Not-So-Orthopedic

07.31.13

The Uncomfortable Truth About Clogs

Clogs have become popular again—but, it turns out, they might be dangerous for you. Emilia Petrarca investigates.

“How do you like those clogs?”

My Alexander Technique instructor, a.k.a. good posture guru, Hope Gillerman was pointing at my bruised and Band-Aided feet at the beginning of our session. It was the first time she hadn’t immediately pointed out the harmfulness of what I was wearing—like my killer wedges or my ballet flats, or even my seemingly comfortable Birkenstocks—so I was hopeful she hadn’t noticed the damage my clogs had already done.

I had specifically ordered my clogs because I heard they were the best shoes for your posture, and after waiting a month for them to be shipped from Sweden, I was eager to show them off.

“Oh, they’re great!” I said. “They’re just taking a little while to wear in. I’m sure once the leather stretches they’ll be fine though, right?”

Wrong. I now know that two types of clogs exist in the world: the good and the bad. Unfortunately, I am a victim of the latter.

“Let me see you walk in them,” she said. Although Gillerman still hadn’t said anything negative about my clogs, I could sense the skepticism in her voice. As I clunked around her studio I remembered the numerous times my ankles buckled on the way there, and I concentrated intensely on my balance. She wasn’t fooled. She pointed out how much my foot was working—and not in a good way—to make up for the lack of stability in the shoes. “You shouldn’t walk more than four-to-five blocks in those,” she said. I looked down at my beautiful, brand-new clogs—and then back up at her, dejected. We both laughed. Every New Yorker knows you can’t do anything in less than four-to-five blocks.

Unlike with my own clogs, Dansko—one of the most popular clog brands on the market—claims that wearers can walk five-to-six miles in them comfortably. The company’s founders apparently even crossed the European continent in them. The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) has also given Dansko its “stamp of approval,” leading people like me to believe that clogs in general are beneficial to your body. With the recent introduction of clogs as a mainstream fashion accessory, women are falling victim to the misconception that because some clogs are good for you, all clogs must be good for you. Upon further investigation, however, I’ve learned that there’s a vast difference between professional clogs (like those produced by Dankso) and what podiatrists call “fashion clogs.”

While most “fashion clogs” may look like Dansko professional clogs, their structure is completely different. With a heel over two inches—which is classified by the APMA as a “high heel”—and no rubber soles, women are apparently putting themselves at risk by treating them as regular shoes. It’s no secret that heels are harmful for your feet—and most clogs, I found out the hard way, are no exception.

Dr. Johanna Youner, a member of the APMA, said these kinds of clogs “are cute, but your body is not meant to walk distances in that heel height. It’ll put your back out, it’ll hurt your feet—lots of things. You can create bunions, stress fractures. If the heels are tight, you can create neuromas, which are inflamed nerves. It goes on, and on … You can literally shorten your Achilles tendon.”

Luckily, both Gillerman and Youner agreed on the potential benefits of “professional” clogs; they can, for one, create something called “energy return.” As Gillerman put it: “When you are standing on a wooden sole, it is a firm support that triggers your nerves and muscles in your feet to spring into action.” But, unlike Youner, Gillerman still wouldn’t recommend clogs for walking long distances. Though firmness can be beneficial, she says, a wooden sole “can’t give you enough movement to enable you to walk or run with a complete gait.” As a result of this loss of movement, clog-wearers tend to drag their feet, “which causes more postural problems,” she said. Whether its professional clogs or fashionable clogs, if you’re planning on walking distances, she put it plainly: “Stay away!”

What was once a wardrobe staple for Dutch farmers, then a fashion accessory for avant-gardes in the ’70s, clogs have shed their vegan-schoolteacher connotations to become a fashionable accessory. Thanks to Karl Lagerfeld’s inclusion of platform clogs in his Chanel spring 2010 collection, other labels such as Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, and Miu Miu have followed suit. Like most fashion trends, though, clogs are not universally loved. Glamour called them an “A-1 male offender,” after polling men to find out the things women wear that they hate most. Blogger Garancé Doré has also voiced her qualms with the trend (there’s a reason you don’t see any clogs on The Sartorialist). “I can’t figure out how to walk in them,” she has said. Even The Daily Beast’s own Kate Betts didn’t have nice things to say about them when she wrote about the trend in 2010: “Doctors wear them!” she wrote. “They breathe! Yet they are still clinically proven to be ugly.”

Yet perhaps the harshest words about clogs come from the shoe guru himself, Christian Louboutin. “I hate the whole concept of the clog!” he told the New Yorker in 2011. “It’s fake, it’s ugly, and it’s not even comfortable! ‘Comfy’—that’s one of the worst words! I just picture a woman feeling bad, with a big bottle of alcohol, really puffy. It’s really depressing, but she likes her life because she has comfortable clogs.” If those words don’t change your mind about clogs, then I don’t know what will.

In the end, Dr. Youner said she would still recommend professional clogs over most other shoes on the market: “Dansko has incredibly great professional shoes for nurses, for chefs, for older people on their feet,” she said. “But when you buy a fashion shoe you’re sacrificing comfort.” She added: “If it’s fashionable, chances are it’s not biomechanically correct.”