THERE WAS A TIME when no self-respecting fashion editor would be caught dead in a pair of flats. But these days, the front row have their feet firmly on the ground, in glamorous loafers, dainty pointy-toed flats, bejeweled sneakers or luxe pool sliders. High fashion, it seems, no longer requires high heels.

The spring runways must have been a sight for sore feet: Flats were everywhere, from Balenciaga’s crisscross ballerina editions (£305, balenciaga.com ) to Chanel’s black and white ankle-strapped, cutout loafers (£740, chanel.com ) and Dolce & Gabbana’s ornate Mary Janes (£875, dolcegabbana.com ). Even Victoria Beckham—she of the skyscraper stilts—has not only embraced the grounded look on her runway with slick, mannish leopard flats, but also in her own wardrobe, stepping out in Saint Laurent lace-ups (£475, ysl.com ).

But these are no ordinary runabouts we’re dealing with here. This season’s flat is a seriously souped-up creature that has taken the heelless look into new, dressed-up and—dare we say it—sexy territory.

“I started doing flats because women would always apologize for wearing them when they met me, as if they had to be in heels when meeting a shoe designer,” recalls Edgardo Osorio, the founder and creative director of shoe label Aquazzura. “I wanted to create flats that are as chic as heels—flats you don’t have to apologize for. I design flats like I design heels: They must be seductive, beautiful and comfortable. I like statement flats that can take you from day to night,” he says, referring to his signature Belgravia and Christy styles that lace up the ankle.

Going flat for evening remains a dubious prospect for many women. But, Mr. Osorio says, it’s elegant and modern to wear flats with a cocktail or evening dress. “It gives the outfit an edge,” he says. Are they as flattering as high heels? “Not all, but some can be; that is why I do strappy, lace-up ones, which elongate the leg and have a seductive side. They need to be special and as interesting as a high heel.”

Natalie Kingham, the buying director at London-based luxury retailer Matches Fashion, has long favored brogues or leg-lengthening Stella McCartney flatforms. For spring, she recommends metallic or embellished styles for occasions, like Nicholas Kirkwood’s gold leather loafers that work day and night (£272, matchesfashion.com ).

ON POINT | Clockwise from top, Tabitha Simmons Vera flats, £402, matchesfashion.com; Jimmy Choo Gala flats with bow, £375, jimmychoo.com; Aquazzura Christy ballerinas, £363, farfetch.com; Rupert Sanderson Isolde pumps, £545, rupertsanderson.com; Nicholas Kirkwood pointed-toe flats, £295, net-a-porter.com; Miu Miu ballerinas, £565, mytheresa.com; Giorgio Armani pointed ballerinas, £411, farfetch.com

“It can be hard to pull off a classic cocktail dress with flats unless you’re tall, but there are so many exquisite ones available now that anything goes,” Ms. Kingham says, noting that customers have responded positively to fashion’s flats invasion. “Flats work well with modern tailoring looks and often feel much more contemporary than wearing a very high heel.”

So why have flats pushed heels off their pedestal? After years of dizzying heights, it seemed the only way for designers to go more extreme was to come down to earth. “It’s the Phoebe Philo effect,” says fashion blogger Susie Lau of influential blog Stylebubble, referring to Céline’s ponyskin skate shoes, snakeskin loafers and mink-lined sliders. “I think it’s also part of that breaking down of dress codes. Black tie has become a really fluid thing, similar to how sportswear has been taken from a gym context to day-to-day life.”

Read more: Flats Are Where It’s At

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