How a Fashionable Senior Finds Comfort

When Audrey Levine, a former assistant principal at a New York high school, decided it was time for a permanent recess in 2000, she headed south to the Sunshine State. But just because Levine retired didn’t mean she was ready to give up her professional wardrobe — especially her shoes. “I kept many of my work shoes: flats, low heels and two or three pairs with heels higher than 3 inches,” said the 71-year-old Levine, who owns more than 200 pairs.

Now a fashionable senior enjoying retirement, Levine said she looks for the perfect balance between comfort and style, always searching for looks to accommodate her hard-to-fit AAA foot. Her favorite comfort brands include Ecco, Clarks and Naturalizer. “At this point, comfort is key,” said Levine, who suffers from arthritis in her toe. “I walk my dog three times a day, so I’m in comfortable shoes 90 percent of the time.”

Here, Levine talks about her go-to comfort looks and the challenges of finding shoes to fit her narrow feet.

Pairs owned: “At last count, I had 218.”

Brands: Bally, Clarks, DKNY, Easy Spirit, Ecco, Manolo Blahnik, Naturalizer, Rangoni and Stuart Weitzman, among others

Organization strategy: “I’ve taken to keeping many of my shoes in a six-drawer rattan dresser in my walk-in closet. I can get 12 to 15 pairs of shoes into one drawer. They’re lined up on their sides, so I can see what I am looking for easily. I also have two shoe cubes that hold 50 pairs each, and other drawers for shoes.”

Favorite looks: “I love sandals with bling, rhinestones, flowers, multicolors. I’d like to find shoes that buckle and have elastic in the straps. That way, I don’t have to keep opening them to take them on and off. It’s not easy bending over as you get older.”

Pet peeve: “I love to go dancing, and it isn’t easy to find comfortable shoes with leather soles. It seems everyone makes synthetic soles, and they don’t slide as well on the dance floor.”

Coziest at-home look: “I like to lounge at home in terry-cloth scuffs. They can be thrown into the washing machine and are soft and easy to slip on.”

Favorite walking shoes: “I do a lot of walking and wear whatever sneaker I find that’s comfortable. My [current] favorites are Easy Spirits with an elasticized button closure. They don’t come undone and are easy to get on and off.”

Favorite travel shoe: “A Naturalizer sneaker-like style with a low back that I can slip on and off to go through the airport metal detectors. I always wear socks with them because I don’t like walking on the floor barefoot.”

Most comfortable styles: “It’s a tough call. I wear sandals almost all the time. Since I’m short — and becoming shorter as I age — my favorites have a low wedge. The wedge gives me some lift and takes away from the dumpy look of the leg.”

Least expensive pair: “Liz Claiborne sandals I got for $10 at an outlet store.”

Most expensive pair: “The most expensive shoes I’ve bought in the last 10 years were around $400. They’re flat boots with lizard trim in a medium-brown color. I still have them and wear them when I go north.”

Biggest wardrobe change: “Lower heels and sandals due to moving south and being older. I ran around in heels as an assistant principal from 6 a.m. to as late as 9:30 p.m., but now it’s all about comfort.”

Favorite shoe-shopping spots: “It’s almost impossible to find shoe stores anymore, so I go to places like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx and try on [everything] until I find something that doesn’t fall off my [narrow] feet. If I go to department stores, it’s Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom because they have different widths in some shoes.”

Favorite shopping partner: “I prefer to shop alone. Even if I go with a friend, I always tell them to meet me an hour later, so I can contemplate my purchases.”

Next shoe purchase: “Anything I see and like. I’d probably never spend more than $100, and only for something that was really comfortable and would serve me for play and sport.”

Dream shoe: “A 3-inch heel with a well-padded metatarsal area, so the impact of walking would be lessened. It would be black and white and have some kind of flower on the front. The heels wouldn’t be composite because they’re hard on the back when you walk.”

Footwear wish: “I’d like to see more things made here in the U.S., and at prices that middle-class aging people can afford without floating a loan. I watch ‘Sex and the City’ and understand the draw of the high heel and the bling, but $400 and up for a shoe I will wear maybe three times a year is just nuts.”

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