Shoe fitting may seem like such a simple task, but performing it correctly can be somewhat complicated. A proper fitting shoe is vital for comfort and for prevention of injury. This article will discuss the ways one can ensure that their shoe fits properly, and that the proper shoe is selected for one’s intended activity.
To begin, it should be known that the best places to purchase shoes are stores that provide staff who perform the fitting, and have a good working knowledge of their shoes. These types of stores vary by location, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid department stores and ‘big box’ shoe stores that require one to fit themselves. These stores also have limited size variations, despite having an enormous selection of different brands and styles. Shoe stores with clerks who have training and education in the brands they carry will be quite helpful in obtaining a properly fitting shoe. Although shoe sizes are more or less universal, they are simply meant as a guideline as different manufacturers and styles produce slight size variations that may not exactly match a stated size. A good shoe clerk should be aware of these differences.
Ensuring that one is wearing a proper shoe size for the foot length and width is vital for obtaining a good fit. One’s shoe size does not necessarily stay the same for their entire adult life. Factors such as swelling, progressive foot conditions like bunions, and general body girth can allow for an increase or decrease in the shoe size. Before each purchase, one should have their foot measured. Once again, this is best done by a shoe clerk. The measuring and fitting should be done at the end of the day, when one’s foot is expected to be at it’s greatest size if leg swelling is a factor, otherwise the purchased shoe may feel too tight at the end of the day. The measurement will take into account length (which produces the size number), as well as width. Width is a factor often ignored by people who fit themselves for shoes, as many big shoe stores do not carry many varieties of width. Those people will simply buy a shoe one-half to a full size larger to obtain the proper width. Unfortunately, this results in a shoe that is too long, and the foot will slide forward inside the shoe with every step. Proper width is very important, as it can prevent the shoe from rubbing and irritating the sides of the foot. This is especially important for those with conditions that lead to foot wounds from shoe rubbing, like diabetics. Any shoe purchased must be the proper size and width for the foot measured at the time of fitting, and the specific shoe purchased must be selected based on how it matches that sizing. If a particular brand or style is off in sizing, then an adjustment must be made away from the measured sizing to ensure a proper fit if that particular shoe is desired. Once again, this is best left for a shoe clerk to determine.
If one must fit them self, there are several ways to tell if a shoe fits properly. The first test is to ensure a proper length. In general, there should be a space the width of a thumbnail between the end of the big toe and the tip of the shoe. Anything more or less than this indicates that the shoe may be too long or short, respectively. The sides of the foot should not feel bunched in by the sides of the shoe. If there is overhang of the sides of the foot over the sole of the shoe, or if the foot pushes out the material of the shoe sides, then the shoe is too narrow. Fortunately, a shoe that is too wide is rarely a problem, since most people do not have excessively narrow feet. If one feels a little extra room in the ball of the foot when fitting a shoe, it should not be a problem. However, if the foot seems to slide around in the shoe despite proper length, this could indicate a foot that is unusually narrow. This type of foot should be fitted for a shoe by a professional to avoid injury. Another way to tell if a shoe fits properly is to walk around the store in it for at least several minutes. If the top of the shoe bunches into the top of the toes when the shoe bends, or if the heel slips out of the shoe when walking, then the shoe should not be purchased. Unfortunately, shoe sizing techniques do not take into account the variations in toe height and heel circumference that everyone has individually. These factors need to be taken into account when fitting a shoe, and one should ‘feel’ if the fit is proper.
One of the most important considerations in shoe fitting is comfort. Even if a shoe seems to fit well, and is sized properly, there can still be discomfort when wearing the shoe. The common assumption is that the shoe will be ‘broken into’. This should never be the case, as the shoe should fit right from the start. One should never have to ‘break-in’ a shoe. If the shoe does not feel comfortable from the start, one should not buy it.
The selection of a properly fitting shoe is key to foot comfort, but equally key is the selection of the proper style of shoe for the intended activity one will wear the shoe in. In general, shoes are constructed for specific activities. If one is going to wear a specific shoe for athletic purposes, or for general walking, then a proper athletic shoe should be selected. People participating in specific sports should select shoes designed for that sport’s specific activities (such as basketball shoes for basketball or running shoes for long distance running). Formal shoes and dress styles are preferred by many based on fashion or employment dress code, but are not a good choice for the foot if one must stand or walk for great length. This is especially true with high heeled and narrow women’s dress shoes, or narrow tip men’s slip-on dress shoes, as discomfort and injury can follow extended use. These types of shoes simply do not properly support the human foot. However, one can be fashionable without risking harm to their feet, as long as some common sense is employed, even despite the requirement of the business world to present oneself formally. Men should consider oxford-style dress shoes over slip-on loafers, and women should consider low heels and avoid excessively narrow or pointed toe shoes. These types of shoes will feel more comfortable and fit better over the course of the business day or a lengthy formal event.
One final note regarding the proper way to fit shoes has to do with the actual structure of the foot itself, beyond the proper size. Many people have variations in their foot structure that cause the foot arch to be lower or higher. These variations will lead to numerous foot injuries and strain if a shoe is not properly chosen for that particular foot type. In general, flat feet need wide-soled, stiff shoes to increase foot support, and high-arched feet need soft, cushioned shoes to better absorb the shock generated by walking. A visit to a podiatrist can help determine what one’s foot structural needs actually are if this is a concern.
The choice of a properly fitting shoe is vital to one’s comfort throughout the day, and is one of the most important choices one must make when purchasing clothing. By using the assistance of a knowledgeable shoe clerk, and by following the tips in this article, one can ensure their shoes will fit well and feel comfortable all day long.
Dr. Kilberg provides compassionate and complete foot and ankle care to adults and children in the Indianapolis area. He is board certified by the American Board of Podiatric Surgery, and is a member of the American Podiatric Medical Association. He enjoys providing comprehensive foot health information to the online community to help the public better understand their feet. Visit his practice website for more information.