A solid pair of black flats — like white T-shirts, button-downs, and jeans — is a wardrobe essential, a true workhorse you can slip into for a 7 a.m. coffee run, then wear to a 9 a.m. meeting, then to grab a quick lunch with your work friend, then to grab dinner with your real friends, then maybe even to go out dancing, if you’re so inclined. But, like all basics, there are tons of options out there. Given how much wear you get out of them, a pair of black flats might seem like a justifiable splurge. But readers have asked (and we’ve wondered ourselves) whether more affordable options — that look just as good and hold up for just as long as more expensive pairs — are out there. Being the Strategist, we took it upon ourselves to find out, asking 12 stylish women in all different fields for recommendations on the best pairs of black flats under $200. Read on for all their picks, which include classic ballerina flats, charmingly bookish loafers, flats with just the tiniest heel, and one pair that you can even fold up and throw in your tote — and each pair costs less than $200.
Best overall under-$200 black flats
The start-up shoe brand Margaux has been around since 2015, and we first covered it last year, when it opened a brick-and-mortar store on Bleecker Street. Recently, the brand came back on our radar when comedian Jacqueline Novak raved about its block heels when telling us about the things she can’t live without. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise when many of the cool women we spoke to for this story told us that Margaux topped their lists when it came to affordable black flats. “Margaux’s black flats are a staple that take me from parent-teacher conferences to dinner parties with friends to office meetings,” says Luisana Mendoza de Roccia, a co-founder of Maisonette. De Roccia told us that she’ll wear these flats with anything and that what she likes best is there’s no breaking-in process — they’re comfortable enough from the start. “These are truly made-to-measure, eliminating all those stops for Band-Aids and the need to carry around spare shoes,” she says. “And you cannot beat the price.” Hill House Home founder Nell Diamond is a fan, too, and says she loves the brand’s “simple, chic ballerina shape.” Like de Roccia, Diamond says these work with any outfit and that they’re her go-to for getting to work. “I wear these as my ‘commuter shoe,’ as I’m a heels girl once I’m in the office,” she says. “I find these work with any outfit and are comfortable enough to walk in.”
Best black loafers under $200
“Loafers aren’t going anywhere; if anything, they’re more prominent than ever,” says stylist Jasmine Caccamo. For a timeless (and Gucci-inspired) take on the shoe, Caccamo suggests Sam Edelman’s horsebit loafers, which she calls a “staple” and also an ideal shoe for days when you’re “running around the city or after your kids.” The shoes are comfortable enough that “your feet won’t be screaming,” according to Caccamo, who says she’d style them with skinny or cropped straight-leg jeans and a leopard-print sweater for the fall.
For an unadorned but still preppy take on the style, try this pick from Lisa Bühler, founder of e-commerce site Lisa Says Gah. “I’m into all the loafers at the moment,” she says, but this Madewell pair is her favorite at the under-$200 price point. “I like the classic body and toe shape of this style,” Bühler adds. “It could be from the ’90s or today and will look relevant for years to come.” Although the style is timeless, Bühler says, the way she’s styling them these days is with some “cute sparkly socks.” If you need some sock inspiration, might we suggest checking out our roundup of the best fashion tube socks, most of which would look great peeking out from a pair of loafers.
If you’d prefer your classic loafers come from a classic brand, take a note from Biz Lindsay, the director of brand marketing and communications at Harry’s Razors. When we asked about her favorite black flats, she told us, “Hands down, Bass Weejuns.” They’re Lindsay’s go-to for pairing with jeans, dresses, skirts, and shorts. And where does she wear them? “On walks, to work, on flights, and to dinners. In the fall, in the snow, with socks, and without,” she says. “Obviously, I’m a fan.”
Shoppers who make sustainability a priority should consider these Poppy Barley loafers, recommended by Alyssa Lau, the founder of online retailer New Classics Studios. The luxury footwear company is based near where she lives in Alberta, Canada, and its “products are ethically crafted in family-owned factories in Mexico and Brazil,” she says. “All their shoes are comfortable, timelessly designed, and made to last.” Lau also notes that the brand provides extended shoe sizes and widths in most of its popular styles.
Best Oxford-style black flats under $200
“People literally stop me on the street at least twice a week to ask about these flats I got at Zara last year,” says Maayan Zilberman, founder of confectionery company Sweet Saba. She adds that the flats she wears most often are almost always ones like this, which she picks up at stores like Zara and Forever21 when she is desperate for affordable, comfortable shoes. “Funny thing is, I have a lot of nice shoes from collecting over the years, but the ones I end up wearing all the time are black flats that I get in fashion emergencies when I can’t walk one more block in my heels,” she explains. Because Zara’s inventory is ever-changing, her fringe-adorned Oxfords are no longer available, but this pair is a close approximation.
Best black ballet flats under $200
For Elaine Sciolino, a contributing writer, the former Paris bureau chief for the New York Times, and the author of the forthcoming book The Seine: The River That Made Paris, the best black flats are ballet style, a classic French look. “Ever since Repetto designed ballet flats for the dancer turned sex goddess–actress Brigitte Bardot in the 1950s, French women have gotten away with wearing flats to even the most sophisticated soirées in Paris,” she says. An injury to her hamstring led the author to abandon high heels for “about a dozen pairs of flat shoes,” her favorite of which are the Gentle Souls Bay Unique Ballet Flat by Kenneth Cole, which come in black leather and suede. “Thick elastic straps keep the shoe in place, and the rubber grips of the soles make it impossible to slip on Paris’s slippery sidewalks and cobblestones,” Sciolino says. “The pillowed insole feature means that I can walk for miles in complete comfort. And the zipper at the back makes the shoe cool-looking, so even my daughters approve.” And although Sciolino admits the price is more than she likes to pay for flats, this pair is “a winner.”