And it's not just a problem for women. A popular look for men these days is shoes with a thin, pointy toe, which can pinch and cram the toes together and may not provide arch support, possibly leading to problems such as joint and back pain. Unfortunately, your comfort may be of little importance to the director—or at least less importance than the look of the character.
If your shoes were not specifically selected by the costume designer, you may have the option of choosing a more comfortable pair. The key is to find a balance between something that's character-appropriate and something that provides comfort and support. For women, the American Podiatric Medical Association recommends a shoe with a lower heel. Many manufacturers sell shoes called "walking" or "performance" pumps, which incorporate some padding and support in the heel. Depending on your character's style, however, some of these may not be appropriate, as they can resemble clogs.
A well-reviewed alternative is the Cole Haan line of shoes with Nike Air technology (available for both men and women). According to Travel & Leisure magazine, they have a pouch of air beneath the lining, just like Nike's athletic shoes, and they come in a variety of fashionable styles, from heels to flats. A less pricey alternative for women may be a platform shoe by Colin Stuart for Victoria's Secret, which, according to MSNBC, is "the most brilliant buy in a comfy heel." In general, when looking for a comfortable heel, the APMA says you should look for padded "athletic shoe–derived" construction, reinforced heels, and wider toe space.
The APMA also recommends limiting the amount of time you spend in high heels, alternating them with tennis shoes or flats throughout the day. For actors, this means your time offstage or off-camera should be break time for your tootsies. Try keeping a pair of cushioned slip-on tennis shoes nearby, so you can quickly change into them.
For men, finding a comfortable shoe that provides adequate support may be a bit easier, but it can still be a challenge. The APMA says it's important for men to wear shoes that match their activity. For actors, of course, this may not be possible. It's unlikely your everyday black dress shoes will fit every occasion, but if you're looking for a pair for a role, cushioned soles with optimal support are best for your feet and your back, especially if you'll be on your feet all day. Even if you're wearing your comfy athletic shoes for a role, they'll inevitably start to cause problems as time goes by. Even sturdy running shoes don't last forever; the general rule is to replace them after 300 to 500 miles.
If you don't have the luxury of choosing your own shoes for a role, consider asking your doctor about wearing orthotic inserts. For women who must wear heels, inserts may not be an option—it depends on the style of the shoe. But there are alternatives such as Foot Petals, which offers cushions, insertable arch supports, even padded strips to protect your feet from the friction caused by heel straps.
The old adage that "beauty hurts" doesn't have to be true. And when it comes to your feet, beauty shouldn't hurt at all—or at least as little as possible. Uncomfortable footwear can harm not only your health and your appearance, but your performance and even your safety. The last thing you want is to break a leg—literally—when a different pair of shoes could have prevented it.