About 75% of women say they have more than 21 pairs of shoes, according to a recent survey of DSW's loyalty program members. If we're willing to spend hard-earned money on that amount of footwear, we want to make sure each pair is comfortable.
We'll show you how to find quality women's shoes and what you'll get at different price points.
The 4 Main Shoe Components
Your shoes are made up of four key components that determine whether you'll be wearing them for years, or tossing them out.
For the longest-lasting and most comfortable wear, look for good quality suede or leather shoes for women. Leather allows your foot to "breathe," helping it feel more comfortable and reducing odors. And if you purchase a quality, soft leather, your shoes can last for years. "Look for very soft leather that gives," says Dr. Taryn Rose, an orthopedic surgeon turned shoe designer, according to TODAY. "Leather lining is just as important to absorb moisture and for breathability."
But watch out for synthetic leather shoes for women. While synthetic leather looks good on the shelf — most synthetics are shiny and appealing at first — the fake stuff breaks down quicker, meaning you'll be forever buying uncomfortable, short-lived shoes.
The inner sole provides arch support and much-needed padding. You can buy shoe inserts for added cushioning, but not all inserts are created equal. You're better off choosing a shoe that doesn't need the added support.
First, look for shoes with good arch support — no easy task. Podiatrist Dr. Steve Rosenberg says most fashion-geared shoes don't provide adequate support. To tell if yours do, look for padding that's thicker around the edges and where your arch naturally fits in the shoe.
Next, see that the heel and ball of your foot have good cushioning, especially if you're looking for heels. High heels naturally push the foot forward, adding pressure to the balls of your feet and causing pain in your feet, legs, and lower back.
Finally, make sure you're picking up the right size, which varies from brand to brand. According to Dr. Rosenberg, you should be able to fit at least a thumb's width between the end of your toes and the tip of your shoe. If you can't, good cushioning won't be enough to prevent pain.
The outer sole of your shoe makes a big difference. A lot of modern styles don't have enough bottom padding (we're looking at you, ballet flats). This is bad news for two reasons. First, thin soles won't protect your feet from the ground. Second, thin soles wear out quicker, sending you back to the shoe store sooner.
That said, soles are best tested in person. Experts at Harvard Medical School suggest trying out new shoes on different types of surfaces — hard surfaces, along with carpet — to see how the shoes feel on each. If all else fails, go with wedges. Most wedges have plenty of shock-absorbing padding.
High heels do a number on your feet, from pain, to bunions, to lasting medical conditions. But that doesn't mean you have to live your life in flats. Some heels are fine, as long as you're careful with what you buy.
Podiatrist Emily Splichal recommended in Health that heel height be kept to 3" and below. "For every inch over three, the stress to the foot and body dramatically increases," Dr. Splichal told the publication. And opt for thicker heels over those needle-thin stilettos. (Thicker heels last longer than thin ones and are easier to walk in.)
Also, look at the placement of the heel. Heels placed squarely under your actual heel distribute your weight better, according to podiatrist Dr. Jaleh Hoorfar in O, The Oprah Magazine. Avoid shoes with a heel that's placed too far back.
Finally, look for padding underneath the tip of the heel. Rubber or plastic caps help prevent the heel from wearing out too quickly.
What You'll Get at Every Price Point
Women's shoes vary widely in price, but not necessarily in design. In other words, expensive shoes aren't always your best bet, though certain price ranges can give you an idea of what you're getting.
$10 to $50: Mass-Market Brands and Discounted Styles
The majority of full-priced shoes in the $10 to $50 range aren't designed to last very long and lack support. If you do opt for these shoes, plan on buying additional padded inserts. However, you can also find deep discounts on some brand-name shoes in this price range, through retailers like 6pm and DSW.
$50 to $100: Midrange Brands
You'll find many recognizable brands at this price point, but don't expect a name to mean quality. Since lots of women's footwear is designed for fashion over comfort, anything you buy still needs to run the gamut of tests to see if you're getting good quality shoes.
$100 to $150: Genuine Leather Shoes
You can find some genuine leather shoes for women in this price range, but watch out for topstitching. Hoorfar says it can make leather less elastic, and thus less comfortable. Expect footwear in this tier to last through at least a couple of years of regular use (if they're comfortable shoes).
$150 and Up: High-End Brands and Custom Shoes
Most high-end kicks run at least $150, though many can cost much more for even basic styles. But again, don't fall for the label. While high-end shoes are often built better than their cheap counterparts, even $500 boots don't always deliver on comfort. Always check your shoes for adequate padding, heel height, and design before you buy.
Readers, what women's shoe brands do you think provide a great value for the money? How do you usually shop for shoes: in-store or online? Let us know in the comments below!