I spent many years dealing with the glamorous ಠ_ಠ side effects of wearing high heels. Like my toes being numb for days after going out, and walking home barefoot at the end of the night (yuck) because I couldn't bear another step.
When I discovered "comfort heels" it totally changed the shoe paradigm for my wardrobe. At this point I own at least a dozen pairs of what are considered "comfort" brand pumps, booties, and sandals. In a ridiculous way, it feels good to be able to walk 20,000 steps/day at a tech conference, or dance my butt off at a wedding, and look the way I want to look when I'm doing it.
For that reason, when I started seeing ads on Instagram for two comfort shoe brands, they caught my eye. I have my go-to's for comfort shoe brands (that I'll discuss later), but I'm open-minded to trying the latest and greatest! Since I didn't find many reviews of these online, I figured I'll write my own review (and pray that I don't end up on an ahem foot aficionado website).
At this time Protégé only has the one model of shoe, its Protégé Stilletos 2022. High heel sandals with an ankle strap, available in black, nude, and white. What caught my eye enough to indulge in the $235 price was that the shoe came with four different ankle strap options — some of which feature studs and different color hardware (so it's basically like buying four shoes, right?!)
The heel height is 4.3" with a 0.5" platform. This is a whopping 3.8" of rise. Nonetheless they tout arch support, forefoot padding, a toe post (like a flip-flop — something I haven't ever encountered in this style of heel before), and an "incredibly stable, ultra-deep heel cup".
I already had a similar pair of shoes and I was interested to compare. My existing pair are Bandolino Madia (size 9.5). Madia has a 3.25" heel height.
I bought size 9.5 for Protégé, and although it might've been nice to try size 10 also (you can see my toes are spilling over a little in later photos), I felt like the fit was true-to-size overall.
- The strap mechanism. I spend a lot of time fumbling around with that thing on sandals, and constantly feel like I need to adjust it because I forget which hole I usually wear it on. But this one is both adjustable and quick on/off.
- The toe post that keeps your foot from sliding forward did feel like it helped. One of my beefs with the Bandolino sandals is that the most painful part is the toe strap, especially when I'm on my feet a lot and my foot slides forward, it starts to cut into my skin.
- The return policy. At the time of this blog post, Protégé does free returns and even encourages you to try them on and walk around (indoors). Buying shoes online is rarely a sure thing, and especially for $235 I wasn't going to chance it.
I went in with high expectations, so the good marketing was this shoe's downfall.
- After being on my feet for the duration of photos (15 minutes?) my toes definitely started going numb. There's just no way to make nearly 4" of a heel height comfortable. You can put all the padding you want under the ball of your foot (I've tried every variation of those silicone gel pads), but a fraction inch of padding isn't gonna do much when you put 100+ pounds of bodyweight on it.
- I didn't feel most of the comfort features like the "ultra-deep heel cup" or the arch support (disclaimer: this might be because my arch is kind of high).
- The foam padding was underwhelming.
- I don't like the nude-colored top or bottom sole (but that's a personal preference).
Protégé would be a fantastic choice if I was looking for heels of that height. However, since I already have similar-looking shoes that are more comfortable (comparatively), and I am not looking for that extreme of a heel height (I'm already 5'8"), I decided to return these.
And by the way, the return process was incredibly easy. I got a return label emailed to me within hours. I mentioned in my original email requesting a return that the heel is just too high, and they responded that they're working on expanding sizes and styles (including ones with a lower heel!) so I am strongly inclined to try again in the future.
12/29/2021 update: I ultimately decided to return these shoes and based on that experience alone, I do not recommend this brand. I purchased the "Kover Return Assurance" for an extra $5 that allowed me to return the shoes despite them being on clearance. I replied to my order email asking to initiate a return and didn't hear anything back. I reached out AGAIN a month later and was told I need to do the return through Kover (gee, might that be useful information to include in the order email? Might you have told me that when I contacted you the first time?) By that time it was too late to return. Considering that my return experience with Protégé was perfectly smooth and flawless, Joan Oloff has a long way to go in improving customer support. Yikes.
The second pair of shoes I bought were Joan Oloff. This brand has been on my radar for a while. The price range is around ~$285 - $325 (depending on the model of shoe) and there's a variety of colors, styles, and heel heights.
I purchased the Deborah Black Soft Patent in a size 10 (they recommend sizing up half-a-size) for a sale price of $60 (normally $285). The heel height is 75mm (~3"). The pump features a podiatrist-designed insole, antimicrobial lining inside the shoe, and a seamless upper.
I'm comparing these pumps to my tried-and-true Naturalizer Michelle (size 9.5) with a 3" heel and 1/2" hidden platform.
- The sale price is fairly reasonable and in line with other comfort heel brands I prefer. For an additional $5 you can include returns on "final price" items.
- There's rubber tread on the bottom (I presume to make it less slippery), and although I know one can get that done at a cobbler, I like that they thought ahead of this detail.
- The arch support is intense. I kept checking to make sure I didn't forget to take out some bit of packaging, but you definitely feel it, and it feels very stable.
- The photos on the web site make the patent look way less shiny. I thought the name "soft patent" was a reference to it being less shiny than a regular patent leather shoe, but they are pretty darn shiny!
- The shape of the vamp (as I've learned — that's the name for the top of the shoe and where it finishes on your foot) is matronly in a way that doesn't come through via the web site photos. I wish the vamp was lower, closer to my toes. That said, Joan Oloff has many styles; I'm sure I could find a model of shoe that's more my taste.
- Sizing up 1/2 a size (as suggested) was probably unnecessary. There's a bit of a gap at the back of the shoe, and although they don't slip off, I don't think I'd be able to wear them with tights/nylons. If I buy again, I'll get 9.5 (my usual size).
- I don't think the quality is worth the original price. I will be keeping an eye on sales, though.
I'm strongly considering keeping these shoes, for those occasions when I'm carrying a bit of water weight and my feet are swollen. They look classy and professional, and that's all I'm really looking for in black pumps.
When I look at these photos that are taken at a different angle than me looking straight down, even the vamp looks acceptable.
A Final Word on Comfort Heels
If comfort heels are something you want to explore, you'll need to try some brands to see what works for your body and your feet.
My all-time favorite brand is Naturalizer. The price is usually in the ~$100 range. The one downside is that because the material they use for their shoes is so soft (and requires zero breaking-in), the shoes do tend to fall apart or start to look well-worn after about 5 seasons (but that's pretty good for the price and heavy use). I'm going to keep buying them because they are hands down the most comfortable high heel I've ever worn.
Some other comfort heel brands in my closet are (in order of comfort) LifeStride, AeroSoles, Clarks, and Rockport. Zappos also has an entire comfort category, so check it out for yourself!