[This is a guest post by the awesome CiCi Marie, whose blog you can visit here: be sure to take a look, and admire her amazing, vintage-inspired style!]
I hate shoe shopping. Or, if I’m being more specific, I hate shoe shopping for me – which is rather inconvenient, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
It all began with early trips to get school shoes, which would always be from Clarks as they offered a fitting service and different width sizes for children. I should have known then that this fairly regular experience would prelude the pattern of frustration and feet-loathing that would follow in the years to come… Because even with different width fittings and half sizes each one of these trips took what felt like hours (ok, I was a child, it was probably 30 minutes) and I’d have tried on every pair in the shop by the end (that one actually isn’t an exaggeration). And I’d still never get the butterfly/heart/hidden-key-in-the-sole/light-up heel encrusted shoes of my dreams because they just wouldn’t fit. I’d leave with whichever pair my feet didn’t slip right out of at the first step and 9/10 times they ere were, to my even then appearance-obsessed little girl’s mind, the Ugliest Shoes in the Shop. Many tantrums ensued.
Two decades later, not much has changed (especially the tantrums). But actually, it’s even worse – because not only do I still have awkward, slimmer-than-average feet, they helpfully wound up as a half size. You see, I’m a 4.5… otherwise known as The Shoe-Size That UK Retailers Forgot. And when you’re an adult and you have difficult, narrow and between sizes feet, you’ll soon realise you’re doomed because in the UK most shops only sell ‘whole’ sizes (and sometimes 6.5s… I’ve never understood why the 6.5ers got so lucky).
And that trick where you go up if you’re in between sizes? When I go up a size, my feet rattle around in the shoe before coming to settle in all that lovely excess space they don’t need – approximately sideways. That’s if I haven’t walked out of them at the first step. Even with a strap, with that much space in a shoe I’ll acquire all manner of blisters from their scrabbling about inside it, desperately trying to stay in.
Of course, when you have such difficult feet to buy for and your life is a constant battle to get your feet to remain inside your shoes (first world problems), it makes perfect sense that your favourite styles are the simple but oh-so-strapless court shoes and ballet bump. You could say I’ve brought the shoe-shopping nightmare on myself… But, in my defence, I’m only 5ft 2” and am always trying to avoid Stumpy Leg Syndrome, especially when teamed with a mid-length skirt, which of course I’ve also got a penchant for as I love 50s style – along with punishing myself, apparently.
I’ve therefore made it my life’s mission (well, I had no better ideas) to try to find shoes that are slip-on rather than just slip-off. Years of research – painstaking (from the blisters) and expensive (from buying shoes I can’t actually wear) – has gone into trying to find a way to shod my awkward feet. While I still don’t think I’ve got the perfect answer, I do have some tips I’ve picked up along the way that might help other poor soles (pun most definitely intended) like me, when buying styles for difficult feet.
Order from overseas
Oh, it’s SO tempting. Every shop’s catalogue is online and the endless choice of size is right there, rubbing it in, no matter where you are in the world. But think about it sensibly – take a pretty reliable retailer like Clarks, for example. I’ve got shoes in sizes 4, 4.5 and 5 from them from the same season. No matter how well you think you’ve translated your shoe size to e.g. US women’s, you don’t know what that exact shoe actually fits like. You can read as many reviews as you like and you won’t be any closer – I’ve seen the same pair of shoes be reviewed as grossly large and small. The bottom line is that if you’ve got awkward feet your margin of error is too large to risk the extortionate return P&P – you can end up spending more than the shoes are worth just to send them back. How do I know? About a month ago I ordered boots from the US after thinking I worked out my size, ordering half a size up in case I was wrong as they were adjustable, reading reviews that confirmed my findings… Inevitably they’re at least half a size too small. Take it from someone who learned the hard way!
Size down too far on length
Here’s the facts: you can stretch a shoe’s depth and width. You can’t stretch its length. If your toe is right at the end of the shoe and it’s a bit uncomfortable in the shop, outside it will cripple you in under five minutes of actual walking, as opposed to the awkward strutting 10 steps in the shop you’ve just done. Ask someone else (a shop assistant, even, if you’re in a shoe-shop) to work out if your toe is right at the end and that’s what you can feel trying it on – sometimes it will be the depth not the length that’s the problem, and the depth can stretch although it takes some pain and solid breaking in.
Buy shoes without laces online
Really, buying shoes at all online that aren’t boots (preferably lace-up or adjustable somehow) or trainers, for the awkward-footed amongst us, is A Risk. The likelihood of said shoes being comfortable is small. Even if it’s got straps to hold your feet in, if the shoes are still too wide anyway, they won’t be comfy as you’ll just get blisters from how much your feet move around. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get something even nicer and more permanent, like corns (ouch). Not to mention that shoes that are too wide for your feet can make them look the size of boats. By all means, find styles you like online – but then go and try them in the store… More to come on this below!
Stick to the golden triangle of highstreet shoe retailers (UK)
Not to tar all shops with the same brush, there are some out there that cater for the half-sized foot. So if that’s your problem and you’re finding it difficult to keep ‘whole’ size court shoes and the likes on, sticking to one of these would be wise.
1. Clarks: the best all-rounder with the biggest spectrum of sizes, from the tiny to the not-so-tiny. Half sizes abound and you can get anything, from office shoes to party types to boots. They’ve hugely upped their game in the last few years and every season has some truly unique styles that are typically both comfy and stylish – that rare combination. My favourite UK shoe retailer by far, there are definitely several styles for the slim, half-sized foot to enjoy. Not badly priced for the great quality you get.
2. Marks & Spencer: another shop that offers a good variety of styles, they come second to Clarks for two main reasons – the quality is not as good as Clarks and the range not as big. However, where they do slightly better than Clarks is for stilettos and high heels – Clarks tend to play it safe with more chunky, mid-height heels (although have been doing better for higher heels lately), and Marks have always had the odd killer heel in amongst the ‘safer’ styles. I’ve got two pairs of stiletto-heeled court shoes that fit wonderfully from Marks, and for that reason alone they take second place.
3. Next: really, Next are only good for rather plain, office-type shoes and the odd ballet pump. And that’s because not every shoe is available in half sizes – I’d say it’s probably around 1/3 of their range. And that 1/3 is not the exciting, sparkly stuff, usually. Their shoes are typically well-made but not hugely well-padded, but you might find some slightly ‘sexier’ court shoes here than Clarks offer.
Make the most of free collect from store options
Clarks, to gush about them again, have a brilliant store delivery option where you don’t pay for the shoes when you order them – you just get them sent to store to then try them and buy if they fit. This has been brilliant for me where such precise sizing matters – I order the same shoe in 2 or 3 sizes, pop into store when they’re ready and buy them if they’re right for me. I often find that Clarks, while usually good, tend not to have complete stock of all sizes in a shoe, so this is a great way to make sure that any you’ve got your eye on are there to try properly when you’re able to.
Invest in half insoles
Half insoles are your best friend if you’ve got half-sized feet, but also if you’ve got slim heels. If you don’t already know, essentially what they do is push your foot up and into the back of the shoe where your heel is still flat, whereas whole insoles push all of your foot up, so it’s likely to still slide forwards if you’ve got a bit of extra space. I pretty much have a pair of half insoles in every pair of my shoes as my feet are so slim – they’re worth their weight in gold. I find the foam ones better than the leather for the pure reason that in tights my feet don’t slip on them.
Cut up heel liners
If your heel is sliding out of your shoe, you’d probably think about getting a pair of heel liners/grips. Leather heel liners are brilliant – I’ve never thought much of the gel ones as they seem to always peel off, but for some reason the leather ones stay on. However, I’ve always found the design really unhelpful – the ‘ridge’ halfway up only serves to push my heel forward. One day, it occurred to me that if the bump was only sitting at the top of the liner, it might help to keep my heel in. So, I cut a pair of liners horizontally along the top of the ridge and stuck what was essentially half an insert into my shoe. And voila, it really seemed to help this way! Just make sure you cut them while the paper backing is still on as those things are super sticky.
Down-size in sandals and peep-toes
This might be obvious, but in case it isn’t, I’ve always found that having a half-sized foot I can get away with pretty much buying all of my open-toe and even peep-toe (if the ‘peep’ is big enough) by rounding down to the nearest whole size. Thus, if I buy my 4.5 sized feet size 4 sandals, the fit tends to be spot on. If you’ve got half-sized but average-width sized feet, if you go for leather sandals they should stretch enough to still make this approach worthwhile.
Go for patent over plain leather and suede
There’s something I’ve found time and again with patent shoes – the material is that much more rigid that 1) they don’t stretch as much as leather or suede and 2) the patent version of the same style of shoes will fit often my slim feet better. I’ve put this to the test many times when I’ve found a shoe I like that’s available in different materials and it always seems to be proven true. Hence I now have three pairs of court shoes with a patent finish and none of them have stretched that much so they still stay on my feet. This theory will probably also apply to leather vs pleather – leather will always stretch and can make the difference between too big and just right for shoes.
Buy things that fit in other colours when available
Again, this seems an obvious point, but I have to continuously remind myself to do it. It just doesn’t seem that much fun buying the same pair of shoes in different colours, but here’s the thing: if you like them and they fit, seize the opportunity to further expand your shoe collection while it exists. It could be months, years, before another pair you like comes along that fits as well. Don’t get shoe regret!
Wear thick tights
Your average denier nylon tights are a real pain if your feet have a tendency to slide out of shoes – they only make them more slippery! My secret weapon in the winter for wearing court shoes and ballet pumps are fleece-lined tights. They don’t look that much different to opaques but they’ve got a thick, sock-like lining on the inside which helps my feet to pad out shoes. This year, many shops from Primark to Marks & Spencers are selling them in the UK.
So there you have it, my shoe story and tips for shopping for the awkward foot!
ABOUT CICI MARIE:
CiCi is a style blogger who primarily writes about vintage-inspired fashion over on her blog CiCi Marie.
Hello Amber and Cici-Marie,
Thank you for these nice pieces of advice. I have also difficulties finding right shoes since my feet are 35.5 (left) 36.5 (right). Nice, isn’t it? Thus, I like straps. Especially Mary-Jane and Salomé (not sure of the name in english).
But in fact I love pumps. In summer, without tights, it’s ok. The skin is anti-slippery. But in winter, I have to double think in the morning about my outfit. And since I use a scooter, every week there is a cinderella episode: one pump slips off my foot (left, of course) and people smile.
Like Cici Marie I often use insoles or heel liners but I would really like to see a picture of your customised heel liners because like you I think they are badly designed to fit properly at the heel of the shoe. But maybe such a prosaic picture would not be nice enough on your very lovely blogs. By the way, I really enjoy discovering yours also, Cici Marie. You have a very inspiring style!
Hi Annabelle, thanks for your kind comments 🙂 the heel liner – yes, not the prettiest picture 😉 essentially, on your average Scholl leather heel liner, there’s a ridge running through the centre horizontally that sticks out. I’ve found it more useful to cut the liner essentially *almost* in half, but making sure I don’t cut the ridge in half, but instead cut along the top of it. So what you end up with is about 2/3 of the original liner, where the top now starts with the beginning of the ridge. Much better for closing the gap you can get at the back of your heels. Hope that helps? And I feel your pain about different sized feet – I didn’t mention it but one of my feet is more of a 4 than a 4.5. Nightmare! CC x
Dear Cici Marie,
I never bought Scholl heel liners. Maybe the explanation you gave me will be very clear when I get to see them. Sometimes my english is not good enough to draw a clear picture in my mind evenif your explanation was full of details. I will carefully look at the ridge before trying too cut and adjust them.
Thank you so much, I hate loosing my shoes while scooting along the streets! By the way, your pair of simple black peep toe pumps is gorgeous!!!
Cici Marie & Amber, this is a great, wonderfully helpful post!
My fit issue is that my feet are a half size different from each other [left 39, right 38.5], so my smaller foot is forever falling out of shoes. I love the idea of the half insole! I don’t think I’ve seen one before; may I ask where you get yours? Also, like Annabelle, I would love to see a picture of how you alter your heel liners. I think I get it by the description, but I am usually a visual person.
Again, great post!
Half insoles are easily found – most shoe shops will probably have them and the likes of Clarks definitely do. However, if I can’t get my hands on a half insole, I buy a whole one (from a pharmacy) and cut it, at around where the ball of my foot starts under my toes. Foam insoles are very easy to cut and most come in one size and they encourage you to cut them to the right shape! Perhaps I need to do a second post on the heel liner specifically! CC x
Thank you Cici Marie! 🙂
I have very narrow feet also, but mine are flat too. I still remember all the shoes I didn’t get to wear as a kid because my feet slid out. Heel liners and insoles help some but no always. I do find that I have more luck with better made shoes. Unfortunately that means that they cost a lot more.
I know what you mean – the more expensive the shoe the better they tend to fit me too. Not to mention the support… It always feels very unfair that as well as having difficult feet you have to spend a fortune to dress them!
Aw, so nice to see a guest post from CC! And very well written too, with lots of helpful advice. I can’t say M&S or Next are in my golden triangle, their shoes tend to cripple me! Apart from a pair of M&S vintage wedges, when they must have had completely different sized and shaped shoe templates. These days it’s mainly Clarks for me, plus Bertie is good, Dune for sandals (their closed-toe shoes are too small for me), J Shoes for boots.
M&S and Next have some comfort fails for sure!! But for my feet now and then I’ll find a winner. Bertie and Dune I haven’t had any joy with – Dune I find comes up exceptionally wide – but perhaps that’s because I only look at sale stuff of theirs 😉 x
Clarks and Pavers all the way. I’ll only buy from the high street like New Look or DP if they are chunky platform boots which support my feet. Otherwise, all other shoes go over to the granny brigade shops where I desperately seek to find nice shoes. Having wide feet and bunions is no joke
I think people with ‘average’ sized feet have no idea how much of a pain shoe shopping can be for those of us trying to accommodate particular feet issues!!
came here from Cici’s blog…, This advice is great! I think I only recently discovered – or maybe actually only recently dared to face the facts- that I have awkward feet and am probably a half size, too. hence, I have like a thousand pairs of shoes that don’t fit right and are just sitting pretty in my closet. these tips help tremendously. I might be able to save some of those shoes with inserts etc! thanks a bunch Cici 🙂 pinned for future reference! xxx
Aw, glad to help Angie 🙂 x
I loved this article! Being someone who has small feet I know all about shoe shopping woes. You had some great pointers. Thanks for sharing.
My pleasure – glad to help 🙂