Those orthopaedic soles, those soft leather uppers, those wide-fit boots! Marks and Spencer shoes are the best on the high street. It’s the hill I’m willing to die on – hopefully in deliciously comfy footwear.
I firmly believe everyone should own at least one pair. Especially as they’re genuinely really stylish. Hear me out: these sell-out trainers were coveted by fashion eds and public alike, and, just this week, the Duchess of Cambridge was snapped sporting a cheeky pair of M&S trainers with a green stripe (£29.50). A relatively cheap and comfortable ode to the Stan Smith.
In my late teens and even early twenties, it would’ve pained me to say this. I was the kind of carefree soul who wore Primark ballet pumps that left my arches pancake-flat and New Look stilettos that left my toes scrunched and my feet feeling bruised after a night of dancing. Then there were the cheap loafers that blistered my heels, the sandals that chafed between the toes, and the plastic trainers that rubbed a fair few layers of ankle skin off.
Long story short, my shoe shelf was a fast-fashion nightmare. I was the proud owner of about 40 pairs (a figure that now makes me wince), but none were genuinely comfortable – save my walking boots, and I rarely wore those.
It’s pretty bananas how many shoes are actually really uncomfortable. Style almost always takes priority over comfort on the high street – and when we’re young, we’ll often opt for the cheapest, most glam-looking pair.
But when I moved to London in my early twenties, something had to give. My throbbing feet had had enough. Where once I’d hopped in my car – a second wardrobe of sorts, with dozens of shoes for all eventualities sprawled across the boot – I was now walking everywhere. Within a few days of moving, I was in fierce blister territory, my arches were hurting and my legs were in pain. I could no longer teeter about in courts or paper-thin pumps. I needed support.
For a year or so I managed with relatively comfy H&M flats and a pair of black Nike trainers. But they were wearing out fast and left me high and (not so) dry come winter when both sets became waterlogged and smelly.
Enter M&S footwear. It was the store where my mum (and her mum before her) had shopped in for years, while I’d turned my nose up at its nana reputation. But when I ventured into M&S Marble Arch with my mum during one of her sporadic trips to London, I did a U-turn and haven’t looked back since.
I tried on some boots and, heavens to Betsy, it felt like love. It was like slipping my foot into – well – nothing. They were light, it didn’t feel like I was wearing shoes, but I was. And you know what? They didn’t look like something your Great Aunt Belinda would wear either. They looked cool.
They were fairly inoffensive brown Chelsea boots, wide on the toe, with what looked like a proper orthopaedic sole inside, waiting to comfort my battered, non-existent arches. I wore them to work a couple of times, expecting to feel that unpleasant burning sensation where the shoes rubbed raw at my skin.
But it didn’t come. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I didn’t need to pop to Boots for blister plasters.
I soon found myself frequenting the M&S shoe section at every opportunity. I bought soft leather loafers, I invested in the world’s comfiest military boots (which I wore to the Christmas party just gone, FYI). I even went back and purchased the aforementioned brown ankle boots in black.
The results have been miraculous – I don’t get the foot or leg pain I once had, I’ve saved a fortune on plasters, and it’s probably working unseen wonders, too. Changing your shoes can actually improve your posture. Physiotherapist Sammy Margo recommends switching between low and high so you’re not in one fixed position: “That might mean walking to work in your trainers and doing the working day in a shoe with a slightly higher heel.”
My hope is that 2020 is the year this store gets the proper praise it deserves for soothing a nation’s weary feet. With M&S facing a slump in clothing sales, I also hope that people who are yet to know what true comfort feels like embark on a journey to the retailer’s humble shoe section and lay down some cash. As I write this, my editor is wearing silver brogues from the store, our editor-in-chief is sporting a fetching pair of leopard-print loafers and I’ve got my military boots back on.
But if you’re yet to be persuaded, I’ll leave you with a story from a colleague who used to work 11-hour restaurant shifts in £4 Primark pumps. “I used to come home, near to midnight, and soak my feet in hot water because they were so painful,” she tells me. When her mum found out, she marched her straight to M&S and bought her a pair of smart black shoes for £50.
“The shoes were like slippers,” she says. “It was a dream to put them on before every shift, and they lasted me for years. M&S forever.”