Tips for shorter legs: choosing flat shoes

Flattering short legs in urban or smart settings is easy - pop on heels and a skirt. But what to do in casual surroundings? Much much harder.

There are those situations in life where heeled shoes simply are not the right thing to wear - and I don't just mean sports. City walks, countryside, playing with pets or kids, travelling, a stroll in the park... or simply those times when your feet hurt from constantly wearing heels... all a real challenge for shorter legs.

So - the million dollar question - how can we look good in flats?

First of all, we need to choose well. Not all flats are created equal.

To begin with, try to look for flats that are not totally flat: even a little heel or wedge can make a big difference. [And yes I know they are hard to find these days! Why do manufacturers think women want footwear that is totally flat? They are not even comfy, let alone look good...] When choosing trainers, make sure they have at least some padding at the heel.

Choose shoes with a low vamp, i.e. that show as much as possible of the length of your feet as this lengthens legs. This means ballerinas and loafers are, as a rule, more flattering than brogues or trainers. When it comes to sandals, attention: straps and caging up the front of the foot count as vamp. Compare the images below - Bar's high vamp shoes and too-strappy sandals versus Keira's low vamp loafers.

When it comes to flat sandals, a simple strap across the toes or toe-ring designs work the most 'low-vamped': go for as little material as possible, the more foot you show, the better, avoid detailing across the foot and also heavy ankle straps. See how much more harmonious Rachel's look is than the previous two outfits, although Pippa almost gets away with the straps thanks to her very short hemline:

If your feet have to be covered [we cannot possibly wear low vamps in the rain and cold], you definitely want to show your ankles at least, so especially avoid high tops [trainers or ankle boots that come up higher than the ankle bones - a sure recipe for ending up with stumpy legs, with the exception of sock ankle boots] unless you are hiding the shoes under flared trousers. See why below [and also note how much less flattering the look is on Rachel than on her longer-thighed companion].

This is when flat knee high boots come to the rescue - they can be an exception to the low-vamp rule if they do not break up the legline. Choose well and they are one of your best alternatives for cold weather when feet and ankles need covering; certainly much better than flat ankle boots. Make sure the boots are fitted and that they end in the right place - rather difficult for short legs, this merits a post for itself. Certainly do not be seduced into buying calf or very over the knee boots; these are challenging enough if heeled. Compare the success that is Olivia's dress-and-knee-highs look to the previous two, less flattering outfits.

Try to pick shoes that are not completely round-toed. However, I personally don't find pointed toes flattering on myself and prefer almond toed shoes and boots or longer shaped brogues or trainers.

Match the shoes with either your bottoms [tights or trousers] or yourself [hair or skin colour] to make them blend in seamlessly - the more they stand out, the more they 'cut off' the feet and thereby shorten legs. However cool coloured shoes may be, they are not the most fortunate choice for us [sigh..]. Rachel Bilson is working really hard below to make the blue shoes work [low vamp shoes, column of colour outfit], but they nevertheless look odd. A little note: even if the shoes themselves blend in, if its sole is of contrasting colour [think black trainers with white soles], it can work against you - the same colour is the most flattering.

Second question - what to wear with flats? Well, this is the time to really put your dressing skills in action.

Cuff trousers to show some ankle. Especially if wearing high vamps. Be careful though as you don't want the trousers to end up too short, thereby shortening the legs.

Pair the shoes with fitted but not too tight trousers and longer, looser tops that conceal where your legs start. See the below example of Kaley Cuoco teaming chunky-soled trainers with a longer blazer. Looser, belted tops that work as longer peplum tops also often look great.

Alternatively wear them with shorter or asymmetric hemlines: a short skirt and tee or jumper, ideally tucked in to show your waist; an asymmetric dress that does not necessarily need to be mini; or a fitted, shorter dress with a (wider or longer) cardi or jacket above to disguise proportions. Pippa Middleton has turned this into an art - note the above-the-knee hemlines and coordinated shoe colour choices:

Wearing a column of colour usually helps to look taller and to blend proportions together, and is a useful technique when wearing flats [remember Kaley's all-black outfit above or see Bar below, working the low-vamp look].

Layering helps. Wider on top (jacket, cardi, jumper or tee) with fluid longer items below.

It is not a given for shorter-legged women to look good in flat shoes so putting time into searching for the right shoe is, unfortunately, important. Please respect yourselves enough to invest the time. And when you find something that works, get more than one pair...

We are never going to be the women with the most exotic footwear - especially when it comes to flats. But that does not mean we have to wear ugly shoes!