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Glam trainers or tinsel heels – the trick to pain-free party shoes

party heels holidays christmas 2023
MSGM Winter 2024 - MSGM/Getty

We’ve all been there: those heels that the sales assistant swore were comfortable are grazing heels and pinching toes before we’ve even reached the party. And yet so many of us put ourselves through the same agony at this time of year. We want to go all-out, and the joy of wearing fabulous shoes is a key part of that.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. This is a great season for pain-free party footwear. Perhaps it’s a case of designers reading the room post-pandemic and appreciating that women no longer want to suffer for style, but there are fewer skyscraper heels around. Instead they’re mid-height at the very most, and they aren’t spindly, either: chunky block heels are the predominant shape, often with a bit of platform, giving extra height while reducing the incline.

party heels holidays christmas 2023
Silver star: Margaret Trudeau having a boogie at Studio 54 in 1977 - Getty

Flats are in, too: music to the ears of those who just don’t do heels. Sparkly ballerinas or velvet Mary Janes look very chic with a tapered trouser.

Take your lead from the Strictly costume department: the dancers always wear shoes that properly encase and support the foot. If you’re in tights, you may also want to spritz the interior of the shoe with hairspray to stop your foot slipping about.

The key, says footwear designer Camilla Elphick, is to establish what works for you. “I’m often the last to leave the party but my shoes will always remain on,” she says. “The secret is to find a style that suits your foot shape, and a height that you’re confident in all night.”

The number one rule here is to never buy anything that is a less than perfect fit. No pinching, nothing too tight or too loose, nothing so high that you wobble rather than walk.

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'The secret is to find a style that suits your foot shape, and a height that you’re confident in all night' - Alamy/Barbie

Rule two? Wear them in at home. New shoes shouldn’t rip your feet to shreds, but new leather may irritate the skin a little. If that’s the case, get a plaster on it pronto, before it turns into a blister. Old-fashioned fabric plasters are the way to go as they don’t budge. Once the leather softens a little, you shouldn’t have any problems wearing them.

Gel insoles offer some relief to aching feet; while Sharon Stone once told fashion director Lisa Armstrong that she uses a topical numbing spray when she has to wear heels for hours. The jury’s out on this as a solution, though, because pain is the body’s mechanism for telling us to take the damn shoes off.

party heels holidays christmas 2023
Alohas

And if the very thought of bare toes in December makes you shiver, try Elphick’s suggestion of a party boot: “Heeled boots are an effortless way to make a festive outfit look cool.”

Here are the six party shoe trends to try this year…

The jazzy Mary-Janes

As seen on: Naomi Watts

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Whether in jewel coloured satin fabrics or glossy patent finishes the Mary Jane style comes into its own as a comfortable party shoe option. Opt for a block heel style, as seen at Penelope Chilvers, or make like Sarah Jessica Parker in her SJP Collection flats. Naomi Watts went tonal when she wore a pair recently – silver shoes to match her dress.

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Jewel buckle flats, £369, SJP at John Lewis; Black patent shoes, £90, Clarks; Honey velvet, £239, Penelope Chilvers

The velvet platforms

As seen on: Lauren Laverne

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The best thing about wearing platforms to a party is that you get all the extra height of a pair of heels, with less of the pain, because the front of the foot is raised. Rich velvet fabrics look especially great in this shoe silhouette, and nod to any festive theme in a chic way.

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Velvet, £170, Sezane; Velvet platforms, £165, Esska; Plait velvet sandals, £75, Monsoon

The tinsel heels

As seen on: Julia Roberts

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There are party shoes, and then there are party shoes. Julia Roberts stepped out this week in a pair of glittery Gucci shoes that looked like chandeliers for the feet. You could follow suit in crystal embellishments, or opt for sequins, tassels or tinsel-like textures.

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Diamante tassel heels, £72, Karen Millen; Sequinned ballet flats, £29.99, Zara; Sequinned shoes, £42, Next

The bold boots

As seen on: Riley Keough

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Even if the rest of your outfit was really boring, a pair of statement boots would make you instantly appear party ready. The trick to finding a truly comfortable pair is to choose your heel height and heel width wisely. A higher block heel ankle boot might suit some, while others would go lower, but with a neat kitten point. The differentiator between day and evening boots though is the fabric. Look for gold, crystal studded or velvet for truly fabulous feet.

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Clockwise from left: Silver boots, £179, Hush; Lovebird Bootie, £69, Carvela; Gold leather boots, £160, Boden

The sleek slingbacks

As seen on: Alexa Chung

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Alexa Chung - Getty

You can find slingbacks everywhere on the high street this year, and with heel heights to suit all. Choose from metallic finishes, satin and brocade fabrics, and styles with bold buckles and jewelled clasps for the best party-worthy effects. Alexa Chung opted for an almost-flat high-shine patent pair, with a big gold horsebit embellishment. And yes, this is a comfy shoe style that looks great with tights.

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Slingbacks, £295, ME+EM; Glitter slingbacks, £255, Camilla Elphick; Leather slingback Mary Janes, £295, Russell & Bromley

The party trainers

As seen on: Sarah Ferguson

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Sarah Ferguson, far left, with the Duchess of York, Julia de Boinwille, Gabriela Hearst and Princess Eugenie of York - Getty

If you really can’t stand the thought of wearing heels to a party, why not wear your trainers? Not just any old scuffed suede Sambas, mind you. They need to still be cocktail-appropriate, which is where metallic and sparkly finishes come into their own. Sarah Ferguson wore her glittery Gucci sneakers with an evening dress to a formal gala event in London – and blended in just fine with the black tie crowd. The trick? Never wear them with other casual items, such as jeans.

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Silver trainers, £55.20, Superga; Shana trainers, £129, All Saints; Koki trainers, £109, Whistles

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