Monday, February 1, 2016

Building a Work Shoe Wardrobe

I've recently had a few readers ask about what kind of shoes I have in my work shoe wardrobe and whether I spend entire days in high heels. Short answer: I only spend the day in heels if I absolutely have to--so most days, I wear both heels and flats. (Very) long answer: settle in with some popcorn and get ready to go through several years' worth of wardrobe building. I'll be discussing all the shoes pictured above--these are all actual shoes I own and wear to work (the photos are all clickable links).

A little background: I am a full-time lawyer who goes to court 1-5 days a week. Whenever I go to court, I'm dressed "business formal," although the particular court I usually work in has a somewhat relaxed version of business formal, so there's a little leeway for bolder fashion choices. I always wear a jacket and closed-toe shoes in court.

The environment in my office is more relaxed. If I don't have any meetings or court appearances, I am able to wear nice jeans or business casual attire. Unless I have clients coming in, I am usually in flats at my office to try to save my feet a little. Read the whole breakdown after the jump!

The Basic Heels

To start, a comfortable, sleek black pump and a nude pump are my two absolute necessities for work. I like my heels to be 4" or so, which is the highest I feel I can wear while still looking professional. I prefer a small platform in them if possible to make the pitch less taxing on my feet. The black pumps are my go-to in the winter with black or gray tights, and the nude pumps work well with bare legs or nude tights for summer (or for winter with navy or other colors that don't go well with black shoes).

When looking for a good work heel, one of my priorities is that it be well-balanced. When I stand in the shoes, I don't want to wobble or have any strain on my ankles. I also want to be able to walk in them without any teetering--solid heels mean I can stride confidently into a meeting or courtroom.

After trying a bunch of different shoes, I ended up loving the L.K. Bennett 'Sledge' pumps (right side, second row from the bottom in the collage, on me in this post) and the Stuart Weitzman 'Platswoon' (second from right, bottom row; on me in this post). The Platswoons are currently on a half-off sale and look like they might be on their way to being discontinued; I'm probably going to purchase a back-up pair. Both of these met my fit and style requirements, and they have held up really well over a couple years of wear.

For these staples, I recommend splurging and purchasing high-quality, sturdy leather shoes. I went with mid-range luxury brands and was very satisfied with the quality at their price point. The L.K. Bennett pair in particular was awesome enough that I bought two more pairs from this brand (more on those below). I've picked out a few other possibilities at lower price points below, including a MICHAEL Michael Kors pair that is super comfy and a sleek BCBGMAXAZRIA pair that's currently on sale. (Note: my favorite place to purchase my work shoes is Nordstrom because of their wonderful customer service and generous return policy.)

The Basic Flats

Just like my basic heels, I always keep good quality, well-maintained, ballet-style flats in black and nude in my work wardrobe. I replace these more often since I do much of my commuting in them. I try to walk as much as possible during the day, which means I log between 1.5 and 5 miles daily depending on my schedule.

My current favorite flats are the Cole Haan Tali Bow Ballets in black and the Sam Edelman Felicias in beige. I love the Felicias for their buttery-soft, comfortable leather and great fit off the bat, but they are not proving to be as durable as the Cole Haan pair. I got my Felicias on sale, so the trade-off was worth it for me, but if you're looking for a shoe that will last through long walking commutes, I'd suggest the Cole Haans. They are sturdy, comfortable, and provide a lot of cushioning while still looking attractive and professional.

I used to be a huge fan of the J.Crew Cece Suede Flats and still have a couple pairs in my closet, but about a year ago, they went through a design overhaul and just aren't the same comfy, high quality shoes they once were. I'm hoping they go back to the much-loved older style of Ceces soon. I'm interested in trying J.Crew's Kiki flats as a possible alternative, but my size is available online only, so I've been a little hesitant to pull the trigger.

If I wore flats in court or at my office only, I would probably increase my budget and splurge on Tory Burch Revas or Ferragamo Varinas in black or nude as my basic flats. Considering how many miles are put on my flats (I refuse to commute in sneakers, as comfy as they are) and how often I have to replace them, it just doesn't make sense for me to spend more than I currently do.

The Extra Heels

Once you have your basic black and nude pumps, you can add some more color and bolder patterns to your closet. I've amassed quite a few pairs over the years, but I started adding these slowly after seeing what other, more senior women were wearing. It's important to get a good handle on your office (or courtroom) culture before busting out the leopard or teal shoes! I stick with my basic nude and black for trials and more serious proceedings, but I mix in my extras when I can. I usually style them with more neutral, subdued colors and looks to make sure I keep my outfits professional and not too over-the-top.

The "extra" heels that I've found to be hands-down the most versatile are my Manolo Blahnik Carolyne pumps in burgundy (see them on me. These were a sale find a couple years ago, but knowing how comfortable and multipurpose they are, I'd happily buy them again at full price. Burgundy is a great extra color choice--it pairs beautifully with black, gray, or navy, and it adds a little something extra to a business formal outfit without drawing too much attention.

After burgundy, I'd say my next most-worn pair are my navy L.K. Bennett Clemmies. They are really comfortable and elegant, and navy is a great spring and summer shoe color when black feels too severe.

My other extras are as follows:

The Extra Commuting Shoes

In addition to my basic flats above, I like to have a few others in the rotation. If I find a flat I like, I will try to purchase it in other colors if available. I normally try not to buy too many duplicates, but comfortable shoes are an exception.

One of my favorite flats ever was the Matt Bernson Waverly with its fun cap-toe colors and patterns (center right in the collage above), but sadly, this style has been discontinued. I still have a couple pairs, and this is one of the few elastic flats I've found to be comfortable. Once I have to replace the ones I have, I'm looking at the Yosi Samra foldable flats, specifically these in navy, ivory/black cap-toe and leopard-print. I've also been liking my recently-purchased Steve Madden Eleanorr lace-up flats for commuting. In black, they're office-appropriate, and I've found them to be comfortable for walking as well.

In the heat of summer, I will wear flat sandals for commuting if it's too hot for closed-toe shoes (but always change into more formal shoes for court and meetings!). I like a pair of comfortable, low profile sandals that have some sort of ankle strap to secure them on my foot. I save flip-flops for vacation or the pool. My current favorites are the Sam Edelman Gigi in beige and the Splendid Mason in black.

The Severe Weather Boots

Dressing for inclement weather while trying to still look professional is always a challenge. Since I walk so much, there's no way I'd be able to tough it out through Denver winters with my basic shoe wardrobe. If the forecast calls for wet weather--rain, sleet, or slushy snow--I wear my black Hunter Regent Savoy quilted rubber boots. The slimmer cut and quilted styling of these makes them look a little less like your typical rubber rain boots, and the lining inside means my feet are somewhat insulated from getting too cold or too hot. This Hunter pair also has the same equestrian styling.

Extra-cold temperatures or chilly, snowy days mean warmer boots that don't have to be quite as waterproof. Several women at my office have the Sorel Slimpack riding boots, and I joined the club last year. Sorel has a lot of nice, cozy winter styles on sale on their site at the moment.

For colder days without much snow, I've been wearing my Stuart Weitzman knee-high suede boots. Although the heel is high, they are comfortable enough for walking and standing all day, and they keep my calves warm with skirts or dresses. The style I have is a couple years old--the most similar pair I've found recently have been the Stuart Weitzman 'Hijack.' I've also had my eye on a pair of weatherproof flat leather boots, and this Aquatalia pair is on my to-buy list.


For those of you that have gotten this far, congratulations! I think this is my longest post ever. I hope this was a helpful and practical guide to creating your own work shoe wardrobe. Please feel free to ask me any additional questions via the comments or by email.

Happy Monday!

x, Tam


  1. Love this post! So helpful and your show game is always on point! XO

    1. Thanks, friend! I do hope it was helpful (even though I know your dress code must be so much more exciting than mine!)

  2. Thank u for this post! I want a pair of teal Manolos like I saw on ur insta but cant afford real Manoloes. Can u suggest a good pair of teal heals?

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. Try this pair--the BCBGeneration 'Treasure'--they're on sale and much more budget-friendly!

  3. I love this post! I am so curious as to what other lawyers wear around the country. My "fun" pairs of work/court shoes are: snake print pumps (mix of tan/black/and brown) and tortoiseshell patent pumps in addition to several black and nude pairs.

    1. Ooh, I really like your fun pairs! I have been wanting a pair of tortoiseshell patent pumps since I saw them on a well-dressed colleague a few years ago. Where did you find yours? I saw some on Stuart Weitzman's site a while ago, but they sold out before I could snag myself a pair.

  4. Since you clearly don't MIND talking about shoes, I have a few more questions. One is, how do you make sure your pants don't drag on the ground since you're going back and forth from 4" pumps to completely flat flats every day? Secondly, how do you move your shoes around? Do you keep a few of your standard heels at work, or do you wear a pair of commuters and pack a pair of heels every day? I'd love to be more clever about my shoes -- especially in order to save wear and tear on my nice heels -- but I can't seem to figure out the answer to these questions!

    1. Your first question stumped me for a second--I then realized that I almost never wear pants to work these days. I'm almost always in skirts or dresses. I own a couple pantsuits, but most have slimmer legs and are hemmed shorter as a result, so switching to flats doesn't seem to cause an issue. On the wider-leg trousers I have, I will flip up the bottom hem while walking. Not the prettiest solution, but needs must. A friend of mine who wears pants more often tucks them under once and clips the back of hers with a black binder clip when walking to and from court.

      The second question is much easier. I pack my heels with me every day. Some women I work with keep all their heels at the office, but my schedule is such that it's easier for me to keep them at home. That way, any shoe I might want to wear the next day is ready for me at home whether I'm headed to court, to the office, or to an early meeting in the morning. The heels go in my bag, and then I pick my commuting shoes based on my outfit and the weather. Today was a day for Sorels since it was snowing non-stop all day and hasn't stopped this evening.

      I hope that helps! I'll ask some other colleagues how they manage transitioning between heels and flats when wearing pants and get back to you if they have any good suggestions.

  5. Loved this post! I have a few pairs of heels in my wardrobe that have proven to be work horses, but I'd love to make the whole wardrobe more cohesive. This post has given me some solid ideas on how to make that happen!

    1. I'm so glad you liked this post, Cassie! If you have a post about your shoe wardrobe coming together, do share! I'd love to see it once it's finished!

  6. Love this post I've always wondered which of the Jimmy Choos were the comfiest for the office. I also have a couple of Cole Haan pumps and wedges that are perfect for the office and so comfy. My all time favorite flats are the Varinas, thank God I can get away with wearing them all day at work. Great Post!


    1. I wouldn't say the Abel pumps are really comfy, unfortunately. If they had a little platform, I think they'd be perfect, but as is, I can only do a few hours in them before I have to say uncle.

  7. I need to commute and look professional too but I can't commute long distance in heels. I do change into comfortable shoes in the office. Last December I bought a pair of Brielle Chanel from Clark's, feel like walking on the clouds. While I love the look of L.K. Bennett sledge pumps, I can't wear 4-inche. I'm so desperate to find wide fit lower pumps in nude.

    Since you bring your shoes with you while commuting, I'm keen to see how you pack your shoes in the bag. Do you carry two bags? I often need to bring documents and commute which can be a pain.

    The internet is overwhelming with creative and casual fashion blogs but much lacking in blogs dedicated to professional styles. This post is very helpful indeed. ~ Tess

    1. Hi, Tess! So glad you found this post helpful! L.K. Bennett has some cute lower heels, too, if you like their design aesthetic. I always wear the highest heels I can in court because I like to be able to at least see over the podium.

      If I get to the point of needing two bags--which some days I do, depending on the size of the files I need to schlep--I usually bring my rolling briefcase. Otherwise, I manage to fit a lot of stuff into my Le Pliage Neo: 13" laptop, a smaller file or two, my planner, phone, keys, wallet, chargers, makeup bag, card case, iPad, water bottle, sunglasses case, and my change of shoes. The rolling briefcase is a real back-saver, though, as long as you don't have to navigate too many stairs.


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