It’s been a long time since I’ve worn a shoe that attracted quite as many comments as my new mesh flats. Not all were complimentary.
“What are those shoes?” asked my eight-year-old daughter, with an expression that managed to convey both disgust and deep embarrassment that I would wear these decidedly non-Mum shoes to school pickup. “They’re definitely a fashion shoe,” offered another mum, valiantly.
In fact, these mesh ballet flats – an update on the traditional ballet flat, with a transparent mesh material on the upper – are very fashion, having been declared the shoe of the (northern) summer. Waitlists persist for even the most stratospherically expensive versions.
They generally come in nude, black or white; they’re often decorated with crystals or studs; and they reveal the entire foot in a slightly unsettling way, which explains my daughter’s discomfort.
To be honest, I wasn’t that enamoured initially, either. I’ve never been a fan of ballet flats and have distinct early Aughts memories of my one and only pair becoming shredded after three weeks of wear. But in the interests of journalistic integrity, I felt I should try mesh flats before commenting on them. Also, I’m still a complete sucker for a new trend.
US label Khaite was one of the first to debut a mesh ballet flat (you can still get the crystal embellished version here, but sizes are limited), followed by Alaïa, the Row and Christopher Esber. My Alias Mae Pia flats, pictured, were much more affordable and bear more than a passing resemblance to the Alaïa version, but they are mainly plastic.
“I’m on the waiting list for Khaite and Alaïa, but I’m contemplating whether I can actually go there,” says Anastasia Tushuizen, founder of couture bridal company Carte Blanche Bridal and an avowed fan of ballet flats who was one of several women who emailed us about the trend. “That said, I really love them because they feel very new, in a material that feels quite futuristic but is also very breathable.”
I can confirm that they are very breathable, perhaps too breathable on a 12-degree day in Melbourne. These are definitely summer shoes. But they’re also surprisingly comfortable. The strap holds my foot in place nicely and they’re a refreshing change from my usual sneakers.
“The beauty of ballet flats generally is that they reveal the shape of a woman’s foot, which can be quite sensual and elegant,” says Anastasia. “They’re very versatile and, if you invest in a good quality version, they can last for years.”
Here’s our pick of the best mesh shoes – and some beautiful traditional ballet flats, too.
Below, our picks for the best traditional ballet flat…