As you’d probably expect for someone who writes about shoes for a living, I get a lot of questions every day about shoe sizing: how well do they fit, how does this brand compare to that one, how comfortable are they, etc. I always really struggle to answer those questions, and a couple of days ago I got to thinking about why that is. Here’s my answer:
The numbers above each shoe represents the UK size. As you can see, I’m a UK size Who-Knows. I’ve always considered myself to be a size 4, but while the 4s are in the majority here (and the Louboutins in the middle of the bottom row should really count as a 4 here too, because although I bought them in a 5, that was purely because it was the only size left, and they’re too big: the size 4 would’ve been perfect…) there are also a good number of size 5s and a smattering of 3s in there too. The other shoe shelves tell a similar story.
What this photo also proves is that you can’t necessarily judge by brand either: there are several pairs of New Look shoes on those shelves, some of which are size 4 and some of which are size 5. There are two pairs of shoes from Matalan – one is a 4, one is a 5. And the most comfortable pair out of all of them? The size 3 Prada peep toes, which fit as if they were made for me, and are super-comfortable to walk in. Go figure.
What we can conclude from this, then, is that shoe sizing is completely and utterly random. Has it always been like this? I’m not sure. It seems to me that a few years ago I used to be able to walk into almost any shoe store (or order online), pick up a pair of size 4s and know that they’d fit me. These days I could walk away in anything from a size 3 to a size 5, and it’s almost impossible to guess what the lucky number will be this time. Now, it could just be that my feet have changed, of course, and that’s very possible – feet do change through time, so perhaps that’s what’s going on with me. Or maybe shoe sizing really is that unpredictable: who knows?
What I do know, however, is this: you need to try before you buy. No one else can tell you how well a shoe will fit, or how comfortable it will be to wear. The latter point is particularly important, because comfort is such a subjective thing, and what I find relatively comfortable may leave you in agony. It all comes down to what you’re used to, and what shape your feet are. All size 4s, for instance, are not created equal. Some of us have wide feet and some have narrow ones. Some of us have bunions, or narrow toes, or low or high arches. Some of us live in flats, and some will have to have our 5″ stilettos prised off our cold, dead feet. In other words, you may wear the same shoe size as the woman next to you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can wear the same shoes, because what she finds comfortable may make you want to cut your feet off to end the torture.
And what if you can’t try before you buy? Obviously if you’re shopping online, you’re not going to be able to try the shoes on before handing over your cash, so all you can do is be careful to check the retailer’s return policy to make sure you’ll be able to return the shoes if they don’t fit. I’ve never ordered from any store that didn’t allow you to do this, and the UK’s distance selling regulations also offer some protection when you’re ordering something on the Internet. My experience is that most stores make it very easy (and often free) to return something if it doesn’t fit and exchange it for another size: sure, it can be a bit of a pain to have to return something, but at least it makes it possible to try the shoes on at home and decide whether or not they’ll work for you.
What’s everyone else’s experience of shoe sizing? Are you the same size in every store, or do you, like me, have lots of different numbers on the soles of your shoes?