When Do high heels become highly inappropriate? A woman's guide to heel height

Are you the kind of woman who wears heels around the house or are sneakers your best friend? Either way, while you should always choose whichever shoes make you feel most confident or comfortable, it’s useful to be aware of high heel etiquette, especially for professional settings. Understanding which heels are appropriate for an elegant business dinner with your boss – and which are better saved for a boozy brunch with your girlfriends – will give you the reassurance to put an extra spring in your step or sass in your strut.

As a general rule of thumb, there is a time and place for everything. Although there’s nothing wrong with improving your stride in your stiletto pumps, the office may not be the perfect venue for these heels. According to beauty guru Michelle Phan, pumps with a 3.5 to 4.5-inch heel should be saved for date nights, dinner parties or weddings. This classic heel height helps you look polished and put together at special events.

Thus, high heels worn to the office are typically three inches or shorter. Bloomberg agrees with Michelle Phan by saying, “Heels higher than three inches are perceived as more suitable for a dance club than an office environment.”

But what happens if you’re a shorter woman and you prefer higher heels? Arden Clise, an etiquette expert who specializes in professional success, reasons that shorter girls may opt for heels up to four inches tall, as long as the heel’s design isn’t ultra-thin or pointed. If you really want to wear your favorite four-inch heels, opt for shoes that do not have thin straps or thin heels. Also, wear demure colors such as nude or black in order to avoid walking into work looking too glam and “risqué.”

Chunkier heels usually appear more conservative and work-appropriate in style than thin, dagger-like stilettos. Because of this, wedges can be a great choice for any business woman. (Plus they offer increased stability if you are unaccustomed to walking in heels.) A good thing to keep in mind is that office environments vary. Four-inch heels may be “too high” for some professional settings while other companies don’t mind them at all. Your best bet would be to use your fashion judgment when it comes to your work environment.

Additionally podiatrist Emma Supple finds that every woman has her own ideal heel height based on the structure of her feet. When buying new heels, don’t just look at the style. Make sure to choose shoes that will create a natural arched position for your foot, with the heel centered to support your weight. According to Supple, anything higher than 4.5 inches “is bad for your posture as it makes your bottom jut out and overloads the toes and balls of the feet. These heels can be worn for short periods only, and are made for limos, not for walking.”

Overall, to decide which heel height will look best with your outfit, adopt this chic Parisian rule: Wear flats with mini-skirts or dresses that fall above the knee. Opt for heels with longer dresses or skirts that hit below the knee. This elegant French rule of thumb will ensure you always look stylish with the perfect heel height.

Edited by Casey Cromwell