A podiatrist’s top tips for wearing closed-toe shoes all summer long without suffocating your feet


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Photo: Getty Images/Katja Kircher

Every summer, my mother criticizes my commitment to closed-toed shoes, saying I have a “complex about my feet.” Well, mom, just because I don’t think my grounding digits are particularly elegant and I won’t throw down cash for routine pedicures doesn’t mean I have a foot complex. I just really prefer closed-toe shoes. To her credit, though, having a no-sandals policy can get tricky in the summertime. Right now, I’m looking at the black ballerina flats on my feet, complete with criss-crossing elastic bands constricting my circulation, just imaging the wildly smelly feet I’m going to have to deal with later. It’ll be like I’m walking around on unrefrigerated wedges of Gouda, for sure.

But the cheese doesn’t stand alone, right? I know I’m not the only person who’s also very anti-sandal, and if you keep your toes enclosed, you’ve probably encountered the same problem. Opting to stick to those shoes all season may be an honorable choice, but that doesn’t make it any less of a sweaty, stinky affair. And since no one wants to spend their time with anyone who requires a gas mask or oxygen tank when there’s a shoes-off policy, I enlisted some help for selecting non-suffocating closed-toe kicks to take you all the way back into sweater weather. The first step, it turns out, is choosing the right materials in which to walk.

“The best types of materials that allow the feet to breathe are porous fibers, such as canvas, mesh, and leather,” says podiatrist Emily Splichal, DPM. And the materials to give a hard pass on? “Avoid rubber or plastic shoes, as these trap in heat and moisture.” And in that case, I guess I won’t go full Y2K and bring back jelly sandals this summer.

My closed-toe style choices usually skew girly, impractical, and firmly in the flats-and-heels category. But increasingly, people are joining me on the closed-toe front thanks to an uprising in sneaker culture. And whether you’re opting for some neon kicks or taking grandpa sneaks for a spin, it’s really what’s inside that counts.

“You do want a breathable fabric, but I’d also suggest considering the socks that are being worn,” Dr. Splichal says. “One of my favorite is by Allbirds, which uses a breathable wool material. If you go for a nice breathable sneaker and then wear thick cotton socks, you won’t get the benefits from the sneakers. The best socks are synthetic, sweat-wicking, and woven with either copper or silver.”

Oh, and if you bought a dynamite pair of non-breathable heels for a wedding and need to combat foot stank in a pinch? Dr. Splichal recommends picking up a can of Arm and Hammer Invisible Foot Powder Spray. It’s sweat-activated and designed to stop your smelly feet from ruining the party.

To help you tackle the problem at its source, though, we have a few closed-toe-shoe selections that can get you through the summer while keeping the cheesy-smell and sweaty effect at a minimum. Check them out below:

Another reason to jump on the closed-toe bandwagon? Flip flops aren’t great for your feet. And we have the full details on what shoelace style works best for your foot type!

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