High heel shoes cost comparison

Is there any excuse for some shoes costing 12 times as much as others?
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  • Updated:1 Jul 2008

01 .Shoe prices


If you’ve ever lusted after a pair of designer shoes like Sex in the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, you’ve no doubt come up with a long list of reasons why spending $500 on some to-die-for heels is a good idea. After all, you get what you pay for, right?

CHOICE put this theory to the test by shopping for three almost identical pairs of shoes at widely differing prices, then pulling them apart (gasp!) to check the quality.

Please note: this information was current as of July 2008 but is still a useful guide today.

Pulled apart at the seams

We asked three experts to examine some classic women’s heels: a $425 pair from Anne Klein, a $140 pair from Nine West and some $34.95 cheapies from Payless. They all have a mid-level 5–6cm heel and are the style of shoe many women wear on a daily basis.

The Sandler factory in Sydney puts all its footwear through rigorous testing, and invited CHOICE to use its specialised equipment. In short, our experts pulled the shoes apart to see what they were made of, looking at:

  • The strength of heels, with a heel pull-off test.
  • The strength and quality of the leather/synthetic material on the inside and outside of the shoe.
  • The padding in the heel and toe area.
  • The quality of the metal shank, which determines the shape and provides support.
  • The strength of the adhesive used to bond the upper and sole together.

Shoes examined

Nine West

Nine westMaterials: Leather upper, synthetic lining, resin sole
Price: $140



Anne Klein

Anne kleinMaterials: Leather upper, lining and sole
Price: $425



PaylessMaterials: Synthetic upper and lining, PVC sole
Price: $34.95


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02.Materials and construction



The unexpected result of our pull-apart test was that the Payless shoes were surprising well constructed. They withstood the heel pull-off test and were well bonded together, although our expert panellists noted some stray remnants of adhesive that should have been sanded off. Construction

From a manufacturing point of view, the Nine Wests had the most sophisticated and well designed construction. The shank gives a shoe its strength and support. In this pair, it combined with a screw to secure the heel, and this proved to be the sturdiest construction of the three pairs.

However, the function of the Nine Wests shoes was sacrificed for fashion — the design of the heel and the slightly upturned toe resulted in a wobbly walk for wearers (see The road test). The Nine Wests also had more padding in their heels than the others, but they possibly needed it to boost stability.

The Anne Kleins’ construction was solid, but not markedly superior to the others.


The Payless shoes were entirely synthetic, and once you damage the vinyl, there’s nothing you can do to repair them. The leather of the Nine Wests and Anne Kleins can be maintained with shoe polish.

The Nine Wests’ cow-leather upper had a ‘high shine’ finish, which means the leather had been sanded and then coated with a layer of polyurethane — similar to the patent leather process.

The Anne Kleins were made of high-quality kid leather that not only looked good but felt soft. Unlike the others, its upper was made of just one piece of leather with only one seam at the back of the heel. The lining was also kid leather, which our road-testers found very comfortable.


The soles of the Payless pair had anti-slip ridging but they were made of PVC, which will cause static electricity and heat up quickly. The Nine Wests' soles were made of resin, with anti-slip ridging. Resin doesn’t create static electricity like PVC and it also moderates hot and cold temperatures reasonably well.

The Anne Kleins were the only pair with leather soles, so they will be the most effective at moderating extremes of hot and cold. Leather soles wear out more quickly than synthetic ones, but on the upside, they can be repaired. The experts thought a half-sole could easily extend the life of these shoes.


While the Anne Kleins and Nine Wests had better padding in their heels than the Payless, the experts noted that none of the shoes had sturdy cushioning material such as cork in the toe/ball area. This would make them more comfortable.

Toe spring

The Nine Wests had a more exaggerated toe spring than the others, known as a`Turkish-style’ toe.

Before we tore the shoes to pieces, a few willing CHOICE women took the three different pairs for a roadtest around the office.

The heels on the Nine West pair caused the wobbles for our trialists. Our experts weren’t surprised, saying that the smaller surface area of the heel and the upturned ‘Turkish-style’ toe were to blame for this instability. However, seasoned heel wearers may not find it a problem. The Anne Kleins and the Payless felt far more stable by comparison.

For both looks and comfort, trialists preferred the way the toe on the Anne Klein and Payless pairs sat almost flat to the floor, unlike the Nine West’s slightly upturned toe.

The Anne Kleins were bit tight in the toe department, but their high-quality leather quickly started stretching to fit the wearer. The Nine West and the Payless shoes were roomier in the toe area.

Because the Payless were entirely synthetic, they caused a noticeable problem in the sweaty-foot department.

All three pairs were a size 8, but the Payless were wider and longer than the other two pairs. The Anne Kleins and the Nine Wests were similar in length but the Anne Kleins were also narrower, so felt smaller to some trialists.

We also covered up the labels and asked people to pick which shoe they thought was the most expensive. Most picked the Payless.

The sleekness, and the quality and softness of the leather on the Anne Kleins made them a favourite, but wearers confessed they wouldn’t be prepared to spend $425.

CHOICE verdict

Our expert panellists thought the range of prices reflected the range in quality: the more expensive the shoes were, the better quality their materials. But in terms of construction and strength, all three pairs were similar.

  • The Payless shoes would be fine for wearing out every now and then, but on a day-to-day basis your feet will be better off in leather shoes.
  • The softness, leather quality and sleek look (complete with toe cleavage) of the Anne Kleins rated highly. This pair would be the best for your feet because they’re leather inside and out. But at $425, you pay for that privilege — as well as for the prestige of the designer label.
  • Despite the Nine Wests’ wobbling issues, the panel thought they were the best value for money. Its leather upper is likely to last longer than the Payless vinyl.
  • The synthetic lining of the Payless won’t be as comfortable as a leather one, but at $285 less than the Anne Kleins, you might think the compromise is worth it.
  • Look for a full leather shoe (uppers and linings) for the same price as the Nine Wests — that would be the ideal.

Meet the experts


Casper Ozinga

Honorary Secretary of the Australian Pedorthic Medical Grade Footwear Association and Managing Director of Comfort and Fit Australia, a NSW company that specialises in orthopaedic, comfort and speciality footwear.

Andrew McDonald

Designs and constructs handmade shoes. While he makes tailored shoes for any size of foot, he’s also created specialised footwear for films such as The Star Wars Trilogy and Mission Impossible 2.

Tony Butler

New Development Manager, Sandler Shoes Australia. He’s been working in the design area of the shoe industry for 30 years.

While style is a matter of personal preference, the best way to judge the comfort of a shoe is by trying it out in a shop. Some buying advice:

  • ShoesIt’s best to buy shoes in the afternoon, because your feet tend to swell towards the end of the day.
  • Always try on both shoes — it’s rare for both your feet to be exactly the same size.
  • Walk around in them. Your foot should fit snugly at the heel and instep.
  • Don’t rely on shoes stretching after you’ve bought them — they may not. Shoes with a leather upper and lining are more likely to, but a US study revealed that most women surveyed were wearing shoes that were too small for them.
  • There is no universal shoe sizing. Australia adheres to the English and US standard which says there should be an 8.2mm length difference between full sizes.
  • Ensure you have 5 to 10mm of room between your longest toe and the tip of your shoe.
  • Because our feet sweat, it’s a good idea to rotate the shoes you wear on a daily basis. This will give your shoes time to dry out, which will prolong their life.
  • Women experience more foot problems than men, often due to wearing high heels.

Because leather is kinder to your feet than vinyl, take a close look at what the shoes you’re lusting after are made of. You can get full leather shoes (uppers and lining) for a lot less than our $425 Anne Kleins. You might even find them around the $140 mark — comparable to the Nine Wests, which didn’t have a leather lining.

Leather is better

Our experts will tell you that leather shoes are better for your feet. They wick away perspiration, whereas most synthetic shoes will leave your feet bathed in their own sweat — not only uncomfortable, but smelly.

There are different grades of synthetic materials and some even have pores to allow your feet to breathe. Unfortunately it’s impossible to tell which is which just by looking at it, but it’s a fair bet to say, when it comes to materials, that you get what you pay for.

Shoes with a leather lining will stretch and mould to your feet, so they’ll ultimately be more comfortable. Synthetic linings have little give, so your feet will just push against them until they eventually disintegrate.

As for leather soles, it comes down to personal preference. Some people love them, while others find rubber soles more comfortable and practical — leather can be slippery.