It’s perhaps irony or practicality that continue to drive fashion’s love of sturdier, flatter, and orthopedically sound footwear. Do comfort-prioritizing shoes offer an unexpected and subversive aesthetic? Have super-walkable styles proved to be so comfortable, those who’ve made the switch couldn't imagine going back? Likely it’s a little bit of both to credit for the demand of comfortable summer sandals. And good news for feet everywhere: There are plenty of options to help you hit 10,000 steps.
“Any consumer of any age values comfort, especially in recent years,” says Birkenstock’s senior PR manager Dania Shiblaq on the topic. “Consumers are no longer willing to sacrifice comfort for style, they want both,” echoes Jess Bensley, senior product line manager at Teva. Both brands have long been at the forefront of practicality-first shoe options. Even at times when the fashion industry flocked to sky-high platforms and stilettos, they instead continued to create their more foot-friendly designs.
But as sport sandals have entered the zeitgeist, even luxury brands want to offer the same level of comfort — The Row’s leather sport sandal or Birkenstock’s Valentino collaboration both fit the bill here. Newer, direct-to-consumer brands, such as M.Gemi, have also aligned themselves with a similar mission. "We design for the woman on-the- go, making comfort just as important as design," says Maria Gangemi, co-founder and chief merchant of the label.
Though each of these brands take a unique approach to marrying function and fashion, the most obvious ways for consumers to determine which sandals offer both can be found in the five tips below, whether you're shopping for something sporty or a polished heel for work. Gleaned from the aforementioned experts, the following tips showcase how designers create, and how shoppers can distinguish between, a skip-the-subway-and-walk-home kind of summer sandal and one that'll have you calling an Uber.
“Aside from straightforward aspects such as heel height and wide straps, look for any styles that allow for adjustability,” says Gangemi. “Also, any elastic gore around buckles and straps would help with comfort when walking.”
Teva also confirms that adjustability is a key sign of a supportive fit; It’s at the core of the brand's design. “We include multiple points of adjustability to ensure consumers are able to get the perfect fit from our sandals no matter the shape or size of the foot," explains Bensley.
A Wider Base
When looking for comfortable sandals, test if the shoe feels flat or offers support to the bottom of your feet. Shiblaq notes that Birkenstock’s footbed with arch support is paramount to its designs. “The Birkenstock contoured cork footbed supports the foot while providing comfort and relief. The more you wear a pair of Birkenstock, the better they become," she explains. They are designed to mold to your feet which is why you shouldn’t try to wear a pair of Birkenstock that belong to someone else … even if you’re the same size.”
In general, look for a wide base and any possible arch support, especially if your shoe has a heel. “Pick sandals with toe areas that allow for comfortable movement of the toes and adjustability if possible,” says Gangemi. If your shoe has a bit of heel, toe movement is especially important to ensure comfort.
Paying close attention to the material composition of a sandal can be the difference between a 10,000-step shoe and one that starts to pinch after the first 15 minutes. Gangemi says to “look for sandals in soft leather or suedes, make sure the material doesn’t constrain the foot in any way.”
Otherwise, feel free to take cues from Birkenstock’s signature designs: “Suedes and nubuck finishes are soft right away,” ensures Shiblaq. If you're worried about skin rubbing, especially as you get a bit sweaty, try priming the shoe with deoderant or talcum powder to ensure you'll stay blister free.
Any conscious fashion fan is already likely keeping an eye out for standout details in a purchase — a bit of embellishment, an unexpected contrast stitch, or a unique button choice. When it comes to selecting comfortable footwear, experts agree that the right details can make a world of difference. For instance at Birkenstock, Shiblaq notes that shoes are designed to be pain-free thanks to “limited stitching and embellishments that can rub or irritate.”
Additionally at Teva, the brand minds the placement of straps or any details that can lean on pressure points of the foot. “We build in a lot of comfort specifically for the foot, such as EVA midsoles and cushy topsoles,” adds Bensley. When you are testing a shoe, be sure to run your fingers over the inside straps, making sure that they don't have any scratchy bits. Additionally, try taking a lap or two around the store or your apartment — if you're already feeling pain, it's a sign to skip (more on that below).
The Try-On Technique
Selecting a comfortable shoe that can remain supportive for hours on end can sometimes come down to how you spend the first few minutes trying a new pair on. According to experts, there are a few steps to follow — some quite intuitive and some not so much — to make sure you’re finding the best fit.
“Walk, jump, bounce, and get an idea of its comfort and support,” advises Bensley. “Take into consideration the action that will be performed in the sandal and get a feel for how much support you need. Walking around the city versus a five-mile hike requires a different level of support, so try imagining and simulate the desired activity around the store.”
Additionally, experts agree that it’s worth trying on a larger size before purchasing, especially for shoes that will inevitably rack up miles. “You should be able to fully wiggle all of your toes without restriction,” Shiblaq says, adding that for shoes such as Birkenstock, it’s a good idea to slowly take your new sandals for a spin, instead of diving into a long hike. “Make sure to wear them around the house or on short outings before taking them out for an entire day. This will help adapt your body to the arch support and begin the break-in process.”