What Are Wedge Shoes?

Wedge shoes, also known as lifties or wedgies, are shoes or boots with a sole that forms a wedge shape. The bottom of the shoe extends from front to back with a raised heel that serves as both the heel and sole.

Ranging from casual to elegant, wedges are available in a variety of styles, colors, and materials. They give the wearer added support and stability and feature a raised heel for an instant boost in height.

Although wedge shoes are most commonly associated with women’s fashion, men too sport wedge sole shoes, generally in the form of work boots. Wedges can be found in a variety of styles, from heels and pumps to sneakers and booties. Due to their versatility, wedges can be worn year-round with almost any ensemble.

History of Wedge Shoes

Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo created the classic wedge shoe in the 1930s. The first wedges did not have a distinct heel and used cellophane straps to keep the foot secure. Due to a rubber and leather shortage during World War II, wood and cork were used to create the heel. The original wedge heel featured a thick, one-piece sole that differed from traditional high-heeled shoes of the time that contained a separate heel.

Wedge shoes quickly gained popularity in the early 1940s. Not only did they offer extra height which was in fashion at the time, but many women of the era found them much easier to walk in than skinny heels. During this time period, wedges reached heights up to five-inches. Many women wore them with shoulder pads to enhance their silhouette.  

It wasn’t until the 1970s that wedge shoes came back in style. Both men and women wore trendy platform wedges and the styles became more and more outrageous. In the 1990s, wedges again resurfaced in fashion. Styles like platform sneakers soared in popularity as more celebrities like the Spice Girls wore the footwear in music videos and films. Wedges emerged on the scene again in 2006, this time with heels wrapped in rope. Flip flop wedges and wedges with straps or ankle wraps became summer staples.

Types of Wedges

If you’re in search of a new wedge shoe, you have plenty of options. Here is a look at some of the most popular types of wedges for women and men.

Rope wedge heels (Espadrilles)
A pair of orange espadrille wedge sandals | FADEDinkDesigns/Shutterstock

For Women

  • Wedge Heels – Wedge heels are often worn as an alternative to traditional heels like stilettos, pumps, or mules. They can make an outfit more formal like a classic heel but are easier to balance in due to even distribution at the sole.
  • Wedge Pumps – Wedge pumps offer the glamorous look of pumps but with a blockier heel that creates a more conservative look.
  • Wedge Sneakers – Wedge sneakers are chic, comfortable, and can be leg-sculpting if worn regularly. They are a great way to give a basic outfit an edge.
  • Wedge Boots/Booties – Wedge boots or booties for women offer more ankle support and stability than heels. They often contain embellishments like hardware and buckles.
  • Closed-Toe Wedges – Closed-toe wedges provide more coverage than wedge sandals, making them a suitable option for the colder months of the year.
  • Low Wedges – Low wedges have less height and are often considered a safer shoe option for people with weak ankles or those who do not need the extra lift.
  • T-Strap Wedges – T-strap wedges are a popular summer shoe with a recognizable T-shape strap that runs from the toe area to the ankle.
  • Ankle Strap Wedges – Ankle strap wedges feature a fabric strap or straps that wrap around the ankle for support and aesthetic appeal. These straps are often adjustable.
  • Platform Wedges – Platform wedges can enhance the style of any outfit and often contain decorative elements, such as printed fabrics, colored trim, ruffled material, or satin uppers.

For Men

  • Wedge Sole Work Boots – Wedge sole work boots feature a sole that runs the entire length of the outsole with no gap beneath the arch. These boots are generally not as heavy-duty as traditional lug soles but are effective in many work applications.

How to Wear Wedges

You can use a pair of wedges to dress an outfit up or down, depending on the shoe style. If you’re going for a more casual look, opt for a low-heeled version. A 1-to-2-inch wedge is usually adequate when wearing jeans and a t-shirt. If you’re looking to make more of a statement, try a 2-to-3-inch heel to create more flair without being too uncomfortable.

Wedges are commonly worn with dresses as a trendy alternative to heels. Avoid dresses that are too formal or blocky, and instead, keep your look simple. Strappy wedges pair well with bodycon dresses, sundresses, or your classic little black dress. You can change up your look by choosing a skirt over a dress. Pencil skirts are often too chunky but mini skirts are a suitable choice.

Tan Wedges with Red Polka Dot Dress | Photo: Flickr user: Antoine969 / Public Domain

During the summer, wear your favorite wedges with a romper. Don’t be afraid to be matchy-matchy with your outfit to create a cohesive look. A T-strap or ankle-wrap wedge works well with form-fitting rompers. Another popular summer look is denim shorts with wedges. The extra lift helps to make the legs appear more elongated and slimmer.

Wedge shoes simply go better with certain styles, such as maxi skirts, shorts, bohemian styles, wrap dresses, gauchos, and wide or flared jeans. There are also some styles to avoid when wearing wedges, such as capri pants, pencil skirts, and any pants that have straight or narrow legs.

Are Heels and Wedges the Same Thing?

While heels and wedges may appear similar, there are some distinct differences between the two types of elevated footwear. The biggest difference between heels and wedges relates to the soles.

With high heel shoes, the heel is separate from the sole and there is a visible arch between the heel and toe.  With a wedge, there is a continuous, solid wedge-shaped outsole that is elevated at the heel and tapers down to the toe.

What’s the Difference Between Wedges and Platform Heels?

The terms wedges and platform heels are often used simultaneously when in fact, these are two separate shoe styles. The bottoms of wedge shoes extend from the front to the back with a raised heel. This gives the wearer the lift of a pair of pumps with the stability and support of a flat.

Michael Kors Brown Platform Sandals
Brown Platform Sandals | Buy them at Zappos

Platform heels also have a raised heel; however, they have a thicker sole. Rather than having a flat surface under the ball of the foot like a wedge, they offer a boost in the front. In other words, platforms are raised in both the front and back, while wedges only have an elevated heel height.

Wedge shoes are a fun and versatile solution when you want to mix up your style. They offer the comfort of a flat with the aesthetic appeal of heels. They are also known to help mitigate the long-term health risks associated with wearing traditional high heels. With so many great designs to choose from, you’re sure to find a pair of wedge shoes you love.