Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How high is too high?

 My work heels

Heels can do wonders for your calves, snap your spine straight (helllooo balance), and create a sexy strut.  But is there such as thing as a heel too high for the office.  In short: yes. But it's not always that easy.

I think we can all agree that an over-the-top shoe like this one is not office appropriate. But what about something with a smaller platform that's closed-toe?  Or if the heel is chunky or a wedge, does that affect how high your heels can be?

While most office dress codes don't specify a min/max height, tradition states that a lower heel (<3") usually translates as more professional than one that's higher.  But in most business casual offices, there is quite a bit more leeway.

So how do you figure out if your heels are appropriate?  Start with these questions:
  • What is on my agenda today? Will I have to walk? There is nothing pretty or professional about limping around in heels when you know you have a lot of walking to do during the day. Practicality first (sometimes).
  • Who will I be seeing or meeting with? Do they have any preconceived notions of propriety? This goes for clothes, as well.  If you know an old-fashioned good ol' boy bigwig is coming in, you  may want to play it safe for the day. 
  • Would I wear these shoes to a club? If so, you may want to think twice (unless they're more office appropriate shoes you just happen to wear to a club, like me, who wears knee-length dresses, long coats, and closed-toed pumps).
  • How high is the platform? Steer clear of anything higher than about 3/4", and try to keep the rest of the shoe a little conservative. 
  • How skinny is the heel? Especially for heels higher than about 4", spiky stilettos can look inappropriate or dangerous. If you're going to do a taller heel, try a stacked or chunky heel (plus it helps with balance).  A wedge can also look polished, especially with heels 3" or lower.
  • What does the rest of the heel look like? If you're wearing something especially high, it helps if the rest of the heel is a little less attention-getting.  Details like ruffles, buckles, straps, neon, and shiny patent only call more attention to your feet.  A classic almond-toe pump in a matte leather and 4.5" heel is less likely to raise eyebrows than a platform pink strappy shoes at 3".
  • What else am I wearing? If you're wearing trousers, the rules can be a little looser, since the bulk of your shoe will be covered by the pant leg.  If you're wearing a skirt, consider the fact that people can get a 360 degree view of your shoe.
Don't get me wrong, I love a fun heel and have several. But for the sake of professional decorum and not distracting others, let's keep the crazy at home, okay?

How high do you think is too high of a heel for the office? Do you have any personal rules for work footwear?


  1. Great post and guidelines!

    I'm not allowed to wear anything with open toes, not even peep toes, so that limits my choices severly at work. I tend to be conservative in heel height, usually 3 or less. But I'm okay weraing higher ones if the rest of the shoe is simple.

  2. I stick with the 2/3s rule (in my pretty casual office):
    basically, I find there are 3 guildlines for shoes:
    1) color
    2) height
    3) design

    If I go crazy with one of these elements, the other two half to be safe (so a red pump is okay if it's 3 inches or less and a classic shape, a 4.5 inch heel is fine if it's black and a simple pump, or a strappy shoe is okay if it's low and a simple color).

    I think the outfit has a LOT to do with it too, though - I wouldn't wear something tighter with a super high heel - I actually have an outfit planned in the near future with shoes I have only ever worn at a club in Vegas - however they are going to be paired with a classic white button down and a simple A-line skirt.

  3. Agreed!

    I wear my lowest pair of heels at work(my one inchers) because I'm not always sitting at my deak and we have annoying marble floors that make your footsteps sound crazy loud! I think you can have fun with toned down colored shoes but that's about it. Professional is key! :)

  4. I think your description of work appropriate shoes is great. Ashley's 2/3 rule is pretty safe to go with too.I don't work in an office, so my shoe choices are more limited by what I am comfortable standing and running in all day.

  5. Even though I work in a conservative environment, shoes are where I go a little crazy. I agree with your rules though: I keep them to 4 inch heels max. height and no more than 1/2" platform. I love patent and peep toes, so I do wear styles like that a lot. I love Ashley's 2/3 rule though and I think unconsciously I do follow them.

  6. My personal rule is under three inches (preferably 2 1/2 or lower), but that's less about being conservative and more about practicality. I work at a large university and my parking lot is probably at least an eight of a mile from my building - where my office sits on the third floor. Good morning, two flights of stairs, how do you do? I wore heels I couldn't quite manage one day, and totally got busted stumbling on those stairs. I keep it low now. :)

  7. I like this post even though I don't fully agree with it.
    I think there are other things to consider.
    1. I have 4 inch heels I wear to work and I zoom around the office. People even move out of my way (literally they do).
    2. If you have long legs, you can wear a taller heel. unless you are 6' tall then I wouldn't recommend it unless you want all the guys around you to feel short. Guys don't like that.
    3. What does everyone else wear in the office. My office, people even wear stilettos so I like to fit in.
    4. If I will be standing all day, I don't even wear a heel, but for a normal work day I feel anything goes. I used to have to wear flats because I had so much foot troubles and knee troubles. I couldn't even wear ballet flats because I had to have a special orthotic in my shoe so I think I overcompensate now.

    I actually threw out all my flats so now I'm stuck. I tried to shoe shop twice for even a pair of black flats and they always hurt because my foot doesn't like to stay in them and then I curl my toes weird.

  8. Great tips, ladies! I think we all subconsciously have rules in our heads, and I like how you ladies think. As you can tell from my pic, most of my heels are about 3-3.5" with a smattering of lower heels...those tall ones on the right I have never worn to work, but they balanced out the photo so I included them :)

  9. I like the symmetry of your heels, especially that the really attention grabbing colour is smack dab in the centre.
    I am also envious of your suede heels, weather does not permit them for me.

  10. I'm very worried about all of this. I was watching the women walk past in the cafeteria while I was doing work experience in the building I[ll probably end up working in, and I saw a grand total of three woman in the lunch hour who were dressed fashionably; tow of whom were my friends sitting at my table. Neither of them where in heels, and the one woman who was, and was dressed well everyone looked at like she was out of place; this does not bode well for my future!

  11. nice post on heel guidelines. It also depends on the office's environment, if it's a creative environment, or a quieter one.... as much as I luuuuve heels , I wish we could all go to work in cool Adidas trainers :)

  12. @ Rachel - That's hard when the work environment isn't already fashionable...but stay strong!

    @ Fashion Limbo - That sounds soo comfy (although I hate socks).

  13. Loved your Links a la Mode on IFB
    Love your blog , lets become fashionable blogger friends , lets follow each other.

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  14. I'm a person of the middle-aged persuasion (41) and I work in a loose, creative professional environment with no real dress code. However, I would look out of place and ridiculous relative to everyone else if I wore super-high heels. I would never go higher than 2.5" even if I could -- that's the heel height that I train in for ballroom dance and it's the highest that feels stable and safe for me. I have a few attention-getting heels at that height, and even those feel a little like I'm going overboard at my workplace. That's OK though -- I care about keeping the hips, knees and back in shape at this point, so I've made an effort to search out stylish lower shoes. I have found some super-nice not-quite-flats, that come in lovely colors and leathers, and don't have the toe-curling/don't stay on your feet problems of cheap flats. Ecco makes great low-heeled shoes, so does Clarks.

  15. @ dolls - thanks for stopping by!

    @ Cynthia - I definitely think no matter the age, staying in your comfort zone is key, and I applaud you for knowing yours so well! It isn't worth it to be uncomfortable and unstable all day. I think it's really cool that you ballroom dance - while I can walk around all day in my heels just fine, I can't imagine dancing in them!

  16. Fantastic post and blog alike!! Congrats on being featured, I'm glad I stopped by and will definitely continue to do so!

    Ripped Nylon

  17. Great post - I am a high heels addict and managed to wear them in an office environment that was fairly conservative - I think it depends on the rest of your outfit too. Keep the rest simple and you can get away with a slightly more zany shoe. Long trousers to the floor (I'm short so these lengthen my legs too) can also work so that your heels are hinted at rather than constantly on display. A pencil skirt would require a more demure shoe.

  18. @ Miss ED - Thanks for visiting! Glad to have ya :)

    @ Veshoevius - The rest of the outfit definitely makes a difference. I typically go a little more conservative when I'm wearing a skirt than with pants as well.

    @ Jenny - Thanks!

  19. Here in Britain, heels of nearer 3-4" are considered more professional than lower heels, even in conservative offices.

    I agree on many of your points.
    You need to be able to walk well in them, never anything you would choose to wear out to a club, and if the heel is high the shoe needs to be less attention-getting – no straps buckles, or open toes, and ideally black. I would also say NO platform (except maybe a hidden platform of less than half an inch).

    Also keep the rest of your outfit conservative. Whilst I mainly wear skirts – even pencil skirts – they are never shorter than knee length, and always with a demure top – never putting "the girls" on display!

    I think Ashley’s 2/3 rule would also be good in less conservative offices.

    But I disagree on How skinny is the heel. The classic stiletto is far more professional looking than chunky heels or wedges.

    As a lover of heels (and as I'm only 5' 4") I have worn 4" heels to the office for years. But my most recent purchase for work are Black Schuh Lois Point Courts with a 5" heel:

    I was a little concerned that they might be too high, but they are just such a good looking classic shoe (and I fell in love with them). But I actually got compliments on them from several senior women at work (including one of the partners). - And mine is a very conservative office.

    So if you keep to the basic rules of plain black, no buckles or straps, no open toes, no platforms, no chunky heels, then even 5" heels can be appropriate.

  20. @anonymous - How interesting that higher is more professional across the pond!

    I also tend toward thinner heels...I think that depends a lot of comfort though, since a lot of women are not comfortable in skinnier heels. I think a great medium is a stacked heel that is thicker by the heel and narrows toward the tip (rather than skinny all the way down).

    Those shoes you just bought are gorgeous! I'm impressed.

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  29. Very thorough article with some interesting points raised – not entirely my thing, but there you go.

  30. I got a verbal warning for my heels being to high. Solid blk 3 1/2 " I was really upset being that its only my 4th day at this new job and honestly other co-wrks wear higher thinner heels I was surprised that out of the handful of ladies with what I think are inappropriate heels the NEW employee catches the attention .. oh n I was wearing black slacks with a white button down shirt and a (light) sweater (drk brown)

    1. Wow, that seems pretty extreme! Are you still at the job? It seems there are probably other factors at work, or that it just isn't a great work environment. :(

    2. much height heel u wear daily and the dress as might lower u r talking about

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  32. This is helpful! Having two female bosses, one who wears kitten heals and the other who only wears suits and flats, I was starting to feel like I may be wearing too high of heels. In the past, I haven’t cared to notice as I was consistent with my coworkers and always received compliments. And, because I am team of one in my new department, I don’t have others to bounce off of. The highest heel I have is 4 inches and its cognac leather. I mostly stay in the 3 inch range, but it’s hard when so many cute heels are high! I agree with @ Ashley - if you go high, stay with a neutral safe color.

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