Shoes are tricky things to get entirely right. While many of us are lucky to have average-sized and average-shaped feet, many others are not so lucky. Still, though, most shoes are created to fit an “average” model, and short of going to a professional shoe-fitter, there’s not much you can do about this. So, accounting for the natural variations in people’s feet, how should shoes fit?
Well, there’s no easy answer to the question of how shoes should fit. Many different variables define a well-fitting shoe. Luckily, we’ll go over all of these variables in the paragraphs below. By the end of it, you’ll have a good understanding of exactly how shoes should fit!
Types of Shoes
To make things even more challenging to understand, it’s essential to know that different types of shoes are meant to fit differently. Climbing shoes, for example, are designed to fit ultra-tightly to your feet, all for the sake of extra grip strength while climbing. Running shoes, as well, have a precise fit that’s meant to be different than an everyday shoe.
Not to mention, all these different types of shoes fit differently, too:
- Dress shoes
- Tennis shoes
Add that to the different ways we wear running and sports shoes, and all you have is a lot of confusion! However, running shoes and climbing shoes are meant for specific situations, not everyday wear. As a result, in this article, we’ll primarily be focusing on everyday shoes like dress shoes, tennis shoes, and sandals.
Your feet are growing and changing all the time, too. Even if you think your feet have stopped changing – even if you’ve been the same shoe size for years – your feet could suddenly change in size or shape for any of several reasons.
Some of these reasons might be health-related. Things, like spraining your ankle, developing new callouses, breaking a toe, or even just spending less time exercising, can affect the way your foot is shaped. Other times, the growth is a little less explainable.
In any case, the first thing you should do before you purchase new shoes is to get your feet measured. If your foot size has changed, the next step is to buy shoes that fit you properly this time around or to get your existing shoes altered to another size. A professional cobbler can usually change the size of a shoe about a half size or so in either direction.
Additionally, keep in mind that your feet change size throughout the day, too! Your feet are at their largest in the evening and their smallest in the morning. As such, if you can get your feet measured at the end of the day, this is the ideal time to purchase well-fitting shoes.
Health Issues of Ill-Fitting Shoes
Ill-fitting shoes can cause all sorts of harmful health effects. Some of these can be temporary, but others can end up permanent. As such, it’s essential to be careful about purchasing well-fitting shoes as much as possible.
Some of the issues you’ll need to watch out for that can be caused by badly-fitting shoes include:
- Twisted, sprained, or broken ankles
- Hammertoes or mallet toes
- Ingrown toenails
- Foot fungus
When a pair of shoes fit too loosely, it has the potential to slide around on your foot. If you don’t land your foot on the ground correctly when walking, a shoe that’s just a little too large can quickly turn into a hazard. Not only can this permanently damage your ankles, but you can harm other areas of your body if you take a tumble, too.
While loose-fitting shoes are excellent for leisure activities (for the most part), always wear tightly-laced, well-fitting shoes during exercise and strenuous activities. Wearing well-fitting shoes all the time if you have a history of ankle injuries or if you’re on the clumsy side is a good idea, too.
Hammer Toes and Mallet Toes
Hammertoes and mallet toes are defects that come about when your toes are forced to maintain a position they’re not used to. This can be caused by too-small shoes, among other things. If your shoes are too small, your toes might end up crowded into an area that’s harmful to them. However, hammertoes can also be hereditary, and they carry age and gender-related risks, too. Older women, for example, are the most likely to develop hammertoes.
Ingrown toenails occur when your toes are crowded into an area too small for them – just like hammertoes and mallet toes. When your toenails get pressed against your toes, your nails could end up digging to the skin of your toes themselves. While many ingrown toenails can be remedied before they get too bad, some can require the help of a doctor to fix.
Ingrown toenails are incredibly painful, and once they start, they can return, even after they disappear. It’s best to avoid the circumstances that lead to ingrown toenails in the first place.
Blisters come about from repeated friction against a surface over a short period of time. Most people will experience blisters for a short time after purchasing a new pair of shoes. No matter how well your new shoes fit, some blisters are just unavoidable until your feet get used to your new shoes.
However, well-fitting shoes can help alleviate recurring or severe blisters. Some shoe-sizing issues just can’t be fixed by breaking them in, and you’ll either be stuck with blisters or unwearable shoes.
Calluses come about when an area of your foot is repeatedly subjected to friction in a particular area. Rather than creating a blister, your skin will eventually build up a callus where friction collects day after day. However, you may need to go through several blisters before your skin builds up enough calluses to prevent them.
Calluses aren’t an inherently bad side effect of wearing shoes. Our hands can create calluses, too, when we do things like playing an instrument or working with tools. However, excessive calluses can change the shape of your feet, and many people find them to be unsightly.
Corns are the less-pleasant alternative to calluses, and they tend to develop on the more tender areas of your feet. Calluses are typically robust and painless, but corns can be inflamed when they form. Corns are usually much smaller than calluses, and they don’t often develop on the weight-bearing areas of the foot.
Different types of foot fungus can come about from all sorts of different things. However, if your feet fit too snugly in your shoes, the chances are that they sweat a lot in there, also. Sweaty, dirty shoes that don’t air out well are much more likely to grow fungi that can spread to your feet.
There are many different types of foot fungi. Athlete’s foot is the most common, and it can spread from person to person, too. As such, it’s never a good idea to wear someone else’s shoes for this reason alone.
Athlete’s foot is a fungal rash that results in these symptoms:
- Burning sensations
- Wet, raw patches between the toes
- Foot odor
These symptoms can persist for several weeks without treatment. It can also spread to your hands if you don’t manage it carefully. However, Athlete’s foot isn’t the only foot fungus that can develop from ill-fitting shoes. Toenail fungus can come about from these unpleasant conditions, too.
Making Shoes Fit Properly
If you’re stuck with a pair of shoes that’s too large or too small; you may not be out of luck just yet. While even a professional shoe cobbler can’t work miracles, they may be able to shrink or enlarge your shoes by up to a full size. In many cases, the work of a shoe cobbler is much less than the cost of buying new shoes, so if you have a pair of shoes that you’re particularly attached to, it may be an option worth looking into.
Another option for shoes that are too large is to shrink them. Some shoe materials will shrink under certain conditions, though we always recommend trying this step carefully. You may damage your shoes by trying to shrink them if you’re not careful.
If you have shoes that don’t mean much to you or that are sturdy, it may be worth trying to put them through your clothes washer. Typically, a trip through the machine on hot is enough to shrink a pair of tennis shoes down a bit.
However, do bear in mind that a washing machine can permanently ruin some types of shoes. Never send leather shoes through the washing machine, for example.
If your shoes are too small, you have a few more options. One of the most reliable methods for stretching a pair of shoes is to use the “ice bag” technique. For this process, gather the following items:
- Several plastic zipper-locking bags
- Your shoes that need stretching
- Access to a freezer
To begin, fill each plastic bag with a little more water than you need to fill your shoes completely. Then, remove as much air as you can from the bags and zip them closed. Slide them into your shoes, making sure not to open or spill them in the process. Make sure the bags are snugly inside your boots and are in contact with all of the interior surfaces of the shoe.
When the water bags are secure, place your shoes in the freezer for up to eight hours, but no longer. Once you’re satisfied that the bags are frozen, remove your shoes from the freezer. You will likely need to wait for the ice bags to thaw before you can remove them from your shoes.
The reason why this method works so well is that water expands as it freezes. As such, if you fill your shoes with water, the water will push your shoes outwards as it freezes, forcing your shoe to stretch. While this method won’t produce miracle results, it might just be the extra bit you need for that perfect fit.
How Should Shoes Fit?
Your shoes should fit your feet snugly and without slipping off, but you should have plenty of room for your feet, both sideways and forwards. Your toes shouldn’t touch the ends of your shoes, and the balls of your feet shouldn’t be crushed between the walls of your shoes, either.
To begin, your ankle should be held relatively snugly inside your shoe. If the back of your foot slips more than about three-quarters of an inch when walking, it means your shoe is too loose. A small amount of slippage is natural and normal, but too much is the sign of a shoe that’s too large.
When you’re picking out your shoes, use its size as a guide only. While shoe sizes are an excellent way to get an idea of where to start, shoe sizes aren’t identical between brands or models. Instead, start at the size you think is right for the style of shoe in question, then move up or down in increments based on the fit.
If you can’t get a shoe that is both wide and long enough for your feet, you may need to enlist the help of a cobbler. Alternatively, you can move on to a different brand or shoe style and keep looking.
Your largest toe should have at least three-eights of an inch to one-half of an inch of space between its end and the end of your shoe. If you don’t have at least this much room, your toes will end up impacting the front end of your shoe when you walk or run. Leaving a decent (but not overly large) amount of space between the end of your toes and the end of your shoe is the best way to avoid this.
If your foot feels like it’s being constricted, you may need to look for a size labeled “WIDE.” Wide-sized shoes offer more room in them for people with broader feet, and it may be just the extra bit of space you need to fit comfortably in your shoes. However, wide sizes are not always available, and some wide sizes are broader than others. If one is not wide enough, then you may need to try a different brand or style.
If your feet aren’t quite the same size, always buy shoes to fit your larger foot. Some stores will allow you to buy a pair of shoes in mismatched sizes if your feet are significantly different. If this is the case, you may want to call around and find a store that will allow you to do this.
Never buy shoes, then expect them to stretch to fit later! While some shoe materials, such as leather, will relax a little bit over their lifetime, it’s never a good idea to purchase shoes with the intention of stretching them later. They may not stretch as much as you expect, and you could end up with a pair of shoes that’s too small down the line as a result.
If you can’t find the proper fit in shoe sizes available at the store – if, for example, you’re in-between shoe sizes – there are solutions for this, too. Different types of shoe inserts exist to correct the fit and feel of your shoes, though you should only use these as a last resort. Some of the varieties available include:
- Tongue pads
- Heel pads
- Full-foot insert
- Arch supports
The finger test is an excellent way to check and see if your new shoes fit your feet correctly. Do this by sliding your index finger between your ankle and the heel of your shoe. Your finger should fit snugly but easily inside. If you have wiggle room, go down half a size, and if you can’t slide your finger in at all, go up half a size.
Pay very, very close attention to how your shoes fit as you walk in them for the first time! You can put shoes back on the shelf before buying them, but if you purchase a pair of bad shoes and put off returning them, you could end up stuck with a couple of badly-fitting shoes. If you’re even a little bit unsure about the fit, try on other styles or sizes. Better yet, go home for the night and sleep before making your final decision.
While there are many technical aspects to the way that shoes should fit, the short answer is that they should be comfortable, yet snug. Shoes that slide off and flop around are unsafe, but shoes that are overly tight aren’t any good, either. The secret to answering how shoes should fit is to find the best medium for you between these two extremes.
After all, some people might prefer their shoes to be closer to the snug end of proper, while others might want a looser fit. As long as your shoes function well and feel comfortable to you, that’s good enough!