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Flattering flats

It’s rare when a trend toward comfort is greeted with less enthusiasm than the latest trend in flat footwear.

Low heels graced dozens of spring runways from the likes of Chanel, Lanvin and Michael Kors, but still many cried out in disbelief: “I do not feel properly dressed when I’m not in heels.” Fair enough, but if you think Karl Lagerfeld would send models out onto the runway improperly dressed, you are mistaken. You can wear flats, no matter your height. No matter your size. You matter what your mom told you. In the March issue of InStyle magazine, fashion icon Alber Elbaz of Lanvin imparted some wisdom about what he’s learned from years working in fashion. One of the tidbits he shared was to buy shoes you are comfortable in. For his spring 2011 collection, he designed “these incredibly high shoes. I wanted the models to stride down the runway with real power. But when one after the other stumbled, I could see fear on their faces.” He quickly ordered up flats for the models to wear, and he said suddenly the models looked relaxed and, yes, powerful. He said their bodies moved with confidence and strength, and the clothes looked more fluid and natural because the models felt at ease. Imagine that, fashion does not have to be painful. His flats were not dowdy, but they were very, very flat and vaguely gladiator-style with a gold cuff at the ankle. They were lovely and comfy. Judith Baumhauer, the incoming president of the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, said that high heels are “like a ticking time bomb.” In a press release from Consumer Reports about the sometime masochistic allegiance to heels, she said: “By the time you’re 40, you’ve worn out your forefoot padding and your feet just can’t take the abuse anymore.” She suggested decreasing your time in heels as an act of self-preservation. Designers, notorious for presenting ridiculously high heels on the runway, seem to have taken a turn, probably temporarily, toward the practical. Donna Karan showed flats, as did Proenza Schouler. And then came the low heels, kitten heels and basic 1- to 2-inch platform shoes that added height without stressing feet on runways with fashions from Oscar de la Renta, Derek Lam, Tory Burch, Anna Sui, Balmain, Balenciaga, Alexander Wang, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs, among others. You would think it was liberation, but many foretell disaster. “I will look short,” “I feel underdressed in flats,” “I hate flats,” and “There’s nothing sexy about flats,” have been the refrains. We argue that it’s not the (lack of) heels that ruin a look, but often, it’s your posture. People do tend to walk differently in flats, but you don’t need to wear heels to walk tall. No one’s saying that every trend needs to be followed by everybody. If flats are not your thing, may the stiletto be with you. But low heels and flat shoes have a place in every wardrobe. So here’s our humble opinion on how to wear flats with your basic wardrobe items. Jeans: For a casual preppy look, pick an ankle-length jean and wear ballet-style flats or low heels. You can opt for a 1-inch platform and boot-cut jeans to lengthen your leg. For a dressier look, opt for a kitten heel or a stylish patent-leather wedge and slim, trouser fit jeans. Skirts: Long dresses or skirts with a gladiator-type sandal or wedges is a great look. For shorter hemlines, you might want a shoe that’s closer to your skin tone or neutral to keep your leg looking longer. The shorter you are, the slimmer your skirt or dress should fit to give you a longer, slimmer line. Be mindful of ankle straps, which can draw attention to shorter legs, and watch out for ultra-clunky wedge shoes that can look stumpy. And, it should be a no-brainer, but moisturize — a smooth, healthy glow on your legs will help pull off any shoe. Trousers: Unless you have an ankle-length pant (never cropped), make sure your pants fall halfway between the back of your heel and the bottom of your shoe. There are temporary tape options to alter your pant hems easily. If your shoes are completely flat, they should fall to about a half-inch above the ground. Otherwise your shoe options are pretty limitless here. During summer, depending on your office, slacks and a lace-up pair of tan, navy or khaki Keds-types shoe can be a smart look. Or you might want to stick with a kitten heel or open-toed sandal (with or without an ankle strap, considering you won’t see it). Evening attire: Wedges generally don’t cut it for evening, but a low heel with a little embellishment or an unexpected color can easily complement a nighttime look. A green dress and yellow 1-inch pumps or white slacks and red gladiator heels make a statement without the need for towering heels. Find a great black shoe with prominent gold or silver hardware, and you’ve got a go-to option for a wide variety of evening outfits. Career clothing: The kitten heel is your best friend, and it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of colors to choose from. And there’s a trend for suede lace-up oxfords that can be a stylish addition to a business suit or skirt. You don’t want to look too casual, so a gladiator-shoe might not strike the right tone at your office, but a low heel, patent-leather wedge or peep-toe heel under 2 inches can give your outfit the right lift.