Ask Belle: How high is too high?


Hi Belle,

I found your site last year and I love it. I am the intern coordinator for my office and I spend a lot of time talking to your female interns about their clothes and your blog has been a big help.

Could you settle a debate my COS and I are having about shoes?  How high is too high for high heels?



Let me first say, that I have been saving this Ask Belle since December.  Why?  Because as the weather gets warmer, the heels get higher, and I wanted the post to be timely.

While it’s hard to say definitively, because there are several factors beyond heel height (style, material, etc.) that determine whether a shoe is professional, if I were writing an office dress code, I would have a rule that says no heels higher than 4″.

Of course, I wouldn’t be breaking out the measuring tape, but my goal would be to steer women away from high heels with thick platforms or sky high stilettos.  Because I’m always a bit horrified when I walk into a professional office and see women wearing what could be charitably described as “club shoes.”

This shoe is not an office shoe, and yet, every couple of days, I see an otherwise professionally dressed woman wearing something similar.

Does 4″ seem like an arbitrary choice to you?  Allow me illustrate my choice using a visual aid:

Five pairs of “nude” high heels.  Five different heel heights, but otherwise, very similar.

On the left, we have an under-3″ heel, the DvF Anette Mid-Heel.  Maybe too conservative for some people, for others, just right.  Next to it, we have the Kate Spade Licorice Heel–traditional, classic–a versatile work shoe.  And then, we have a shoe that is just under 4″, the Ivanka Trump Pinkish heel.  I would consider all of these shoes appropriate work shoes.

Across the thin red line, we find the Arturo Chiang Orina pump and the Jessica Simpson Waleo pump.  The exposed platforms, the towering stilettos–these shoes strike me as wholly inappropriate for the office.

So why do some women, esp. young women, seem to gravitate toward sky scraping heels?

I’ve done some thinking on this, and I have a theory.  As the celebrity and fashion worlds have moved toward ever-higher high heels over the last five years, the companies that make inexpensive shoes (Madden, ALDO, Forever 21, etc.) have heavily followed that trend.  Because young professionals don’t have the money to spend on pricier, classic brands, their choices for sensible, stylish, affordable heels are limited.  And they’re often too inexperienced to know how wearing such high heels might cause them to be perceived, so they buy what’s available in their price point.

But if you’re willing to pick through the rough, you can find professional, chic heels for under $100.

In the under-3″ category, these Arturo Chiang pumps are a good choice, as are these Ivanka Trump heels. If you prefer 3″ or just over, these Chinese Laundry Area pumps have a classic style and a $70 price.  And because I threw some shade at Madden shoes, I feel like I should showcase their $50 perfectly appropriate pumps just to be fair.

And if you need a little more height, try a 4″ heel with a hidden platform instead of an exposed one.  These Franco Sarto Cicero pumps (also in a to.die.for tortoise) are the perfect example of a shoe that looks professional but offers a lot of height thanks to a concealed lift and a slightly thicker heel.  These Nine West shoes also offer the same hidden platform with a thinner heel.

So what do you ladies say, how high is too high?  Or is there no such thing?

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