a female podiatrist in New York City, she pays special attention to what each step does to our feet, especially in high heels. Dr. Sutera would certainly be cheering me on as I strut around in flats instead of stilettos, and indeed, the well-cradled feeling of wearing these Vionic ballerina flats is totally unexpected.

Vionic ballerina flats

Pictured left to right, The Tide Rhinestone, Corfu, Paden, and Bella are my favorite sandal styles that I can’t wait to snag for when the weather gets warm again (or I return to a sunnier climate, whichever happens first), and Vionic also sells multiple designs of orthotic inserts separately so that you can upgrade your existing footwear and join the Orthaheel® gang.

Often, when a brand promises “support you can feel, the style you can see,” it’s just a bunch of words strung together for an ad. With Vionic, it turns out that being comfortable can also actually look and feel good to me. While this revelation does absolutely nothing to help my diminishing closet space, my also-diminishing foot and lower back pain are thanking me.

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