I do love a good ballet flat — French girl vibes, and all that. I most often rock mine with distressed denim or a casual fleece (see here) — something decidedly unfussy. Ballet flats add a feminine vibe that nicely balances my typical tomboyish pieces. So much so that this is one shoe I never stop wearing, trends be damned.
But something has happened, fairly recently. Something…not good. Something with my feet. It stems partly from the pandemic (standing around my house barefoot for the better part of a year causes, according to the NYT, “Pandemic Foot”), and partly, I think, from…gahhhhhh…age.
I mean, okay: I also have a couple of broken toes from The Great Beach Running Incident of 2017 that never quite healed properly, followed by the Giant Pile of Laundry Leap (that also didn’t end well), as well as an old foot injury from That Time Laurel Made Me Try A Sexy Dance Move That Involved Going Down To The Floor so yeah, there has been some foot trauma over the years that likely caught up with me but…
Ugh. My feet.
Black Ballet Flats That Are Soft, Comfortable AND Supportive
Most of the time, I wear sneakers. Which works, since my days are spent walking around the city. But I’d like to branch out a bit, and I *thought* ballet flats were going to be an easy win. I’m a huge fan of Everlane’s Day Glove flat, so when Everlane recently came out with a Day Ballet Flat, I assumed it would be just as comfortable, but with more of that French-girl vibe I was looking for.
Turns out, not so much. Everlane’s Day Ballet Flat is comfortable: soft leather, cushy(ish) footbed. A few years ago, it would’ve been fine. But this time — and maybe I was just having a bad foot day — it wasn’t nearly supportive enough (it’s thinner than Everlane’s original), and with a few steps, my foot pain was back.
It turns out that I need a black ballet flat that is not just soft and/or cushy, but actually supportive.
Did I find one? Yup. After much trial & error, I ended up keeping the Vionic Caroll Ballet Flats. And I can recommend them with reservations. I’ll get into all of the reasons I like ’em, below, but suffice it to say, when I showed them to Raines (my teenager), he remarked, “Mom, you know those shoes that older ladies wear?”
I froze, shocked. Did he just go there?
“They’re fine, Mom,” he said, backing up and laughing, correctly reading the murder in my eyes, “but just…understand the path you’re on.”
OMG. Teenagers are savage.
1. French Sole Passport Flat: Almost French-Girl Perfection
Fit: Runs a half-size big
First of all, I thought these were black. But it’s fine, the color wasn’t the deal breaker. And, in fact, these were almost a win.
French Sole NY, if you’ve never heard of them, started as a small boutique on the Upper East Side, and has been producing ballet flats since the ’80s. The craftsmanship is great, and these ballet flats are very comfortable. In fact, I found these shoes to be more cushioned than even the Aerosole flats I tried. They nail that French-girl look, and come in a ton of colors and styles.
That said, I had a hard time with sizing. I found huge size inconsistencies between their different styles of ballet flats (and I tried several styles), as well as huge inconsistencies with the softness of the leather.
In the end, this quilted pair was easily my top pick from French Sole NY. While it doesn’t have *quite* as much support as other ballet flats I tried, it was the fact that my toes were a little pinched while walking that helped make my decision. That said, the company states that these ballet flats are supposed to mold to your foot over time, so perhaps I should give them a longer try.
Ref Knit Tank (s) | similar Levis (27) | French Sole NY Passport Flat
2. Aerosoles Catalina Flat: The Ballet Flats That Feel The Most Like Ballet Slippers
Fit: Runs a half-size big
I loved this shoe — it was almost the winner. The leather is buttery soft, there’s a nice cushion, and it didn’t even come close to pinching my toes while walking. But this ballet flat had two fatal flaws:
Flaw #1: This shoe is so light, and the leather so soft that it feels more like wearing an actual ballet slipper than a shoe. While it is softer overall than the French Sole ballet flats, it has less cushion and much less support.
Flaw #2: Despite the comfort in the toe area, this ballet flat still comes up rather high — there’s literally zero toe cleavage. So while it does have that French-girl styling, it still felt a little conservative for a ballet flat that wasn’t also supportive.
Ref Knit Tank (s) | similar Levis (27) | Aerosoles Catalina Flat
3. Aerosoles Catalina Flat — The Quilted Ones: Slightly More Supportive
Aerosoles Catalina Quilted Flat
Fit: Runs a half-size big
While this quilted pair of Aerosoles has all of the pros & cons of their regular ballet flats…I did feel like the quilted pair was ever-so-slightly less slipper-like.
Ref Knit Tank (s) | similar Levis (27) | Aerosoles Catalina Quilted Flat
4. Cole Haan Ballet Flat: The Ballet Flats That Make Noises When I Walk
Cole Haan Wayfarer Ballet Flat
Fit: Runs a half-size big
The Wayfarer flats from Cole Haan are another pair of really comfortable ballet flats: super-soft leather, nice cushy sole. But with a fatal flaw! They make farting noises when I walk.
I mean…OK. It might just be the shape of my foot. And they might eventually get broken in and be fine. But the gathered material almost suctions to my foot, expelling air with each step. I wonder if someone who doesn’t have such a high arch might have more success with this shoe. Because other than the fart sounds…they’re great.
Ref Knit Tank (s) | similar Levis (27) | Cole Haan Wayfarer Ballet Flat
5. Camper Ballet Flats: The Ballet Flats That Were Easily The Most Comfortable
Camper Right Nina Ballet Flats
These flats are impossibly lightweight, impossibly soft, impossibly cushy and — shockingly — supportive enough. Certainly much more supportive than the other ballet flats mentioned above. In fact, these are among the most comfortable shoes period I’ve ever tried on!
That said…I didn’t love how they looked. Camper’s ballet flats are the biggest departure from true French-girl ballet flats, and, despite the toe cleavage, they still have a rather strange shape. Ultimately, I loved wearing these, but I couldn’t do it. (Although, now that I look back at these photos, they’re growing on me again. Gahhhhh.)
Ref Knit Tank (s) | similar Levi’s (27) | Camper Right Nina Ballet Flats
6. Vionic Ballet Flats: My Top Pick
Vionic Caroll Ballet Flats | Also in croc print | Also at DSW
OK, so: The Caroll Ballet Flats from Vionic is the pair of ballet flats I kept. Truth be told, I didn’t think I’d like that overlapping detail (and now I see Vionic has a more traditional version). But in reality, that overlap allows for more toe cleavage to be shown, which is why — from a distance — these ballet flats look enough like French-Girl flats to check that box.
Additionally, Vionics (as Linzi has mentioned ad nauseam), are incredibly well-made shoes, and they’re engineered for maximum support. So yes: that is a cork footbed, and these shoes feel more like wearing Danskos than ballet flats. In fact, these shoes are more comfortable than most of my sneakers. The leather isn’t as butter-soft as the others, but it is quite soft out of the box, and I was able to walk around the neighborhood for an hour before feeling a slight blister coming on. These shoes do need to be broken in, but only a single wear or two.
Ref Knit Tank (s) | similar Levi’s (27) | Vionic Caroll Ballet Flats | Also in croc print | Also at DSW
Oof. That close-up shot is rough. Even Linzi, our Comfort Shoe Queen balked a bit at these shoes. “You can only wear them…” she said, thinking, “with cool-girl outfits. Otherwise these could look…” her voice trailed off.
Raines chose that moment to pop out of the house, and, overhearing our conversation, smirked. “Remember what I said, Mom,” he warned. “That path you’re on…”
So, I simply turned my, ehrm, sturdy ballet flats onto the path to school and walked happily there, no foot pain in sight.
Tell me, gang: Are they really that bad?
Actually, no. I don’t wanna know.