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Shoes Wisely: 10 Smart Shoe Shopping Tips for the Ladies

There is nothing attractive about a woman who hobbles in shoes that mold her toes into overlapping claws -- even if she is wearing sequined leggings. So choose shoes wisely.
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This is the final post of a three-part series, based on Bad Shoes & The Women Who Love Them, on using your head when choosing your shoes.

The other day, I popped into Intermix, the über-trendy, boho luxe boutique chain that sells grown women jumpshorts and sequined leggings. In the shoe department, every shoe had either a five-inch heel -- or no heel at all. The choice was between sky-high or pancake-flat. Dominatrix-inspired stilettos with cage-like straps or ballet flats with a bit of frou-frou to peek out from beneath your skinny jean hem.

Before I could say "Brian Atwoods are the new Louboutins" and walk out, I remembered that the selection is more or less the same at most fashionable shoe departments this season. No doubt you, too, have attempted to buy shoes you could wear for at least three hours without wincing and have rationalized that a one-inch platform on a four-inch heel transforms the height into a mere three inches, and how bad could that really be?

Don't worry! I feel your foot pain. And I understand: You want something chic and show-stopping, sexy and sensational. I am here to help you be a sane shoe shopper.

Yes, you know that "bad" shoes -- with a high heel and a narrow toebox -- will deform your feet if you wear them on a regular basis. But "good" shoes often look like something you wear with a housecoat while you refill the bowl of hard candies. What should you do?

1. Know that there are many, many shoes out there that are both stylish and sensible. You have to find the ones that are right for you. Allot some time for your search. Do not give up hope. If you persist, you will be rewarded.

2. Visit a store that specializes in old-fashioned, sit-and-fit service. Ask a salesperson to measure your feet. Don't presume that you know your shoe size. Your feet change over time. Make sure to find out your shoe width.

3. Don't buy shoes if you can't wiggle your toes in them. Look for a toe box that is rounded or squared with plenty of wiggle room.

4. For everyday walking, choose a shoe with a heel between a half-inch to an inch.

5. Do not assume that flats are better than high heels. In fact, often they are not. Soles that are completely flat can cause feet to pronate (roll inward when walking). Look for flats that have a contoured footbed or built-in arch support so that your ankles and feet are stable. Many styles have a strap across the midfoot, which holds your foot in place.

6. Don't believe the shoe hype that you have to go higher than three-and-a-half inches to have a "high" heel. Keep heel heights in perspective. A heel that is one inch or lower is low-heeled. A heel that is between one-to-two inches is mid-height. A heel that is two inches or higher classifies as high. A heel that is four inches or higher is demented.

7. Save high-heeled shoes, which force the feet into unnatural positions, for special occasions, and don't walk far in them. The higher the heel, the more pressure is placed on the forefoot and the likelier you are to develop a bunion, hammertoe, pinched nerve, corn, or callus. These conditions are painful and ugly.

8. If you want your feet to look pretty, wear wide, comfortable walking shoes or sneakers. The owners of a modeling agency specializing in foot models reported to me that out of every forty applicants they can hire at best only one. Nearly all professional models have damaged feet as a result of wearing fashionable shoes on a regular basis.

9. Not everyone needs arch support. But many of us do. Seventy percent of the population overpronates, and overpronators should wear shoes with support as much of the time as possible.

10. Do not assume that you can wear heels now and just get surgery later to fix whatever deformities arise. Despite what you may have read, surgery to make your feet look prettier can be a disaster. If you need surgery because you are in pain, that's one thing. But if you are considering surgery for purely cosmetic purposes, chances are you will be disappointed. To read cautionary tales of women who went under the knife and emerged with debilitating foot problems they hadn't had previously, turn to Bad Shoes & The Women Who Love Them.

There is nothing attractive about a woman who hobbles in shoes that mold her toes into overlapping claws -- even if she is wearing sequined leggings. So put head over heels. Choose shoes wisely and you feet will remain in excellent shape, taking you wherever you want to go.

What could be more alluring than that?

Part 1, "Put Down That Armadillo Shoe! Don't Be a Shoe Dupe," appeared on the Huffington Post on 5/17/10.

Part 2, "Our Stripper Shoes, Ourselves," appeared on the Huffington Post on 5/25/10.