Old Lady Shoes

Yeah, you’ve seen them: old ladies wearing Old-Lady Shoes.

Dowdy footwear that inextricably time-travelled from some economically-depressed post-war period.

Or low-heeled, lace-up shoes resembling dull leather sneakers, that shuffled in from the land that fashion forgot.

Practical shoes. Hopefully, comfortable shoes, given the tired way those old ladies are getting around. But damn, I mean dayam, if not quite ugly shoes, then definitely shoes without style.

And, as you may have guessed, suddenly, here I am, too. 

Last fall I broke my foot. The displacement fractures in the metatarsals (the long bones over the arch) mended, albeit crookedly, with offset mends that make them look like rivers with meanders. (Don’t fall over in shock when I say that my hypermobility includes rather low arches, too.)

This past spring my foot started hurting again, as my second job stocking groceries involved walking around concrete floors and stocking heavy cases — not good for the osteoarthritis or the broken bones. So I got orthotics to provide more support for my poor ravaged feet.

But now my foot is constantly aching, and I’m limping, and am getting what I’m assuming are referred pains in my knee and hip. And when I saw the orthopedist earlier last week for chronic foot pain, he disapproved of my buckled Mary Janes I’d worn to my first job, and told me I need to wear shoes that lace up.

I’m not much of a fashionista, but I can’t picture wearing either hiking boots or my rumpled black sneakers with skirts, suits or dresses. So that means I need to get a new pair of shoes. Or maybe a pair of knee-high boots.) But, I can’t wear polyurethane (PU), PVC or silicone, which limits me to fabric or leather footwear, which is of course, more expensive.

Great! I need to find:

  • slightly-dressy,
  • low-heeled (no more than 1.25″ / 5 cm),
  • lace-up,
  • leather shoes,
  • with removable insoles (so I can replace them with my orthotics),
  • in a size US womens 10.5  (UK 8, EUR 42),
  • wide toe ( C ),
  • preferably brown.

If you’re laughing and/or groaning, you probably have some idea of the magnitude of that request. I mean, that is pretty specific! Not being fond of shopping, I did some quick noodling around online, and discovered that the lower-end department stores don’t carry leather shoes (boo!), and that many of the online sites don’t mention whether or not the insoles can be removed. (I’e also become quite the connoisseur of Web sites with numerous lists of ways to filter search requests.)

I also noticed a general lack of lace-up shoes, aside from “granny boots” with 2.5″ heels. So I looked up the current addresses to the store with a huge, self-serve selection of shoes, and stopped by there en route home one day.

They had nifty boots full of brass buttons, sharp-looking tweedy spectator pumps [court shoes], loafers and flats with all kinds of fun hardware … but an absolute dearth of lace-up shoes. (Since I have wide feet anyway, I checked out the men’s section, but was dismayed to find walking shoes with heavy lug soles, or stiff wingtips so stylishly long that it seemed my feet would look like aircraft carriers, down to the brogues resembling rows of rivets.)

I finally asked a sales clerk for assistance, just in case I’d missed something. She was understanding of my requirements, even letting me slip out some insoles to test my orthotics on a couple of pairs — only to find that the toe boxes were too low-profiled. She too, was surprised to realise that there were so few lace-up shoes. What few they had were made with the insoles sewn down, or were fashioned of (sweat-inducing) imitation leather. And, apparently this year’s crop of sneakers [trainers] comes in neon colors. Naturally, chef’s or medic’s clogs won’t work either.

Le sigh. And this is why I hate shopping for wardrobe items (in addition to the noisy lighting fixtures that drill into my head.); it seems that no matter what I’m looking for, it’s not to be had. The year I wanted khaki shorts, I couldn’t find khaki shorts — yes, khaki shorts! Ditto denim overalls. Or a long-sleeve white blouse with sleeves to fit my arms, and tails long enough to stay tucked in. Or, good grief, cufflinks to go with a French-cuff blouse I found at the thrift store.

And so it goes.

I already have a pair of black sneakers that I wear (with black trousers) at my grocery job. Sorry, but unless I’m evacuating in an emergency, I can’t imagine wearing either hiking boots or my rumpled black sneakers with skirts, suits or nice dresses.

All I need to find is a pair of slightly-dressy, low-heeled, lace-up leather shoes, with removable insoles, in a size 10.5 wide, preferably brown. No, I’m not being picky, I’m being particular.

The “slightly-dressy” and “preferably brown” are what I want, but the rest are what I need. (And unlike a coworker who has diabetes, neither my orthotics nor my footwear are covered as a necessary medical expense. Those orthotic insoles I had to get cost me half of what I pay for my monthly mortgage!)

Even worse, a lot of those “comfort” shoes don’t lace up or come in 10.5 wide.

Or, I can find lace-up “granny” ankle boots or knee-high boots, but the heels are too high, or they are made of some sweat-inducing synthetic.

Or, I can find oxfords with the right heel height and made of leather, but not in a 10.5 wide.

Or, I can find cute, low-heeled, leather lace-up shoes, but either the insoles are sewn in so I can’t use my orthotics, or else they’re so cheaply made there isn’t any arch support.

And so on, and so on.

So now I have joined the ranks of older women looking for supportive, sensible shoes that don’t look too dowdy. Don’t laugh at us gimping along in our leather sneakers; those specialty shoes are DAMN hard to find!


  1. 22 February 2014 at 16:32

    I stumbled on this site in the very same search for the elusive old lady leather shoe, I can take my walks in and wear the rest of the time too. My day glo yellow nikes I sank to finally purchasing, in desperation, are not only still slightly humiliating to where, but what once was “comfort” and “support”, is now actually I think messing with my left foot, and causing a chronic pain. So I’m back once again, three months after my last endless search, looking for a pair of Miss Marple leather walking shoes with laces.Brown. Ladylike looking.

  2. roweeee said,

    3 March 2013 at 1:20

    I’m sorry that I can’t offer any practical suggestions. I’m Australian and when we have trouble with footwear, we either go barefoot or wear thongs. Actually, I usually wear my husband’s socks around the house which is why he bought me my own.
    I have problems with shoes myself. I have a form of muscular dystrophy and can fall over quite easily so I have to wear sensible shoes too. I have bought two pairs of naughty shoes in the last 12 months. One pair was on sale and were covered in pretty floral fabric. I could walk about 100 metres in them but that would be it. I also bought a gorgeous pair of red cork heels with red leather flowers on the front. I can wear them for a little while because the base is flat though they have a biggish heel.
    For some reason, being denied nice shoes has made me long for them more and left me with a bit of a handbag fetish.
    Best wishes,

  3. Francis said,

    6 February 2013 at 7:13

    They are expensive, but my sister and I have really high arches and love Chacos sandals and shoes. They are the only shoes I can wear without my orthotics. Might not be dressy enough, though. You can see pictures at http://www.chacos.com. Good luck!

  4. nancy said,

    5 February 2013 at 13:37

    Have you tried Naots? http://naot.com/cgi-bin/show_product.pl?yaleet_number=11056&cat=8

    They are sooooo comfortable, have a wide toe bed and wide fit, some with heels, lace-ups and come in your size and preferred colour.

  5. Kate Stoune said,

    22 January 2013 at 1:19

    Try the website – Footsmart.com – they have a brand of shoe – the Earth Shoe – that I LOVE. It may not be the brand you need but there are others that are made specifically for your issues – larger toe box and room for orthotics. I have terrible back trouble and can’t wear any heel at all. These are actually a “negative heel” technology where your heel is lower than your toes. Again – maybe not the brand you need but the website is great and I have never had anything but great service from them.

    • andrea said,

      23 January 2013 at 3:39

      Alas, yet another shoe style that did not work well for my previously-broken foot. Thank you for the suggestion!

  6. urocyon said,

    21 December 2012 at 14:42

    I wish I had some suggestions here, but can mostly offer sympathy.

    These days, I’m mostly wearing Karrimor walking sandals (with warm socks, for that extra style factor!) or sometimes Chucks with added insoles when it’s not too wet, or Clarks ankle boots without much heel. And was very glad to find a pair of those that worked, because London winter. Yay, being hard to fit with extra musculoskeletal considerations! :-| Good luck finding something that works.

  7. 30 November 2012 at 3:02

    I know it was awhile until I got round to reading your blog – I do feel for you! I also struggle in getting shoes that don’t pinch somewhere or shred my heels.
    My Mom is an old lady with Particular feet and is into Hotter shoes. It’s worth suggesting if you haven’t heard of them. http://www.hotterusa.com/
    Hope that helps!

    • andrea said,

      19 December 2012 at 4:41

      Thanks for the suggestion! Alas, they didn’t have any in my size. For some reason, a lot of brands quit making half-sizes after 9 1/2.

  8. Sherry said,

    23 November 2012 at 8:41

    Commiserations, Andrea.

    One’s entire posture, and then even digestion, can be compromised by foot problems. Try the MBT shoe range; they have quite a variety of styles. I was diagnosed with a plantar’s wart and was told that if I waited it out, it would likely just go away. The advantage was that I wouldn’t risk a surgical scar which I was told could be just as uncomfortable. I wonder. It turned out that it had never been a plantar’s wart, but rather a callous developing from changed posture (right down to the foot), from pelvic tilt & abdominal wall failure resulting after an illness. (Fixable.) So far the only correct diagnoses are the ones I deduced for myself, but what a long time that’s taken. Ten years of pain at every footstep earned me the patience award, but useless expensive orthotics added to the dismal prospects. Then I tried these “Rocking Walkers,” or “High Rollers,” as I call them. They give enough cushioning to give the calloused area a rest, and mine’s been fine since I started wearing them. Because you’re always shifting your weight with these shoes, it’s surprisingly rejuvenating, as well. I put a friend on to them and she was able to go back to work—she’d previously worn good joggers, but they didn’t address her ankle problems, which of course was different from my own. Anyway, I love them, but I don’t wear them all the time, because I think that allowing the ankle/instep to flex and flow is also important. It might be worth it to check it out. Masei Barfuss Technologie. http://au.mbt.com/



    • andrea said,

      23 November 2012 at 18:16

      Thank you for the suggestion Sherry. For myself, I’ve tried such rolling/rocking shoes before, and found them to be uncomfortable for walking.

      Hopefully the suggestion may be of use to others!

%d bloggers like this: