Types Of High Heels

Espadrille Heels
Somewhat new on the fashion scene, Espadrille shoes have a fabric upper and a plaited fiber sole, made popular worldwide by Toms. Espadrille heels are a take on this traditional flat, and can have a heel or wedge base.

The Ultimate Guide to High Heels

Katie Dupere

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High heels aren’t just a type of shoe. For many, the popular shoe style is a way to channel femininity, power, and even sexiness. Needless to say, there’s an undeniable allure when it comes to the feelings associated with heels. It only makes sense that the popularity of women’s heels transcends decades, from the kitten heels of the ’50s to the platforms of the ’70s to the strappy heels of the ’90s. High heels have history—and some serious staying power.

In the 2020s, heels are still a cornerstone of the shoe market, from noughties-inspired styles to classic black pumps. But navigating the seemingly endless options of high heels can be difficult for those not well versed in shoe verbiage. After all, a “D’Orsay” sounds like a French pastry and “kitten heels” sound like a questionable addition to your furry friend’s paws.

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To help you decode high heel taxonomy and make shopping that much sweeter, check out the guide below for all you need to know about women’s heels—including how to make them actually comfortable.

Types of heels

When shopping for the perfect pair of heels, it’s helpful to know what type of heel structure you’re looking to buy. Whether you decide on soaring stilettos, beginner-friendly wedges, or anything in between, knowing a bit of heel anatomy is undeniably important. Heels can adhere strictly to these broad categories or mix styles for a heel structure that’s out-of-the-box. But getting familiar with the below options is a good place to start before scrolling through countless shoe options.

Stilettos

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First introduced in the 1950s, stiletto heels feature long, thin heels—often several inches in height—like this Jimmy Choo pair. This type of heel is actually named after the stiletto dagger, so it’s no wonder the style is synonymous with fierce and edgy femininity—not to mention seduction.

Continental Heel

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Continental heels are a type of stiletto that feature a curved backline and a straight front, like these branded Balenciaga heels. Pumps, a classic heel style, often feature a continental heel.`

Kitten Heel

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Popularized in the 1950s, the kitten heel is also a type of stiletto, only significantly less intimidating. A kitten heel is only about one to two inches high, making walking on them very easy, even with the technical stiletto classification. Kitten heels were first created as “training heels” for young girls but became popular with women of all ages for their comfortable yet formal style. Today, kitten heels are sought out for their vintage feel, like this Coach pair.

Wedge

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A great introduction to heels with height, wedge heels include a “wedge-shaped” piece that lifts the heel but provides a flat surface to walk on, like these STAUD stunners. Wedges are known for being incredibly stable, providing the same height as tall heels with more forgiveness when it comes to balance, thanks to the flat, sturdy sole.

Tapered Heel

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A tapered heel features a large, stable surface area at the top of the heel, but slims to a thinner point at the bottom, like these unique Gianvito Rossi glitter heels. Also known as a cone heel, this heel shape is significantly more advanced than wedges, but still provides a good amount of stability for those working up to a stiletto heel.

Block Heel

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A block heel is just what it sounds like: a girthy square-shaped heel that provides a lot of stability for the wearer. Block heels can be short, super-tall, or anywhere in between. They are versatile and typically easy to walk in, like these Kate Spade booties.

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Flare Heel

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A flared heel starts out thinner at the top of the heel, then curves to a wider base where the heel connects to the floor. This heel style provides more stability than many types of heels, thanks to the broad base. These bold Stella McCartney glitter boots feature a flared heel that makes all that height less intimidating.

Spool Heel

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A type of flared heel, a spool heel has somewhat of an hourglass shape, flaring at the top of the heel and then slimming out in the middle and then flaring at the bottom yet again. The name comes from the heel’s resemblance to a spool of thread or cotton, demonstrated by this golden Vince Camuto shoe.

Heel height

One of the most important things to consider when shopping for a high heel shoe is heel height. If you are new to the shoe style, it’s best to stick to proverbial training wheels with a pair under 2 inches. If you’re a seasoned pro who happens to be going to an event where you’ll be sitting all night, then tossing on a pair of 5-inch heels won’t even make you bat an eye. To assist you in all of that decision-making, check out this breakdown of heel heights.

2-inch heels and under

Kitten heels and short block sandals fall into this category, giving you a touch of height with virtually no discomfort. Heels clocking in at 2-inches and under are the top choice for beginners, lifting your heel just enough to adjust your walk and ease you into the shoe style.

3-inch heels

Commonly known as “pumps,” 3-inch heels are some of the most common heels on the market. They are perfect for the office or events where you’ll be on your feet a bit. Yes, they are more advanced than kitten heels. But pumps are still friendly for most people, even if your balance could use a little improvement.

4-inch heels

Once you get comfortable in your pumps, graduating to 4-inch heels is the next step. Platforms, wedges, and other chunky heel styles are especially popular in this category, giving you the height with some added stability. But you can easily find a killer pair of 4-inch stilettos out there if you’re feeling daring and confident in your skill.

5-inch heels and up

If you’re a pro who could balance on a pencil, this heel height is for you. Even 5-inch wedges are a challenge to walk in—and that’s not to mention the trouble of towering stilettos. If you are choosing a fantastically high heel, make sure you’re a balancing pro—and that you don’t need to stand much throughout the night.

How to make heels comfortable

Let’s cut to the chase: The trick to making heels comfortable is a good fit. Period.

If your foot slides around or your heel is “bobbing” significantly in the shoe, it’s too big—even if it’s your usual size. If you feel any pinching or have overhanging toes, your heel is too small—and blisters are in your future. The perfect heel will be secure, but not tight. Your heel will fit perfectly in the designated area of the shoe, and your toes won’t smash uncomfortably when you step. Sure, you may feel some discomfort due to the inevitable arch of your sole and pressure from standing on the ball of your foot. But that feeling shouldn’t be immediate and should disappear quickly after taking off your shoes for the night.

If you already own heels that are too loose or have “hot spots” (a.k.a. points of pressure leading to discomfort and pain), try shoe inserts and pads to add additional cushion. It’s a cheap fix, especially when dealing with designer duds.

How to walk in high heels

Finding a good-fitting shoe is half the battle when it comes to walking in heels. The other half is practicing a simple walking technique that’s unique to this classification of footwear. Many heel-wearing experts advise walking heel to toe in high heels, finding your stability on the heel of the shoe then pressing down to the ball of your foot where there’s more surface area. This also cuts down on the tell-tale “clunk” of heavy feet, adding more polish (and less noise) to your stride.

Heels also require a shorter stride than a flat shoe, so be sure to take baby steps, keeping your walk slow and steady. When taking those short, slow steps (heel to toe, remember?) put one foot in front of the other—literally. Imagine you are walking a tightrope, walking in as straight of a line as possible. It takes some practice, but soon, these essential tips will just become second nature rather than an overwhelming checklist in your mind.

A bonus tip: Be sure your heels have good traction to help any slips and slides on slick floors. If your heels need a little help, scuff the bottoms on a sidewalk or grind the soles with sandpaper to break them in a little. There are also specially made shoe pads on the market if you’ve picked up a particularly slippery pair.

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Toe shape

All shoes have different toe shapes—and that certainly includes heels. From pointed-toe pumps to open-toe sandals, a heel can completely change depending on the toe shape. Check out the nude heels below to learn more about the most common toe shapes you’ll see when shopping for heels.

Rounded Toe

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Rounded toe heels are ideal for those with wide-width feet, giving your toes more room to splay naturally, like these Nine West round toe pumps.

Pointed Toe

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A pointed-toe pump is one of the most noted heel shapes—and a classic. The shape is ideal for those narrow feet, like this nude pair of Christian Louboutins.

Almond Toe

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Like Goldilock’s porridge, almond-shaped heels—like this Rebecca Allen pair—are the perfect in-between shape for any foot shape. Whether you have wide feet, narrow feet, or in-between feet, an almond shape will fit like a glove.

Square Toe

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An incredibly modern style, a square toe box is wide-foot friendly—but works with all foot shapes. You’ll often see square toes on mules, like this pair of Marc Fisher stacked heel shoes, or heeled sandals.

Peep Toe

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A peep-toe shoe, like these Chinese Laundry platforms, shows off a few of your toes—most notably your big toe and second toe.

Open Toe

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An open-toe shoe is similar to a peep-toe shoe, but shows all of your toes, like these Steve Madden platforms. Be sure your pedicure is in check before busting these out.

Additional heel anatomy

Heels can, of course, be combined with several different types of shoes, from heeled loafers to heeled sandals to heeled Mary Janes. But the terms below are relatively isolated to heels, describing common silhouettes of the popular shoes.

Pumps

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Pumps are arguably the most common high heels you’ll find on the market. Pumps, like this Saint Laurant pair, often feature 3-inch heels and have a closed toe, most often pointed or rounded.

Stacked Heels

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A stacked heel appears to feature stacked wood or leather to make up the layered heel, like this Madewell pair.

Platforms

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Synonymous with the ’70s, platforms are chunky heels that feature a dramatically raised sole, like these Jeffrey Campbell heels. They often feature a high block heel, adding several inches to your height. But the towering shoes are somewhat of an optical illusion. They are easier to walk in than they appear, as the raised sole helps compensate for the intimidating heel.

Slingback Heels

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Slingback heels have an open back with a strap around the heel, like this mint Zara pair. Many slingbacks feature a buckle or elastic to keep the strap snug, tailoring the fit to your foot.

Ankle Strap Heels

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An ankle strap heel, like this Steven Madden pair, features—you guessed it—an ankle strap for extra security around the heel. They differ from slingbacks in that the strap encircles the ankle rather than securing the shoe just at the back of the heel.

T-Strap Heels

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T-strap heels most often feature a closed toe and an ankle strap, which are connected by a midline strap. The design is synonymous with vintage vibes, like this Clark’s pair.

D’Orsay Heels

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D’Orsay heels—which are most often pumps—feature large cutouts on the inside or both sides of the shoe, revealing the arch of the foot, like this pair of Louboutins. It’s an even sexier take on the heel, as if that was even possible.

Mules

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A mule has an open back, like this Nine West pair. Mules can feature any type of heel, from a high stiletto to a wedge to a kitten heel. They can even be flats, though that’s less common than a heeled version.

Espadrille Wedges

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Known as the quintessential summer heel, espadrille wedges feature a rope heel and, most often, a canvas or fabric upper, like these Jimmy Choo wedges.

Whether you’ve just started working in a shoe department and want to be able to talk the lingo, or you’ve recently gotten really into fashion, knowing your shoe definitions is a useful skill. When it comes to high heeled shoes, we have a special place in our hearts. So we’ve decided to create the ultimate list of types of heels. Some of these have gone out of style but with the cyclical fashion industry, we won’t be surprised if they make a comeback soon. Without further ado, we give you 27 heel types. Think you could ace the quiz?

High, Mid and Low Heel Types

kitten heels

  1. Kitten Heels
    We recently wrote about kitten heels and love the style for the comfort / fashion mix. They’re great for parties or work events where you don’t need the extra height but will be on your feet for awhile.

pumps

Pumps
Also known as simply high heels, pumps are usually wider and between 2 and 3 inches in height. They’re typically low cut around the front.

stilettos

Stilettos
The highest of all the high heels, stilettos can reach up to 8 inches. While these heights can cause problems walking for many, it’s a worthy skill for the lengthening effect they have on one’s legs. Note: many stilettos are also platforms due to the height (see below for platforms).

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ankle strap heels

Ankle Strap Heels
A favorite of the Clickless team, ankle strap heels are very much in style right now. The height of the heel can vary, but the one common denominator is the strap that goes around the ankle, making the heels more secure and comfortable to walk in.

wedge heels

Wedge Heels
There are two different types of wedge shoes: wedge heels and wedge sandals. Wedge heels are flush just like a high heel would be, and there is no separation from the heel to the sole.

wedge sandals

Wedge Sandals
While they have the same type of heel as a wedge heel, wedge sandals have a more open, sandal upper.

cone heels

Cone Heels
Wider at the sole of the foot and narrower at the base, cone heels form what you might expect: a cone. Just picture an ice cream cone on the bottom of your shoe. Disclaimer: while we know you love your shoe collection, please try not to eat them.

slingback heels

Sling Back Heels
Unlike ankle strap heels, the sling back heel just has a strap that goes around the back of the achilles heel. This provides a more elegant look while still achieving the function of stabilization.

platform heels

Platform Heels
You can see platform heels from short to tall. The main thing that makes them platform is the part of the shoe under the sole is thicker. Many say this makes the higher heels more comfortable because there’s less of a height differential between the back and front of the foot.

high heel sandals

High Heel Sandals
With varying heights, a high heel sandal is anything that has any of the heel types listed here (high, stiletto, kitten), but with a sandal upper.

peep toe heel

Peep Toe Heels
Somewhat of a tease, peep toe heels come in all shapes and sizes. All they need is for a pop of your colorful toenails to show to be a peep toe!

cork heels

Cork High Heels
These heels simply refer to the cork material used to make them. They can vary in height and style, but the cork material makes for a softer, more cushioned step.

high heeled boots

High Heeled Boots
Steve Miller said, “in the wintertime when all the trees are brown, wear high heeled boots”. Okay, we made that last part up. But these babies pair well under or over jeans or even with a skirt or dress.

ankle booties

Ankle Booties
Making their comeback within the last few years, high heeled booties, or ankle booties, are great for spring or fall days when a full boot is overkill.

spool heels

Spool Heels
If you think of a spool of thread, you may understand the concept of spool heels. The heel is thicker at the sole of the foot, narrow in the middle, and then comes back out at the base.

mule heels

Mules
Mule heels are any type of heel that comes up high over the top of the foot. You could have an open or closed to mule; the height of the heel can vary.

ballroom dance shoes

Ballroom Dance Shoes
Strappy shoes that typically have an enclosed back and ankle strap, ballroom dance shoes have lots of support for (you guessed it) getting your groove on. They’re low enough to be stable but high enough to provide a little vertical lift. They’re becoming more popular at weddings.

cutout heels

Cut Out Heels
Getting more on the funky, cool side of high heel types, cut out heels are any type of heel that has a portion of the upper cut out for effect.

corset heels

Corset Heels
Similar to a mule style of heel or a bootie, the difference with a corset heel is that the two sides are tied together as a traditional corset would be.

french heels

French Heels
Also known as Louis Heels or Pompador Heels, these are similar to spool heels wherein they are short but have some curve to the heel.

Oxfords
The traditional Oxford has that academy look with a flat heel. But lately, we’re seeing Oxford heels come on the scene. The heel is still flat at the base, but with more height than a traditional Oxford.

chunky heels

Chunky Heels
This is the general term for any heel with a wider base that is typically square. They’re usually on the short to medium side, and provide more stability than traditional high heels or stilettos.

comma heels

Comma Heels
Think of the comma. Yes, we’re referring to the punctuation mark. Now line that up with the heel of a shoe, and you have a comma heel!

espadrille heels

Espadrille Heels
Somewhat new on the fashion scene, Espadrille shoes have a fabric upper and a plaited fiber sole, made popular worldwide by Toms. Espadrille heels are a take on this traditional flat, and can have a heel or wedge base.

fantasy heels

  • Fantasy Heels
    Here’s the wildcard heel type to cover all of the crazy designs out there. There are so many types of heels you could never think of in your head, and yet they do exist. We’re not sure who wears them other than maybe Lady Gaga, but they do exist.