Lifestyle

We tested 6 flats that claim to offer slipper-like comfort—these are the best

From Allbirds to Rothy's, which flat is worth your money?

Rothy's and Allbirds flats Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

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If you have two feet and attributes that social media bots might identify as female-skewing, you know what I’m about to talk about. Scroll through Instagram for just a moment, and you’ll see them: the flats. With their eye-catching, colorful, trendily fonted ads, each (mostly) direct-to-consumer shoe brand has a similar range of claims: durability, presentability, and comfort, and priced just high enough to beg the question, “are they worth it?”

I don’t have an answer to why flats are so inescapable on the photo-sharing app, but I did get my hands (well, feet) on pairs of six of the most prevalent brands among the ads—Allbirds, Rothy’s, Tieks, Birdies, Xero's Knit Phoenix flats, and Everlane’s Day Glove ReKnits—to see which ones are the best value for your $100 (give or take) a pair. Below are all the Instagram flats I tested, ranked in order from best to worst.

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1. The best all-arounder: Allbirds Tree Breezers

allbirdsbreezer
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

Allbirds Tree Breezers are cute, comfy, and an all-around great pick.

The Allbirds brand is most commonly associated with its “runners,” a lightweight, sneaker-like, universally beloved shoe. But Allbirds also makes ballet flats, called “Tree Breezers”—and to me, they are (also) perfect. Made with a wool insole, sugarcane-based soles, and a soft woven upper comprised of eucalyptus pulp (the “tree” in their name), the flats are light, airy, and breathable, yet sturdy enough to hold up to long walks. They don’t reinvent the look of ballet flats but they look perfectly nice, with a classic almond-shaped toe. They’re also machine-washable, though in my two-month time wearing mine, they haven’t acquired any odors or dirt that’s required laundering.

One small qualm? Sizing. The flats fit me just right—I am usually a size 9 and sometimes an 8.5, and the size 9 I ordered fit great—but a lot of reviewers on Allbirds’ site say they run small. On the other hand (er, foot), when a Reviewed editor bought a pair on my recommendation, she found they ran large in the back due to the stretchy, supple material they are made of. She has a narrow heel and has trouble in general walking in flats without stepping out of them in back, so this may not be a universal experience. Still, it’s something to consider, particularly if you have narrow feet.

On the plus side, Allbirds makes it super easy to return or exchange its shoes. Click the link in the shipping confirmation email, answer a few questions about why you’re making the return or exchange, print out a label, then take the box to either a FedEx or USPS location. If you’re between sizes, it may not be a bad idea to order two pairs and keep the one that fits you just right.

The bottom line: Allbirds Tree Breezers are lightweight, comfortable, and the way to go when it comes to Instagram flats.

Read our full Allbirds Tree Breezers review

Get Tree Breezers flats from Allbirds for $98

2. The most slipper-like: Birdies Starling

birdies
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Birdies feel almost exactly like slippers—which may or may not be good, depending on what you're doing.

Birdies' loafer-like Starling flat claims to feel just like a pair of slippers. After wearing them for about a month, I can say this is 100 percent true—which is both a boon and a detriment to the shoe. Basically, Birdies are great when you’re hanging out somewhere and staying relatively stationary, like your home or office, where you might want to look presentable and don’t walk around a lot. But the plush, cushiony material insole is the opposite of breathable, so if you walk for more than 10 minutes (or five on a hot day), you can expect your feet to get very, very sweaty. They can’t be washed in a machine, either—Birdies recommends deodorizing by sprinkling the inside with baking soda, letting it soak in, and dumping out the excess.

Also, the velvet material looks a little cheaper—and picks up more schmutz—in real life than it does in photos. That can be rectified by picking another (if more expensive) upper material, such as leather, suede, or satin, or by keeping a lint brush handy.

The bottom line: Birdies are nice-looking shoes that are as comfortable as slippers, which is great if you want to wear them at an office, but not so great if you have to walk any distance to get there.

Read our full Birdies review

Get the Birdies Starling flat from Nordstrom for $95

3. The most sensible form and function: Xero Phoenix

xero
Credit: Reviewed / Sara Hendricks / Xero

Xero flats are comfy but not the most flattering.

Xero is a brand that primarily makes barefoot-style running shoes, sandals, and hiking boots—if you’re not familiar with it, your friend who favors minimalist workout shoes or goes rock climbing on the weekends is. Its most popular offerings are decidedly athletic—Xero’s bestselling styles have laces and lots of mesh. But it also offers a ballet flat: The Phoenix Women’s Dressy Flat for $69.99 or $99.99 for the knit and leather styles, respectively.

I tried the knit flat in black, which has a textured exterior that reminded me of the material used on running shoes. Xero recommends getting your normal size, but this felt big on me, so if I was telling a friend to order from the site, I’d recommend going a half-size down. Xero also offers free exchanges, though, so it’s not a huge deal if you don’t get the right size with your first order.

Xero shoes are intentionally minimalist, so they don’t offer the kind of padding I enjoyed in the Allbirds and Birdies. However, they aren’t totally flat—there’s a curve around the area where the arch of your foot goes, and the removable insole is lined with a thin yet cushy material that seemed to mold to my feet the more I wore them. The sole of the flats are also made of Xero’s FeelTrue rubber sole, which is thin—just 5.5 millimeters, according to Xero’s site—but hardy and tractioned enough that I felt supported and didn’t fear slipping as I walked around.

Then there’s the way they look. Style is subjective, but the Phoenix’s style was … not for me. The detail of the exterior looks good, with a contrasting knit texture around the pinky toe to make it look a little more interesting than a classic black flat (the leather flat also has texture in the same area). But the toe is closed off with a bulbous rounded edge around the big toe with a weird slant around the rest of the toes, which made my feet look bigger than they are—the sort of effect I’d expect from wearing a pair of clown shoes. Xero touts a “wide toe box” in the Phoenix’s specs, so this design is clearly focused on comfort, rather than style. I've never had issues with the toe area in flats, so it didn’t really seem worth it to me, but someone who finds most flats constricting in the toes might think differently. In terms of how they might fit into your wardrobe, Xero suggests getting the leather flats if you want something dressy, but I think the knit version is perfectly fine in most situations where you’d wear flats, except really fancy occasions like weddings.

The bottom line: For my own purposes, I probably wouldn’t buy Xero flats in the future. They’re undoubtedly comfortable, but I think Allbirds flats are cuter, truer to size, and a little more comfortable. Still, this comes down to my own preferences, not a reflection on the quality—Xero has a lot to offer there. If you prefer Xero’s look, want to give your toes some breathing room, and appreciate a minimalist sole, you’ll be happy with a pair of Phoenix flats.

4. The ugly duckling of comfort: Everlane Day Glove ReKnits

everlane
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

They may not win any beauty contests, but Everlane's Day Glove ReKnits are extremely comfortable.

Everlane sells a lot of sensible, office-appropriate apparel (as well as a mean cotton t-shirt). So it’s no surprise that its leather flats, called Day Gloves, are a favorite among those who like the brand. In June, Everlane released an updated version of the flats, the Day Glove ReKnits, which have a woven fabric upper, putting them squarely in the competition of comfort-forward Instagram flats.

Here’s the deal on the Day Glove ReKnits: They are some of the ugliest shoes I have ever seen, thanks to an upper that covers way too much of the top of the foot. They look like a pair of slippers that one might wear when in the hospital, and not, for example, paired with skinny jeans or a sweater dress. That said, style is subjective, and Everlane reviewers seem to like the way they look. Plus, the stretchy, sock-like upper combined with the cushioned leather insole make the shoes very comfortable—not quite at the level of the Allbirds or Birdies, but close. However, unlike Allbirds, these can’t be machine-washed.

The bottom line: If comfort alone is what you’re after and you like or don't mind the look, the Day Glove ReKnits will serve you well.

Read our full Everlane Day Glove ReKnit review

Get Day Glove ReKnit shoes from Everlane for $39

5. Pretty but painful: Rothy’s The Point

rothys
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

Rothy's look great—even after a lot of washes—but can be extremely painful.

I was excited to try out Rothy’s, which are made out of recycled plastic bottles, making them machine-washable and supposedly indestructible. Not to mention, I found the pointed style more refined-looking, as flats go. To test them, I got two pairs: One I wore for a month, and the other, I washed and dried every day for a month. This experiment was half successful. The shoes that got 20-plus consecutive washes were unchanged by the end.

But wearing the Rothy’s was a painful, bloody experience (which, I suppose, makes that washability even more valuable). The back of the shoes rubbed against my ankles so violently that my skin broke within about five minutes, and I spent the rest of the first day hobbling and replacing my Band-Aids. I was so scarred (not literally, but it could have been) by my first experience that I didn’t want to put them back on had I not been paid to do so (such is the life of a product-review journalist). The fit and feel of the shoes improved a bit each day, reaching a level of wearable comfort about a week in: no more broken skin, but as I found the arch support lacking, I had sore soles by day’s end. For me, Rothy’s gain points for their style and durability but lose most of them (understandably, I think) for tearing up the back of my feet.

The bottom line: If you’re OK with keeping bandages close by for at least the first week you have your Rothy’s and don’t need much in the way of arch support, and you covet the look of a pointed flat, Rothy’s will work for you. But if you’re specifically looking for comfort in your sensible flats, get another pair.

Read our full Rothy’s review

Get the Point shoe from Rothy’s for $145

6. Overpriced and overrated: Tieks

tieks
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

Compared to other shoes, Tieks aren't special enough to justify their cost.

Tieks is a leather flats brand with a devoted fan base that includes a wide range of people, from elementary school teachers to Oprah. All praise the shoes' long-term comfort, ability to roll up into small balls to tuck into a purse, and trademark bright blue soles—a status symbol that screams to the club, yup, I spent almost $200 on these bad boys.

But when I tried the pricey flats—the most expensive of all the brands we tried—they fell (ahem) flat for me. For starters, the break-in period nearly broke me, as the backs of these shoes broke the skin, repeatedly, on my heels over the first few days I wore them. This was on par with my Rothy's experience, only at a higher cost and without the benefit of being able to throw them in the laundry—because Tieks are leather, they can’t be machine-washed. The insole has some cush, but it’s thin, so it ultimately felt just OK after walking and standing for long periods of time—not shoes I’d want to wear if I were up in front of a classroom all day. I also found their style unimpressive. The leather looked wrinkly on my feet, and the upper seemed so thin that my big toe might poke through at any moment (though in about a month of wears, it didn’t).

The bottom line: Tieks don’t do enough to justify their cost. If you’re excited about the prospect of packable shoes with blue soles, don’t mind doing some (painful) work to break them in, and you hang in circles where Tieks are revered, I won’t talk you out of getting them. But in terms of both comfort and aesthetics, you can get other flats that do much more for less money.

Read our full Tieks review

Get Tieks flats starting at $175

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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