Heels are undoubtedly the most transformative element of any wardrobe. Sure, they can dress up an outfit, but they also create a different mood entirely.
That said, some heels are better for certain occasions than others, so it's handy to keep a few different styles in your arsenal. Let's look at the different types of high heels and how you can use them to your sartorial advantage.
The highest of high heels, the stiletto always brings a sense of drama—in the very best way. (Think: Carrie Bradshaw's love affair with the works of Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, and Jimmy Choo.) Wear them out dancing with a body-con dress, turn the dial up on your casual jeans and blouse ensemble, or make memorable meeting entrance with a tailored pants and a structured blazer. Pro tip: Search for stilettos with a built-in platform. Not only does it further elongate the leg, it also makes it more palatable for everyday wear.
One of the easiest types of heels to walk in, wedges have no separation between the heel and the front sole of the shoe. This look can come in an array of different styles: ankle-straps, built-in platforms, or with a completely open front. A little steadier underfoot than stilettos, wedges are winners for formal events—like weddings, prom, galas—when you want to make a big impression, thanks to the striking height and shape. Since the heel is fully supported by the sole of the shoe, your feet will likely stay cushy all night long.
Want the height without the teetering? Meet the platform heel, which has added thickness around the front sole of the shoe. Because of this, there's less of a difference in the height between the back of the heel and the sole, which means less pressure on your feet. A platform heel is also slightly chunkier in appearance, which can further elongate legs. Pair them with a volume-heavy midi skirt for a party or a power blazer and pencil skirt for a lunch meeting.
The Creatures of Comfort
These aren't just one of the most wearable types of heels, they're also among the most versatile. Enjoying a revival in 2020, the kitten heel usually has a mini heel (two inches max) that'll be your savior when your day calls for a lot of pounding the pavement. The ultimate union of style and comfort, kitten heels come in a variety of different prints, shapes, and silhouettes. Slip into them for a garden party, a date strolling the city, or an afternoon running errands.
Sometimes you just need a little bit of extra support. Ankle strap heels provide stability and balance by securing the heels to the leg, making them easier to walk in. Here's your chance to add some flair to your footwear, as the straps often come in a variety of playful, contrasting colors or prints, and bejeweled details. Wear them to highlight your delicate ankles for a day out in the sun, whether that means an alfresco picnic or cocktails poolside.
Speaking of support, we're also big fans of the sling back. These elegant numbers strap around the back of the Achilles' heel, upping the stability. A stellar option for the dance floor (especially when you've got some serious moves up your sleeve), sling backs also look just as chic in a lower height when you're picking up the kids from school or heading out for a breakfast date with your beloved.
The pump is arguably the most classic heel style. Usually between 3–4 inches, standard pumps feature a heel shape that's slightly thicker than the stiletto, with a pointed toe and low front. Because pumps go with pretty much everything—jeans, joggers, mid-skirts—they're great for anyone who's just starting to build their collection of heels. Look for fun prints, vibrant hues, and accents like bows to jazz them up for parties.
Looking for a fun way to show off your latest pedicure? The peep-toe is practically made for that purpose. With a little opening right at the front of the toe, this style often works in tandem with kitten heels, stilettos, and pumps. Make a splash with the peep-toe at rooftop birthday parties at sunset or breezy brunches with your besties. Consider these heels a happy medium when you don't want to wear sandals—they show off just a little bit of skin.
Like watermelon and fireflies, this shoe embodies summer and it's understandable why—the style originated in the warm and sunny climes of Spain. The espadrille usually has a fabric or leather upper, atop a heel or sole made of esparto rope, and comes in chunky varieties as well as wedge silhouettes. Wear them with a little slip dress or high-waisted culottes or paper-bag shorts.
The Everyday All-Stars
Also known as block heels, chunky designs provide a different aesthetic as well as more stability than a stiletto or traditional pump. The wide base of the heel is usually square-shaped and thick, and the height can range from 3 inches and up. Choose a pair of chunky heels for long hours on the job or days where you know you're going to be doing a little bit of walking (or a lot of standing).
For a fall- or winter-appropriate heel, the ankle bootie is a trusted ally. Any boot that hits right around the ankle and has a lower heel (less than 3 inches) falls into the heeled ankle bootie category. For days that are just starting to get a bit chillier, wear them with a low pair of socks that don't show. Once it gets colder out, you can play around with chunkier socks, fun tights in various patterns, or even fishnets.
If you want a heel that provides more coverage, opt for the mule. The front of this design comes higher over the top of the foot, while still revealing the heel and, sometimes, the tips of the toes. While the height of the heel can vary, the mule is a great way to get experimental with prints since the ample space on the front of the shoe easily shows off texture and color. The roomy shape has a more casual vibe than other heels, so you can don them for your book club outing or farmers market wanderings.
Another style well-suited for fall and winter months, the oxford has a flat sole and a chunkier, shorter heel. Typically lacing at the front and often featuring wingtip or brogue details, the oxford leans into its preppy aesthetic. Embrace the collegiate vibe by pairing it with argyle socks and colorful tights. Try them for fall days at the office or when it's chilly but you want to feel dressed up.
Pro tips on wearing heels
Now that you've got the basic types of high heels down, these are the secrets to making them work with almost any outfit (well, spin class excepted).
Toe shape is everything
First things first: Make sure they're comfortable. And, above all, that means paying careful attention to the toe shape. Whether it's round, almond, pointy, square, open, or peep-toe, everybody has their preference based on their own individual foot shape. Start by trying on heels in an array of styles and shapes to find out what works for you. Once you identify the ones that fit you best, keep them in mind when shopping.
It's all about the hidden details
Luckily, there are many clever hacks for making different types of heels more pleasurable to wear. Cushy insoles will be a lifesaver for stilettos and other sky-high options, and you can also play around with slip guards, heel pads, and toe protectors to get a more custom fit (these additions help keep blisters and chafing at bay). And if you're prone to swelling and pain while wearing heels, seek out a foot spray infused with anti-inflammatory ingredients like arnica and aloe.
Dress it up
You can always style heels to your advantage. A cute pair of socks in glittery tulle or covered in colorful stripes totally transforms a pair of chunky platform sandals (with the important bonus of making them more comfy). The same goes for wearing a fun pair of printed tights or stockings when it gets cooler out. And when summer rolls back around, get experimental with your accessories by draping pretty golden anklets above your stilettos or heeled espadrilles.