What if there were a magic number you could measure that would tell you exactly what high heel height would be your most comfortable to wear? What if science could finally tell you why your coworker could wear her 4 inch Manolos all day at work like nothing, while you can barely muster a kitten heel? According to an article I rediscovered buried in my browser bookmarks, there is!
So maybe not that magical, but I have been meaning to try this test (written by a podiatrist) to measure your ideal heel height for some time now, and given a change in my recent shoe purchases, this seemed like a good time to do it. You see, spurred by a mix of moving near San Francisco (hills! more walking! less driving!) and that boring, nagging thing that can no longer be ignored after a certain age called “practicality”, my beloved 4 inch high heels are slowly getting replaced by easier-for-me to walk in 3 to 3.5 inchers. This got me thinking back to that magical measurement I had been meaning to try, and curious as to what it would say is my “ideal” heel height. Could it be in any way accurate? Would it correspond with the recent heel height trends taking place in my wardrobe?
Let’s try it, shall we?
Depending on many factors including the shape of your foot, flexibility, arch height, etc., your foot has a natural incline while in a state of rest, that if measured, can indicate which shoe heel height would feel most natural and comfortable.
I’ll note here that I made one modification to the original instructions. Instead of using the tip of the big toe as a measuring point, I chose to use the point where the ball of foot bends. This just made an enormous amount of more sense to me because 1) isn’t that where your foot naturally starts to incline in high heels?, and 2) I would have an “ideal” heel height of around 5 inches using the original instructions, which is just crazy-talk.
Measurements will be taken with the following points of the foot in mind:
- The heel (where the high heel of a shoe would sit)
- The bend at the ball-of-foot (this is my modified step)
- Sit in a chair and extend your leg straight out in front you.
- Let your ankle and foot relax so it rests at its natural incline.
- Tip: I did a few rounds of exercising my ankle and foot (rolling my ankle, pointing my toes, etc.) and then letting it relax to get a feel for what my true “relaxed” state felt and looked like.
- With a measuring tape or ruler, measure the distance from the heel of your foot, straight out to the point where your ball of foot bends.
- The measurement on the tape measure where your ball of foot bends indicates your foot’s natural incline and “ideal heel height”.
Tip: this is easier with the help of a friend, roommate, or significant other, but it can be done by yourself with a little creativity.
How I measured without help:
- Set up a camera to take photos against a wall with a camera remote, but a self-timer, selfie stick, or the buttons on an iPhone head phone cord could also be used to take photos from a distance.
- Taped a measuring tape onto the wall at the same height as my extended leg while sitting in a chair.
- Made sure the measuring tape, and my extended leg/foot were all within the picture frame by taking a few test shots.
- Sat in a chair, extended my leg, and took a few photos with a camera remote. I stretched my foot and rolled my ankle in between to make sure I got a few “relaxed” shots.
- Uploaded my photos and drew lines in Photoshop.
My Ideal Heel Height
After a few rounds of taking measurements, my “ideal heel height” came in somewhere below 3.5 inches, which just so happens to correspond with my recent propensity toward heels in the 3 to 3.5 inch range. In my case, this formula seems right on the money!
I’m super curious to hear if this test works for you! Let me know in the comments if take the test and if your measured “ideal” heel height really is one that is most comfortable for you.
This is such an interesting test and one that makes a lot of sense too! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Prudence! If you get around to taking it, let me know if it works out for you! =)
Hey, just tried it but in self denial. I’mean short 4’11 and have tiny feet; but following this method I’ve got the size4.5…is it possible?
Interesting! I’ll have to try this method out.
I’ve already found that I can wear a heel as high as 3.75″ heel to be comfortable without any height under the ball of my feet, but I feel I can wear more height if I have a platform in the front as well. For example, to wear a 5″ heel, I need to make sure that my shoe has a 1.25″ (ish) platform, otherwise the arch is too steep for my foot and it gets uncomfortable…
If you try it out, definitely come back & let me know if you get 3.75″. I’m curious to see how many people this works for. =)
I tried it and it said 4″. I don’t know if it is because of a high arch…but after trying many heel heights, I can only “live” in a 2.5 or maybe 3 inch heel. So sad. But my husband (a podiatrist) thinks I am insane for anything over 2 inches. If only he understood that the heels make the entire outfit!
Thanks for reporting back with your results Jamie! Interesting…sounds like the test didn’t make much sense in your case. And as a fellow high-arched girl, I can totally relate! A friend of mine with the exact same shoe size but flatter feet can pull off 4.5″ heels! When I try them on, I look and feel like I’m going to keel over onto my face.
And yes, if only heels didn’t make everything look so. much. better. =P
Oh! I forgot to ask…did your podiatrist husband have any insights into the legitimacy of this test? It was originally written by a podiatrist, but I’d love to get more professional opinions on the basic theory behind it.
This seems to make sense. And it seems to confirm that idea that the longer the foot, the higher the heel can be and still be comfortable. Of course, the ratio of the heel to bending area would come into play. But all things being equal, you’d expect bigger feet to be able to handle higher heels based on the math.
This is a very interesting article. I can’t wait to try it. It’s definitely an article I would share with anyone who loves to wear heels. Thank you so much.
It works for me! My measurement was *almost* at 4 inches. When I measured the current heels I’m in love with, they all confirmed it! Looks like my stilettos will have to gather dust for now.
I know what you mean about the high arch “problem”! I wish I could do the 4 inch thing but I have both high arches and a small foot size which just doesn’t make it practical. 3″ I can wear all day but 3.5″ is my max if I want to wear it for more than one hour!
Size 5 shoes. This test put me at 3.5″, which is still fairly comfortable for a night out but I’d be lying if I said they still felt great 6 hours later. But all my favorite everyday work heels are 3″ (I spend equal amounts of time standing/sitting/walking around at my job). I’d say this method is pretty accurate if you undershoot it a bit, to take into account the amount of ankle extension that goes on with each step. That way even while you are walking, you don’t “exceed” your comfort zone too much.
To take the measurement, I just sat at my desk and propped my leg up on the corner of my desk. That way I could focus on taking the measurement without worrying about my leg position (if your flexibility allows it).
Overall very interesting method! I will have to find my friends who hate wearing high heels to see what they measure. Thanks for sharing!
I’ve pretty big and wide feet with shoes size 8-9, this test puts me at 5”! Is that trust-able? I can’t even walk comfortably with 1” shoes… :/
Hi Eleanor! Yeah, that measurement doesn’t sound very accurate. 5 inches is really tall!
If you have high arches and strong feet, you may actually find that 4-5″ is a more comfortable, safer (more stable) skeletal position for your feet. Play with it and find out! I’m in the 4-5″ range with slightly flatter arches (requiring more arch support, actually) and size 10 feet. I can’t wear 2-3.5″ heels without intense pain and severe ankle instability (and I’m a dancer so I have strong feet and ankles). Just sayin’.
Great test! I’m tall with large feet (size 10), and I can’t do shorter heel heights because they increase pain all through the feet. This is largely due to the physics of the situation: longer feet DO require more heel height to form a comfortable angle for your foot to have support in the arch. SO MANY shoes are right in the 2.5-3.5″ heel range, which is unacceptable for me. I need 4″+ to be in the comfortable (and SAFE) angle zone for my arches.
Plus, I’m a dancer (ballroom & bellydance) and I can tell you, whether training in bare feet or heels, it’s imperative that you are FULLY in “releve” (which is to stand fully up on the balls of your feet, with your knees and heels stacked as close to directly over the balls of your feet) for maximum stability and skeletal safety. People mistakenly think that wearing heels that are shorter are safer and easier. Not necessarily true. Been looking for articles which address this issue. People need to be better informed.
Agreed. I wear a size 10 and heel heights of less than 3.5 inches (as measured from the side thru the center of the heel) are uncomfortable and hurt after thirty minutes. Four inch heels are perfectly comforable for hours. Routinely wear five inch heels which can be uncomfortable at first but after a few minutes they too are quite comfortable. Anything over five inches is just too tall.
Measured mine and got about 5.5 – 6 inches. I have large feet, flexible ankles, and a dance history. Considering I routinely wear heels that are just a smidge under 7 inches high and still sometimes roll forward to stand taller than that, I’m not surprised. Thanks for an interesting test!
little gals, just wear flats, those heels will kill ya, throws a tiny body off balance….trust me I know…I’ve lived a long time (over 60 years of fashion)…..if you need a heel, get a little sweet kitten heel to go out at night. Don’t ruin your feet and back kids.
Right on the money! Using this method, I measure to about a 4.5″ heel, and that is the most comfortable height for me. I wear a size 10, and as a guy that’s worn heels for most of my life, I’ve found that while there are certainly heels that are too high for me, too low can be almost as bad; like walking down a shallow staircase, your foot keeps expecting to land sooner than it does. Raising your heel height to where your body expects it puts your foot closer to its rest position. (Note that when you’re asleep, your ankles don’t bend to 90 degrees like flat shoes force you into.) Also, proper fit is critically important; if the heels hurt, something is wrong.
I love wearing heels and just about to buy my first pair of red bottoms!!! So this was very interesting for me and as expected my feet are comfortable in a 3.5″ which is what i usually wear! Can’t believe this actually works :) nothing worse than uncomfortable heels..
I wish I had found this article earlier. I don’t own many pairs of high heels(being a stay at home mom). But the one pair, that I can comfortably wear(no matter what the situation), come in at my ideal measurement of 4.5 inches. The other pairs that I own all have significant platforms and are much higher(5.5 to 6 in). Those heels are in my closet collecting dust, because I just can’t wear them. I am 5’9″ and wear a size 11 shoe. So armed with this new knowledge, I will expand my high heel choices knowing that I’ll be fashionable and comfortable at the same time.
CAN I KNOW HOW THIS METHOD ACTUALLY WORKS? IS THERE ANY MATHS INVOLVED?
heyy!! i dont know if im still doing it wrong or not but the measurement came out 6 inches!!!! im 5’7 and a half. guess i can wear all sizes of heels???
I think we need to account for the lengths of the big toe and other toes here. Longer toes will spread out the surface area and create more points of contact for body weight once on the balls of our feet. The length of the toes will greatly affect how comfortable you are with the weight shifted forward on the foot. Distributing the concentration of pressure with longer toes can help dramatically as one wears larger heels. Also, let us not forget arthritic changes in our feet. I started getting bunions in my twenties and had to stop wearing any heel. I do much better with 2-3.5″ (max) heels. My foot measures 10″ and I’m a size 9. My toes are not proportional to the size of my foot and are much shorter therefore, causing pain at >3.5″ heel
I came across a different test: take a step forward and lift your heel without forcing. The distance between the floor and your lifted heel is the ideal height for you. I wonder how the result compares with the test suggested here…
Great article. I wear size 9, 9.5 and 10 depending on what type of shoe. For heels, true size 9 and sneaker size 10. I measured and got a little over 6 in. I was surprised. But I did own a pair of wedges from Nine West that were 5.5 inches in height and had no issue walking in them. They were the tallest pair of shoes I ever owned. Lately, I’ve been wearing lower heel shoes like 3.5″ and under and they’re comfortable but sometimes hurt due to the toe area or padding.
I’ve always struggled in any heels, and this test seems to confirm it! My foot is almost upright when in a resting position, so guess I’m a really small heel/flats kind of gal! Have to say though I tend to find wedges more comfortable than thinner heels, so a low wedge will have to do for me!
This test makes so much sense to me. I wear a 10, 10.5, sometimes even an 11! Did the test and it comes out to 6.5″. I’ll be hard pressed to find heels that high but it explains why I’m so comfortable walking in 6 inch heels. Yes it makes me well over 6 foot, but hey I’m comfortable with it and so is my husband. I do get glares, because I’m so damn tall in heels, but I like wearing them! They are cute. Thank you for sharing!
I tried this method and my heel height measured at 3″. I wear a size 8 shoe. I guess I need to start practicing how to walk in 3″ heels. Any heel over a kitten heel is very uncomfortable for me to walk in. It’s hard to find shoes because I want to look and feel sexy in a high heel, but after wearing a high heel for more than 30 min. the night/ day becomes a disaster because all I think about is how much I can’t want to kick my shoes off and put my feet up.
hello and thank you for this awesome test.
The truth is I have longer feet and can wear even 91/2 shoe size( a flat one) in heels I can do 5 inch perfectly and comfortably.
But through this test I found I could rock even 7 inch shoe, if it’s platform I can wear a 8.5 inch heel.
Wanted to say thanks because I was always afraid to wear much taller shoes but this test helped me.
This heel hight depends on your shoe size the bigger your foot the higher the heel you are comfortable with.I learned the same thing when teaching my wife to drive, she wasn’t happy in sensable shoes, as soon as she wore 3inch heels uk size 5 her foot was at the correct angle for the accelerator pedal and she could control how much she pressed it, her driving became much more smoother.