Dressy events and high heels go together like peanut butter and jelly.  It’s hard to imagine it any other way.  Yet, given the fact that there are tons of women out there who either can’t or refuse to wear heels, one has to wonder what they do when they have to get dressed up in their formal looks.

Lately I have been noticing a lot of dressy flats in the stores.  This happened when a client of mine needed heels for a wedding but also knew she would eventually take them off at the reception.  In order to not dance barefoot all night, I need to find her a pair of flats as well.  Seeing formal flats in the store, I wondered if fashion had finally caught up with the fact that not every woman wants to wear heels but always wants to look good.

While there are more dressy flats out there, getting the outfit right has more to do with just throwing on a pair of flat shoes.  Once you choose flats your entire look changes.  For example, a stunning sheath dress just won’t look the same with a pair of flats is it will with a pair of heels.  The proportion of the look will get thrown way off, ultimately making the dress look worse instead of better.  Therefore, when wearing flats with your dressier outfits, you have to consider the whole outfit and choose silhouettes that will work with the flats you choose.

Below I have put together three formal looks that will work with flats while showcasing some flat styles to consider.  By coming at it from both sides, the silhouette of the dress as well as the shoe style, you will be able to create your ensemble with flats that looks purposeful and not like you are the lady at the event who just can’t wear heels.

Formal Looks with Flats When You Don’t Want to Wear Heels

Gowns and Fluid Pants

formal looks

If you have to wear a full gown and plan on wearing flats I suggest choosing a gown with a fuller skirt.  When you wear a pair of flats with more of a column gown, or a sheath, it just won’t translate as well.  Plus, when you lob off inches of your leg length with flatter shoes you proportionately make you legs look bigger.  This is why so many women stand on their tiptoes when trying on pants.  They may not know why they do it, but they instinctively know that heels can make legs look longer and slimmer.  By wearing a fuller skirt, be it in dress or ballgown skirt, those pesky thighs are camouflaged.  In addition, the fuller skirt will more likely hide the flats.  Not that you should wear your formal flats shoes in shame, of course.  It’s just something to know if you don’t want to be as blatant that you’re not wearing heels.

Alternatively, if you prefer to wear pants instead of a full gown, you can try this same strategy with a formal pair of palazzo pants.

In the outfit above,  I styled these stunning Badgley Mischka flats with a ballgown skirt from Alice + Olivia.  With the skirt, I added this silk Tuxe bodysuit top.  I always like the look of a ballgown skirt with a blouse, but know that the last thing most women want to do is worry about it coming untucked all night.  A bodysuit can be a lovely alternative.  For accessories, I finished the outfit with a pair of Nadri chandelier earrings, a Stella & Dot gold lacy cuff and a charcoal grey minaudière from Lord & Taylor.

A-Line and Trapeze Dresses

formal looks

The next silhouettes that look natural with formal flats are the a-line and the trapeze shape.  It’s hard to say exactly why this proportion works, but my guess is it is the fuller shape that falls from right below the ribcage.  These shapes often work just as well with heels, yet, for people who are looking to create formal looks with flats, these shapes work equally well.

A few things to be mindful of.  If you have very heavy legs, calves and/or ankles, be very careful about where the hem of these types of dresses hit on your legs.  By wearing them with flat shoes you run the risk of making your legs look heavier and you don’t want to indulge this effect by having the hem of these dresses land at the heaviest parts of your calves or thighs, especially when the skirt is so sweeping and full.  Trust me, even hemming a dress a half inch can make a world of difference.

I styled this bold L.K. Bennett a-line dress a pair of pink d’osay flats from Marc Fisher.  These flats aren’t exclusively for formal events, but they do work for dressier occasions when paired with this dress.  I finished the look with a Botkier clutch in black, a pair of Kenneth Jay Lane starburst earrings and a Lagos black caviar diamond rope bracelet.

The mini shift

formal looks

The last silhouette that lends itself beautifully to flats is the mini shift dress.  Think about the mod era and how often you would see this type of silhouette styled with flats.  It’s a great combination because you are essentially creating a rectangular shape with the dress that completely bypasses the waist.  With the skirt on the shorter side, proportionately, flatter shoes actually look more appropriate than heels.  You can also reference how well Lily Pulitzer shifts look with flats as an example too.  With a lot of leg showing, teetering around on heels may actually look a bit weird and, dare I say, tacky.

When showing this much leg it might be smart to consider also covering up another part of your body, like I did by choosing this dress from Ted Baker that is long sleeved.  You don’t have to look like a cloistered nun, but when you expose a lot of skin in one place covering up in another often creates more balance.

I styled the dress with another pair of formal flats, also from Ted Baker, added a pair of earrings from Swarovski and finished the look with a round minaudière from Halston Heritage.

Not wanting to wear heels with your formal looks doesn’t not have to be seen as some sort of punishment and you don’t have to sacrifice your style to do it.  Just seek out the right flats for your outfit and choose a silhouette that supports the look.

Shop for flats for your formal looks

Still looking for the right flats?  Check out these styles.