There are many valid reasons for preferring to work from home (good morning, coffee and emails in bed). But a persistent argument for returning to the office—perhaps the only one, for me at least—is that someone other than me and my own four walls would see the outfits I’ve accumulated over the past two years. But despite my excitement about launching the wardrobe I built, I realized that working in person in any capacity means facing my sartorial white whale: finding the best work shoes.

Shoes, in general, have always been the weak point of my style, especially in the office. Even before this era of murky dress codes we live in, I only had two pairs of half-destroyed work shoes that I constantly made mental notes to replace. Now, as the world returns to IRL business relationships – from trips to an office to energy lunches to work trips – I feel utterly unprepared from ankle to toe.

According to Katherine Theobalds, founder and creative director of sustainable footwear brand Zou Xou, aiming for versatility will go a long way to solving my problem.

“My client is a really caring woman who is looking for a shoe that will suit her most of the time and maximize her wardrobe options,” says Theobalds. “You don’t want to buy a shoe that only goes with one thing. Think broadly: how is this shoe going to make me wear more of what I already own? »

Impulse shoe buying is a mistake many of us have made at least once. It’s a lesson stylist and consultant Laurel Pantin says she learned the hard way, wasting her hard-earned cash on shoes she could barely fit into Barney’s Warehouse (RIP) sales throughout her early days. working in fashion. At the time, his affinity for shoes was fueled by an industry-wide Christian Louboutin obsession and the rise of glitzy Prada heels. Now she is SVP Fashion Director at Large for ByGeorge, an Austin, Texas-based retailer. Her tastes have evolved over the years, reframed by both frequent telecommuting and motherhood.

“I usually hold a kid or a bunch of other stuff, so if I can’t put it on, I won’t wear it,” says Pantin. “I’m a shoe girl, but with the caveat being that I’m a comfortable the girl with the shoes.

With so many factors in play, Pantin admits there is no one rule when it comes to choosing the perfect work shoe. “Everything about style is so personal to your preferences, your body, your location, the type of industry you work in, and the type of people you work with.”

So for simplicity, I’ve broken down the best options in a variety of work environments by category below – and, of course, asked the experts to weigh in.

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Corporate dress codes

For super serious business, only formal shoes will do. But that doesn’t mean a high heel is mandatory. In a corporate atmosphere, Pantin opts for mid-high stiletto heels or closed-toe pumps.

“As long as you can walk gracefully and don’t struggle, [heels] can boost your confidence and show a bit of effort,” says Pantin. “But there’s nothing worse than putting on a pair of shoes that you think are really nice and then tripping.”

Theobalds advises keeping it classic with flats or low-to-mid-height pumps for those opting for more feminine fashions. For those with a more masculine style, she recommends a good reliable loafer.

Creative settings

For an atmosphere where employees have more leeway to take fashion risks, Theobalds recommends everything from lugged-soled loafers to open-toe shoes.

“I know open toes are off limits in most environments, but you can get away with it in creative offices,” says Theobalds. “For me, styles like the Delfina [Zou Xou brand] add some attire that isn’t too over the top and still manageable for a day at work.

In professional circles where almost everything happens, Pantin relies on his beloved Dries Van Notens.

“They’re always super interesting, they have great color combinations, and they’re the kind of shoes you can wear with a white shirt and jeans and people will think you’re the most stylish person in the world.” , she said. said. “It’s like a silver bullet for styling.”

And in more casual and creative environments, she also recommends a stylish sneaker. Although even in the most artistically open offices, Pantin believes a line has to be drawn somewhere: “I would say avoid flip flops.”

Remote with IRL meetings

Many of us are somewhere between completely back in the office and always at home, working in a hybrid structure that sees employees in the office several days a week, or remotely but with the exception of a few meetings. For a workday where a stop at the office or a quick lunch is sandwiched between babysitting, remote work and errands, Theobalds know that a versatile and comfortable shoe is a must. She goes for a mule on days when she both works remotely from home and takes meetings away.

“A slip-on style has the advantage of feeling like a house slipper when you’re in your home office because it has that ease,” she says. “But he still has that polished feel.”

Pantin also opts for a classic loafer or ballerina and is a big fan of brands Margaux New York and Jamie Haller for days without heels.

“[Jamie Haller flats] are perfect for when I have two seconds to get ready, I’m just going to put them on because they go with literally anything,” she says. “And you don’t have to worry about how pretty your toes are!” This is another thing I’ve dropped out the window for the past few years: I never do a pedicure.

And for summer days when your toes are sufficiently presentable, Pantin recommends The Row sandals.

“You can wear them in a professional setting and in the evening,” she says. “I wore them with a black tie. They are really minimalistic and super versatile.

Always on foot

The women who spend a large part of the working day standing and running around the office are exactly the women Theobalds thinks about when making its shoes.

“All our shoes are designed with this [lifestyle] in mind, that’s where I set the bar: can she do a lot in this shoe? said Theobalds. “The mule was rated highest for comfort, but a lot of people think an open-backed shoe isn’t the best for running. It’s very personal, but for me, the Trini [Zou Xou brand] In this case, the moccasin with a notched sole is the most comfortable.

Pantin, on the other hand, is a Birkenstock aficionado and is looking for a pair on work days she knows she’ll be mostly on her feet. The arched shape of the sole is key, and like the shoemaker she is, Pantin shares an insider clutch tip for applying the comfort of a Birkenstock to any other shoe in your collection.

“My back is killing me at the end of the day wearing anything without arch support,” she says. “If you have a pair of flat boots or closed-toe shoes and you get Birkenstock insoles, it basically converts anything into a super comfortable shoe.”