As the old adage goes, if the shoe fits, wear it. Even though that idiom isn’t really about footwear, it begs the question: is shoe fit really that straightforward?
When buying items for your wardrobe, it’s not usually the case that your purchase will cause you physical pain; nor is it likely that you wouldn’t know how well your item fits until weeks or months after you start wearing it. However, both of these things can happen when you buy a pair of dress shoes. You’ll know if a shirt is too tight or if a suit jacket is too short almost immediately. But you may not be sure that you’ll be able to wear your shoes comfortably until they break in, after which you can no longer return them. To avoid mishaps and wasted money, it’s best to do things right at the beginning of the process by learning how to get the best shoe fit.
1. Get Professionally Sized
The first recommendation to get properly fitting dress shoes is to go to a shoe store and have your feet professionally measured. Some online stores will enable you to print out a paper template to measure your feet at home, but the accuracy can be iffy depending on whether you’ve printed it right, and sometimes you need to tape two sheets of paper together.
Better to go to a reliable men’s shoe seller and get sized there with the equivalent of a Brannock device, named for Charles Brannock of Syracuse, NY, who invented it during the early 20th century. It measures foot length and width as well as arch length, which is the distance between the heel and the ball of your foot. Even if you know your size, your feet actually can change shape and size over time, with feet generally getting bigger as you age. So, it never hurts to verify your size once in a while. Even more important is verifying that your arch length is appropriate to your shoe size.
Since shoes flex at the ball of your foot, this dimension is critical for comfort. It’s possible for two different people to have feet with the same total length but different distances between their heels and the balls of their feet, depending on whether their toes are longer. Professional sizing will determine this.
2. Listen to Expert Advice
Guys can be stubborn. It’s why we don’t ask for directions even when we’re lost and why we obstinately insist we know what size we wear even when measurements say otherwise. In reality, the number stamped on the shoe means less than how it actually fits on your foot. If the expert staff at a shoe store tell you that you’re a size 9 rather than a 9.5 like you thought there’s no reason not to heed their wisdom, right?
3. Try Shoes on in the Afternoon
Feet not only change over the long term but also fluctuate in size each day. After you’ve stood and walked on them for hours, they’re at their biggest, so it’s best to get measured and try shoes on in the late afternoon. If the shoe fits then when your feet are at their maximum size, they’ll definitely fit when your feet are at their smallest in the morning.
4. Size for Your Bigger Foot
One of the revelations of an interest in menswear is that your body is not totally symmetrical. Your right shoulder may be slightly lower than your left or your left arm slightly longer than your right, something you accommodate when you get your shirts made or your jacket sleeves adjusted. Similarly, 60% of people have one foot larger than the other, usually the left one. If this is up to a half size difference, you’re better served by buying a larger size rather than cramping your bigger foot. If the difference is larger, you may be forced to buy two pairs of shoes or go bespoke.
5. Learn What Sort of Last Fits You Best
As explained in our article on
Based on knowing the shape of your own feet, choose those lasts that are most accommodating. If you know you have broad feet, for example, avoid choosing shoe styles based on narrow lasts. Even if you like the way they look. you’ll pay for it in terms of discomfort.
6. Pay Attention to the Width Alphabet
Take note of which brands have shoes in various widths if your feet are wider or narrower than average. In men’s dress shoes, the letter D indicates an average width. Wider feet are indicated by E, EE or EEE lettering. Conversely, C, B, and A indicate narrow to extra narrow sizing. If you’re new to buying dress shoes, you may just buy based on your size number and ignore the width options, but once you get your width (again, by being professionally measured), you should use your width letter too. Unfortunately, many brands will stock shoes in only a limited range, perhaps C, D and E, if you are lucky since they need to target the majority of buyers. If you fall outside the range look for another brand.
7. Realize that Sizing isn’t Consistent Among Brands.
As Sven Raphael Schneider has previously pointed out, the width alphabet offered by brands may or may not be standardized; this is true of shoe sizing in general. Men’s dress shoes are subject to the same inconsistency even though shoe sizes are supposed to match particular measurements. For example, if your foot measures 10 inches, it’s supposed to fit well into a size 8. However, you probably have had the experience where a 10 from SuitSupply isn’t the same length as a 10 from Meermin or another company. While
So what do you do? The solution is to try the sizing from companies you are interested in and determine how they fit you in a way that avoids unnecessary expense. Either do this in person if they have a physical location or make use of a good exchange or return policy. This can be particularly tricky if you are ordering overseas, as you will lose a decent amount of money mailing shoes back internationally: shoes weigh a lot, which means higher postage. Ace Marks is a high-quality, afforable Italian brand that offers free shipping and returns to the United States, so they’re a great option. The good thing is that once you determine
International orders pose another issue with getting a proper fit because of the conversion from one country’s sizing system to another’s. A European or Italian 43 could convert to a US 10, or it could be a half size different. For instance, the usual conversion between British and North American shoe sizes is to add one size, so a British 9.5 is an American 10.5, but this can also vary by a half size. As an example, a Crockett & Jones size 10 is not equal to a US 11 but to a 10.5. Rather than relying on pure trial and error (and wasted shipping), you can either try the shoes on directly or contact the shoemaker to ask them for the correct conversion. Of course, this may also be provided on the company’s own website, so read carefully before ordering. The ideal approach is an in-person sizing, perhaps as part of a sartorial vacation. That way, you will be completely sure and get the full sizing experience of tip #1.
8. Buy the Best Quality You Can Afford
As a rule, more expensive shoes will fit better due to the higher quality materials and designs. Those that are mass produced or cheaper will experience manufacturing variations even within the same size. More expensive brands will have better quality control and therefore more consistent sizing. One example is the Spanish brand Meermin, which though inexpensive ($195+), is notorious for being made of
9. Consider the Type of Shoe
As a general rule, you’ll need to size down when wearing loafers as opposed to oxfords and derby shoes because loafers are thinner and fit more closely to your foot. The absence of laces also means that you are dependent on a close fit to keep them from falling off. An additional factor is
Lastly, if you have wide feet or a high arch, derby shoes may be a better option for you than oxfords because derbies have an open lacing system. The closed lacing of oxfords means the top of your foot is more constricted. A sure sign that a derby may be a better shoe for you is if the leather at the top of your oxfords spreads open even when they’re laced up.
10. Make Sure New Shoes “Hug” Your Feet
Staff at Crockett & Jones inform me that men frequently buy shoes that are too loose for them because they initially feel spacious and comfortable when they first put them on while a properly fitting shoe will be snug (but not tight). When you try them on in the store, they can feel like they’re too small in comparison to shoes you own that have already been well broken in, but this is a mistaken impression. The fact is that new shoes will stretch: they’ll get softer and more supple, as well as slightly larger, with use. If they’re already big to begin with, they will get too loose in a month when you’ve worn them for a while. Professionals refer to the proper fit of a new shoe as feeling like your foot is being hugged; it shouldn’t pinch or hurt, especially at the toes, but it should not feel roomy either. Again, it’s worth listening to the advice of staff.
11. Don’t Rely on Shoe Stretching
On the other hand, avoid the opposite mistake of buying shoes that are too tight just because you like them or they’re a steal, with the expectation that you’ll be able to stretch them out. The fact is if they hurt at the start, it’s not likely they’ll ever be truly comfortable when you break them in. Sure, you can get a shoe stretching contraption on Amazon that looks like a medieval torture device, with a large adjustable screw mechanism and various attachments. You can also bring tight shoes to a cobbler for stretching, and they will use a similar machine and put them on it for a week. Another DIY trick is walking around in the shoes while wearing two pairs (or a thick pair) of socks. All of these have limited results–they may help to speed up the breaking-in period of a shoe that already fits, but they’re just desperate measures for a pair that is too tight. There is a very small gain in size possible with stretching, and it’ll ultimately be a waste of time, money and effort. There really is no substitute for proper fit from the start.
12. Try Shoes on for a Decent Length of Time
A lot of times people will try shoes on for just a few minutes before purchasing them. It’s hard to get a true sense of fit in such a short time, so keep them on for as long as you can manage in the store. A brand with good customer service will allow and even encourage you to do so whereas a big brand in a mall will likely want you to take the shoes off and get out. So, you need to schedule the proper time and find an appropriate boutique to do this. Granted, you’ll still be walking on soft carpets and not running for the subway on hard pavement, but this is usually enough to feel the fit. If you order online, do the same in your house, but be careful not to scuff the bottoms. Stick to carpets or slip a gym sock or overshoe on the outside while you’re walking around.
Our feet spend most of every day in shoes, and many of us walk around for hours in them, so it’s paramount to get the best fit you can. Life is too short to suffer unnecessarily for something that can be solved by applying any of these twelve tips. The advice here addresses men’s dress shoes, but most are relevant to casual shoes and women’s shoes as well. Each foot is different, but these tips will help you find the most comfort you can while wearing leather footwear. What other tips do you have for getting a good fit? Share them in the comments below.
If the shoe fits, wear it.