I’ve had a love/hate relationship with shoes my entire life. Long before I started wearing leg braces (AFOs), it was a struggle finding shoes that fit my high-arch, fused ankle, drop-foot, callous-prone feet.
I remember the day I picked up my first pair of leg braces. When the orthotist brought them to me in a clear plastic bag, I instantly burst into tears. I was scared to touch them.
What the f*** kind of shoes do I have to wear with those things?
When I caught my breath, my greatest concern came off as superficial. What the f*** kind of shoes do I have to wear with those things? That orthotist probably needed therapy after his experience that day with me. When he brought in a catalog with a pair of bulky fake leather clodhopper shoes on the cover, I literally started screaming at him, “Do you expect me to look like Fred Flintstone? No f***ing way am I wearing those!”
I left his office, AFOs still in the bag, and didn’t take them out again for another six months, until cleaning bloody knees from sidewalk falls became a daily thing. I moved out of denial and into typical solution-focused “Lainie mode.”
As my leg braces evolved through the years, so has my ability to find stylish shoes that I can wear confidently. Today, it is so much easier as the trendy shoe styles have features people with hand and feet issues actually need. Here are four of my favorites:
1. Kicks are dope.
Sneakers of all types are cool. They are no longer reserved for mall walking, city commuting or gyms. People can wear sneakers with anything and everywhere these days.
Brands like Nike and New Balance have a ton more competition as it seems like every designer and brand has its own line of sneakers. I mean hello, even Ellen DeGeneres has a line of sneakers. When worn confidently, sneakers can look just as great with jeans as they do paired with a dress or skirt. The key is to look like you planned to wear sneakers and not like you have to wear sneakers.
2. Velcro is lit.
For those of you without access to a teenager or slang decoder, lit means “hot” or “cool.”
When I first saw Velcro closures on shoes by popular designers, I wanted to jump for joy. I can’t actually jump, but I was really excited. This trend has been life-changing. Velcro shoes are no longer just worn by nurses and small children. People without hand or foot problems love the look and convenience of hook and loop closures. No more struggles with shoelaces for me.
3. Gotta have sole.
People who have feet and balance issues are experts in flooring material. If I walk into a restaurant and see a shiny painted floor, my heart starts raising and I go into survival mode. My eyes are always scanning the floor for spilled water, baby pacifiers or any other foreign object impeding my path, causing a likely fall.
I was so excited to to see that rubber, non-skid soles are everywhere and on everything from sandals and booties to party shoes. As they say (and my 14 year old son came up with), don’t forget the rubber!
4. Elevate your style.
One of the hardest things to accept when you have feet and balance problems is the inability to wear heels. Heels, (or pumps as they used to call them in the 80s when my friends dyed them to match their prom dresses) are considered a necessity when dressing up. Heels can make women look taller, thinner and sexier. Those of us who can’t wear heels do not benefit from the illusion they give an outfit.
My life was forever changed six years ago when I discovered the Wolky Jewel sandal with a flat, platform sole. For the first time ever, I was walking comfortably in elevated sandals that made my legs look longer too. Since then, I have found even cuter platforms (only the completely level kind without a wedge) I can wear in any season.
5. Zip it.
When you wear leg braces or orthotics, putting shoes on is a high-intensity workout. Even when you remove the insoles and buy a size or two bigger than your real size, there’s just not enough room in the opening to shove it in. It doesn’t help that both of my ankles are fused with pins, preventing any movement.
Like the struggle I have every summer trying to get my kids’ sleeping bags shoved back inside the tiny nylon bags they came in, I eventually (sweat dripping) forfeit the fight, cuz it ain’t gonna happen.
This year, I saw a ton of cute hi-tops with zippers on each side. These hi-tops are not the Chuck Taylor style (I like those too) but rather, more grown-up, soft leather ankle boots you can wear with anything.
In general, hi-tops are awesome for women with foot issues. Not only do they provide built-in ankle support, but if you want to wear trendy ankle cropped jeans, hi-tops conceal your orthotic/AFO.
Since laces are tough for me because of my fine motor issues and pull on style shoes are totally out of the question, I was bouncing off my chair with excitement when I found a pair of two zipper-opening hi-tops with removable insoles.
Where do I get the shoes?
You can find shoes I like in each of these categories on my Tweaks and Trends page. If the exact shoe isn’t available or doesn’t work for you and your needs, don’t be frustrated and give up. You just have to keep looking and be creative!