Vanity sizing shoes

[Re: title; Of course I don’t believe shoes are being vanity sized; “vanity sizing” is the term consumers use to mean sizing evolution so I mean this in the latter context. See also, Sizing is a variety problem.]

Kate’s earlier comment gives me the perfect opportunity to bring up something that’s been on my mind:

As for shoes, I refuse to buy poorly-fitting shoes (I have a narrow foot) so when I get something I like I buy a couple of pairs so I can keep wearing them when the first one wears out. (And I alternate identical pairs so they will last longer.) Though a woman, I’ve worn the exact same style of shoes almost every day for the past five years.

This weekend, I spent some time chatting with a woman who buys lots of shoes. She says the size of her foot has remained static but that recently, she has to buy 20 pairs (over the web) just to find two pairs that fit.

Now it may just be me, but I am finding that a size 4 is no longer a size 4. Some of the size 4 shoes out there fit my sister’s size 5 feet. Not only that, I have shoes in a size 5 from years ago (I take good care of my shoes, have a great cobbler, and replace soles when needed) and they fit fine.

[She also mentioned that women are having foot surgery so they can wear the latest narrow profile shoes. And people thought foot binding was barbaric; have we failed to progress at all? ]

I hadn’t noticed a problem with shoe sizing until last year (I don’t buy many shoes) and I’ve been wearing an eight for the past thirty plus years. Those Keene’s I got last year were definitely running large. A pair of running shoes I bought were also a half size smaller than what I normally take.

The evolution in shoe sizing doesn’t surprise me much; I’ve expected as much. Twenty years ago, the average shoe size was a five or six. These days, it’s an eight or eight and a half. Normalizing to the population, it would only make sense that shoe sizes evolve to the median as have clothing sizes.

Anyone else notice a difference in shoe sizing?

Please refer to the other articles in this series which offer substantive supporting material. Add to the discussion rather than backtracking to topics discussed elsewhere. It is likely that the exceptions you’ve thought of have been dissected in depth. For your convenience, links open in a new window or tab.

The Myth of Vanity Sizing
Fit and Sizing Entropy
Push manufacturing; subverting the fit feedback loop
Sizing evolution
Shrinkage and fit
Alternatives in Women’s sizing
Tyranny of tiny sizes?
The history of women’s sizing pt 1
The history of women’s sizing pt 2
The history of women’s sizing pt 3
Sizing is a variety problem
The birth of size 10?
Vanity sizing shoes
Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2
Vanity sizing: generational edition
Vanity sizing: generational edition pt.2
Vanity sizing: the consumer spending edition

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23 Comments on "Vanity sizing shoes"

Ellen Sheets
2 months 7 days ago

As I grew up, I wore a 10 (max size at Payless). Then an 11 (again, the max size at Payless at that time).

I wore a womens’ 12 20 years ago, in Payless and expensive San Francisco $100/pair shoes.

I gained weight, the 12s became too small, and so I made shoes for myself.

I lost weight, my hand made shoes (leather lace up ankle boots) began to swim on me. 12s in Earth Spirit women’s shoes fit.

I bought a pair of genuine cowboy lace up boots (leather, from a tack shop) in men’s 11. They were snug. Previously I had worn men’s 10, but they were specialized equipment, I figured.

I went to Payless after 18 years and the 13s fit loosley, the 12s fit snugly.

I lost more weight, and the 12s are getting better.

I bought pointe shoes in ladies’ 12 (biggest there are) and had to put an elastic gusset in the back – a wee bit too tight. Then I made my own pointe shoes out of plastic and epoxy (what an adventure!). If men didn’t wear pointe shoes, I wouldn’t be able to either.

Then my daughter started stealing all my shoes, so I am as shoe-less as I was when I started.

I think sizes have crept some in women’s, but not in men’s. I wear an 11 in regular men’s shoes, and about a 12 in women’s.

Laura F.
5 years 5 months ago

I make and sell slippers on a small-time scale and the issue of shoe sizing in the U.S. causes more headaches than it should (I custom make the slippers, and just going by measurements is not enough, I’ve had a size 7 customer and a size 9 customer both present me with the exact same foot measurements–there is more to sizing than just length and width, apparently!) Sizing for “youth” ages is even more confusing than adults. I’ve been trying to figure out what the heck is wrong with U.S. shoe sizing for 2 years, and I think that Kathleen is right about sizing evolution. For one thing, the most accurate chart I’ve found online is in a wikipedia article about shoe sizing systems, and it indicates that in the U.S. there developed a separate sizing system for athletic shoes–I am suspecting that the mysterious shifting sizes you all are observing comes from the athletic shoes’ popularity causing a natural evolution toward that sizing scale. Additionally, there was at one time or another two different sizing ranges for “youth,” one for boys and one for girls (much like it is for men and women’s sizes), but based on my customer data and trips to the kids’ shoe sections of several stores, it looks like most shoe manufacturer’s are moving away from that gender-differentiated size range for youth (but I inevitably get confused if someone tells me “girl’s size 3″.) The best solution I have found to ensure I make my product to the right size is to get the customer’s European size (I’ve found this especially important with the youth size ranges, since it helps me eliminate the confusion over whether it is a “girls” size or not). Most shoes have tags inside where the Eur. size is listed alongside the supposed U.S. size. I would recommend you look at your shoe tags, see which Eur. size is most common in your collection, and use that to get you in the right ballpark when you shop! As one commenter mentioned, I too have heard from my international customers that sizes differ slightly from country to country using the Euro sizing system, but I find it eliminates the majority of sizing problems for me.

5 years 6 months ago

[…] pt 2 The history of women’s sizing pt 3 Sizing is a variety problem The birth of size 10? Vanity sizing shoes Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2 Vanity sizing: generational edition Vanity sizing: generational edition […]

5 years 7 months ago

I brought this up to my mom just today since my boyfriend bought me size 6 Betsey Johnson’s…and noticed I only seem to take size 6 now…I am 19 and when I was 13-17 I usually wore a size 6.5 xD
I already can’t fit into the size 00’s or XS’s! >.> At least obesity can’t effect shoe size and luckily I buy high-scale shoes so hopefully…hopefully I don’t have to worry about shoes not fitting either!!! >.>

5 years 9 months ago

I have always had very wide, short feet.

For years, I wore a 6 1/2 D (or a 36 wide Birkenstock). It was very difficult to find shoes that fit — fortunately, I have no interest in fashionable shoes.

Two pregnancies and quite a few years later, and my feet have grown a bit. My old 6 1/2 D’s are a bit tight; in new shoes I’m a 7 EE. I’m lucky that my town has an old-fashioned shoe store with clerks who know how to fit shoes, and they carry a wide range of sizes. It is still difficult to find shoes that fit, but I can usually find something appropriate.

I believe all my size change is due to me, and not sizing evolution. I have always bought good shoes*, and try to buy from stores that have fitters. So my views are of only a tiny part of the shoe industry. Things could be very different in the mass market shoe business.

* My father, who wore 7 1/2 EEE shoes, taught me to always buy well-fitting shoes, despite the cost. My mom, who was full-figured, taught me to always buy well fitting bras, again despite the cost — and she taught me how to judge good fit. Because of this advice, I am much perkier than my age-mates and have no foot problems.