The day-to-day minutiae of working in Congress has always been a bit of a mystery to the average American. What’s the schedule like? The hours? Is there good coffee? Back in June, ELLE.com asked Rep. Pramila Jayapal about the most unexpected thing she learned when she first came to work in D.C. in 2017, and her answer was also a bit surprising.
“I think it was how much walking I had to do,” she said. “I’m still struggling to find good shoes because we have to walk back and forth between our buildings for votes. I did not expect the exhaustion from a physical perspective of walking 12 to 14,000 steps and trying to do it, not in your tennis shoes, but in shoes that look good.”
It’s also a topic of conversation for women on the Hill, Jayapal said, as they try to suss out the best recommendations. So naturally, we needed to hear their expert advice. Below, ELLE.com checked in with seven congresswoman to learn which walking shoes help keep them on their toes—figuratively and literally.
Rubber Soles Are Key
“If anyone is interested in designing the least efficient work space possible, I suggest taking a look at where Congress works. My office is in one building, my committee hearings are in another, and the House floor is in the actual Capitol. I rarely use the tunnels between buildings; I get lost! I brave the D.C. weather, but that means dealing with wet marble and granite. It’s slippery, so rubber soles are key. I have five pairs of Tieks, these great ballet flats. They are comfortable, durable, and fold in half, so they are easy to squeeze in a briefcase. Plus, they come in lots of fabulous colors, which helps me have a little fun even with the Congressional dress code. Back in California, I do plenty of rapid switching between diverse events like solemn presentations of veterans medals, packing items at a food bank, walking my kids to school, massive grocery shops for my family. The Tieks are just right for every task.” —Rep. Katie Porter, California
Block It Out
“I love Rockport Total Motion, they’re super comfortable, and I usually wear a block heel. If I want to be a little more stylish, there’s a brand called Pas De Rouge. They’re a French company, the shoes are made in Italy, but they’re still pretty reasonably priced. I’ve got several of those. Once I find a shoe, I buy them in like, three different colors. It’s often easily 10,000 steps [a day in Congress] because you’re going back and forth between your office and then your hearing rooms, between the hearing rooms and the floor, between the floor and your office. It’s constant. Women are always talking about this; we’re always looking for good recommendations. Also bags, by the way. I started using this Lo & Sons bag—actually, AOC and I use the same brand—and I can’t believe how many women asked me about it and then ended up getting it.” —Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s different in the halls of Congress without visitors pouring in and votes taking longer. Back home in Michigan, I’m always looking for ways to get out into the community and talk to people safely. Over Labor Day weekend, I visited with some of Michigan’s incredible union members in Detroit, wearing one of my favorite pairs of New Balance sneakers. They’re comfortable for chatting with Michiganders or taking a walk through one of the parks or farmers’ markets in the district, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that New Balance is an American-made brand.” —Rep. Haley Stevens, Michigan
Keeping It Flat
“I have lots of pairs of beautiful heels from my time as a trial lawyer, but the marble floors around the Capitol are punishing. I lasted about one day wearing those heels here in Congress. I’ve opted for Anne Klein Sport Alexa and Ursula ballet flats. All told, I’ve bought seven pairs in five different colors. They’re little flats with rubber soles, which is so key for all of the up-and-down the stairs and back-and-forth to and from my office, committee hearings, and the House floor. Between all of that, my daily step count usually ends up somewhere around 10-15,000—but I’ve logged as many as 24,000.” —Rep. Jennifer Wexton, Virginia
Not Sorry for Sneakers
“People always ask: Was Congress what you expected it to be? And for the most part it is. But the piece that surprised me the most is how much walking we do when we’re on the Hill. Now that there are more women in Congress, the types of professional shoes that are considered ‘acceptable’ vary more and more. As an organizer knocking on doors and making phone calls, I lived in my tennis shoes, and that hasn’t changed much. I actually wear a pair of sneakers around quite a bit, and I’m not sorry for it. We have to walk quickly, and I can get to my work faster if my shoes are comfortable.” —Rep. Deb Haaland, New Mexico
“I have re-discovered the wedge heel—Cole Haan is my go-to when I’m in Washington. It’s infinitely more comfortable while walking the halls of the Capitol AND it doesn’t set off the alarm at airport security, which means I can keep them on.” —Rep. Lori Trahan, Massachusetts
When They Go Low, We Go High
“My colleagues are 100 percent right. There is an incredible amount of walking. Especially during the pandemic, you sometimes have 30 minutes to an hour to wait between votes because we’re doing it in cycles. So there’s even more walking back and forth from the floor to the office. But nothing will take me out of my high heels; generally I wear three-and-a-half to four-inch heels. I don’t buy shoes online unless it’s a brand I know and feels good. But for new brands, go to the store, try them on, walk around the carpeted area for several minutes. Make sure they don’t squeeze your toes or that they’re not too tight in the back of the heel. To be honest, I never understood just how hard the job is on your feet and how many steps you get in in a day. On an average day on Capitol Hill under normal circumstances, I generally get at least 10,000 steps.” —Rep. Veronica Escobar, Texas
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