Hannah Rochell, also known as En Brogue, has a thing for flat shoes. Well, more than just a thing. As her 22k Instagram followers know, she has a vast collection of flat shoes, from rubber-soled hiking boots to box fresh kicks via classic brogues and slip-on loafers. If you loathe the discomfort of heels of any height, Hannah's treasure trove of flats is heaven.
Long before normcore ushered in a new era of footwear – remember when it was just commuters who wore trainers outside the gym? – Hannah worked in TV, later changing career paths to move into fashion journalism. "I was an intern at the ripe old age of 30!" she tells Refinery29. Her flat shoe niche came about organically, though. "I've never been a big fan of heels," she explains, "being a teenager during Britpop, the aesthetic was never really my thing."
Feeling the pressure to wear heels while working in fashion – "I had an awful time; I totally lost my style mojo and I spent a lot of time in pain" – Hannah eventually decided enough was enough and donated the heels she did own to charity. "It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! My wardrobe made sense again and I just felt more myself, physically. I can honestly say I’ve never been tempted to wear a pair of heels again (and yes, that includes to weddings)."
Comfort aside, what exactly is it that turns Hannah off heels? "For me, heels often embody a stereotypical image of what a woman 'should' look like and, much like corsets, feel quite outmoded in a modern age. That said, there are some women and men who love wearing heels, and who look and feel fabulous in them, which is brilliant. Each to their own! My main concern is that people have a choice as to whether or not they want to wear them, which, until very recently, I think many women didn’t feel they had in situations like offices and special occasions."
Hannah worked at The Times and then InStyle, and when the latter closed its doors in 2016, she made the leap into freelance life and to work on her blog, En Brogue, the idea for which came about in 2012 when she was posting photos of the shoes she wore to London Fashion Week. "At the time, flat shoe design was still not brilliant, so I wanted a place to share all the brands I had discovered through my blog that were doing it well. Also, as a writer, and a champion of comfort, I wanted to be able to talk about how the shoes feel as well as look, and a blog gave me a better opportunity to do so." The rest is history, thanks to a general move away from heels and the resulting surge of fantastic flat shoe brands.
Now with a huge following and a feed brimming with the most cult and coveted flat shoes out there, she's become the poster girl for cool, comfy footwear, championing unknown brands as well as the solid favourites. Every Thursday, she asks her followers to pick her footwear, showing each foot wearing a different style: "I get loads of people telling me to wear one of each, which I really must do one day." From the level of engagement she receives, it's clear she's tapped into what a lot of women want.
Would asking her to choose her top three shoes be like asking a mother to choose her favourite child? Maybe, but we do it anyway. "That is so hard! And will probably change if you ask me again next week. I definitely couldn’t live without a pair of Birkenstock Arizonas – they last forever and just look great with everything. I’m struggling to choose between my black ones and my white ones though."
"My first pair of Grenson brogue boots have to be up there, because I got them around the same time as I started the blog and they were key to me re-finding my personal style (and started a love affair with the brand that culminated in me naming my dog Grenson). And as we’re talking all-time favourites, I’m going to have to include my first pair of adidas, which I bought in 1996. They were canvas Superstars with a gum shell toe and I loved them so much I slept with them next to my pillow so they would be the first thing I saw when I woke up. I still have them, even though the soles have hardened and they are completely unwearable!"
Ahead, Hannah tells us the five flat shoe trends she predicts will rule this year. Here's to comfort without sacrificing style.
"This trend is going nowhere. I’ve had sneak peaks of new season collections from a few of my favourite brands and some, such as Grenson and Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, even have hiking boots in their summer collections! So if you invested in a pair this winter they will still be going strong for a while yet."
"Another one that’s still as popular as ever, but the exciting thing is that the fabrics are improving from the basic rubber that sometimes can blister your feet in hot weather. I’ve just taken delivery of a pair with super lightweight soles and uppers made from fly knit, for example."
Sandals with Trimmings
"This could be fringing, rope or feathers, but busy sandals are definitely a thing! Look for chunkier styles as they can take the extra details better than a delicate pair of sandals."
"These were seen on the catwalks for 2019 and haven’t really left stores since the early '00s, but I would approach this trend with caution! Most ballet pumps are too flat to offer your feet proper support so don’t wear them to walk long distances and don’t wear them too often."
"Another one that’s been hanging around for a few years but was big news on the summer catwalks. Don’t worry if you don’t want to fork out for a designer pair – Tevas always look great and high street stores like Charles & Keith have some dead ringers for the real thing, too."