I used to think everyone’s feet hurt at the end of the day. This is not true or, at least, it’s less true than you might imagine. I’ve learned a lot working in a shoe store. It isn’t some fast fashion mall shop — I work for a high-end store focusing on comfort shoes. (No they’re not all ugly, but I’ll get to that another time).
We have many older customers and customers with foot problems but we also have plenty of people with no foot problems who have discovered the secret to pain-free feet.
Here are some things that I’ve learned.
Let’s get some shoes: The basics of shoe shopping
Get measured. A lot of people are wearing the wrong size. Usually it’s through ignorance, but there are other reasons. Feet change. If you’ve gained weight, lost weight, been pregnant, been injured or even just aged since the last time your feet were measured your size may have changed.
Shoes are fit based on three values:
- Heel-to-toe length
- Arch length
Even then, fitting is more of an art than a science. Fitting a fleshy, three-dimensional object using two-dimensional measurements is not a straightforward affair.
Your arch length is super important. Most people who think they know their size only know heel-to-toe length, and maybe width. But knowing your arch length is good since most shoes are constructed to bend and move with your foot — and hopefully offer cushioning and support. You want the widest part of your foot in the widest part of the shoe, which can mean sizing up a little from your heel to toe measurement. If your arch is shorter (which I have yet to encounter) then you’ll want to find a shoe with a long toe box because too short a shoe can cause ingrown toenails and other nastiness.
You need extra room at the toe because your feet lengthen and shorten as you walk. Feet also tend to swell as the day goes on. This is why you also need someone else to check the length for you, if you just bend over you’re not putting weight on your feet how you would standing normally and your foot will not be taking up as much room.
I’ve also seen lots of people wearing a size up or down in length to accommodate a wide or narrow foot without even knowing it.
Get measured at a nice shoe store or department store and try some different shoes to find out what fits you best. You don’t have to actually buy anything, but tell them up front if you’re just finding your size and, please, not right after working on your feet all day or going to the gym.
Not all shoes are created equal
There is no standardized way to measure width in shoes! A certain brand or style may run long/short/wide/narrow. It could be AAA, AA, A, B, C, D, E, EE, EEE, EEEE, etc. It could be Super-slim, slim, narrow, medium, wide, wide-wide, etc. Most shoes are mediums, though women’s shoes are usually narrower than men’s shoes. A women’s medium is a B, while a men’s medium is a D.
Most shoes will do one of two things (or sometimes some of both):
- They will either absorb shock: Shock absorption is achieved through sole construction and cushioning; think of an athletic shoe.
- Or evenly distribute pressure: Weight and pressure distribution is about the shape of the footbed matching the shape of your foot; think of a Birkenstock.
Some people do great with a soft cushy footbed, while others need a firmer, more supportive shoe. Only you can tell what works for you.
Higher-end brands are made WAY better and will last MUCH longer than something cheap. Divide the cost of the shoe by how long it will last and it’s usually worth investing. Plus you’ll be more comfortable while you’re wearing it.
Maintaining and altering your shoes
The difference maintaining your shoes makes will amaze you and save you lots of money.
If you have a wide forefoot, or bunions, or hammer toes, or a tiny evil head growing on your foot, most shoes can be stretched to accommodate. Any cobbler can do it, and it won’t cost very much (ten or twenty bucks, tops). Some shoe stores do it free of charge if you bought the shoe there.
Heel slipping usually happens when your forefoot isn’t held far enough back in the shoe, often because the front of the shoe is too deep or wide. If your heel slips DO NOT put one of those stick-on pads in the back of the shoe. If your shoe has a removable insole (and many do, even dress shoes, though they’re often held in with a little glue) you can stick a thin piece of cork (or foam or whatever you have handy) under it at the front. Just trace the front third of the insole and cut it to size. This works by helping the shoe hold your foot in the correct place, while those stick-on heel pads just jam your toe to the end of the shoe.
A cobbler can replace a worn heel, fix a split seam, and sometimes replace the whole sole of a shoe.
For minor aesthetic details some superglue and a Sharpie will hide many sins.
To make your shoes last, clean, polish and weather-proof them regularly.
- For oiled leather, clean and condition with something like mink oil.
- For suede and nubuck, get a soft brush and nubuck eraser.
- For white rubber toe caps, gently scrub with a Magic Eraser (be sure to spot test.)
Replacing the laces can make a huge difference in appearance.
Let them rest and air out for at least a day between wears.The heat and moisture of your foot will break shoes down much faster (and smell much worse) if they don’t have time to fully dry between wears.
Insoles fit to your arch length and designed for any foot problems you have will make things much more comfortable as well. Seriously. Expect to pay upwards of fifty dollars for them though.
There are no unicorns
So, you want a really cute shoe that’s super comfortable and great for walking in? And could it also be cheap and American made? I’d like that too, but our cultural ideas of beauty do not line up with what is comfortable and healthy, so be ready to compromise. Nobody looks good limping and grimacing in pain.