shoes

See also: infant shoe sizes; table of last lengths in different sizing systems

Converting shoe sizes

If you are visiting this page in hopes of finding the European or Mondopoint equivalent of your U.S. shoe size, here's the bad news: There isn't any 100% reliable way of converting a U.S. size to a size in another system, or vice versa, that will work for all shoes. The best guide is a conversion table provided by the manufacturer for that particular style of shoe. Catalogs and manufacturers' websites often provide such tables.  A lengthy study of this problem, sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce and the Footwear Industry of America, concluded:

...a strict mathematical interpretation was impossible, even a computer program or formula would not generate a conversion guide the industry would readily accept and use.

Shoe Size Conversion Research Results and Recommendations.
Footwear Industry Team, U.S. Dept. of Commerce.
July 31, 1979.
Page 16.

An earlier extensive Japanese study reached a similar conclusion. Nevertheless, a table can get you into the ballpark. The tables below were compiled from a variety of sources, including sizes marked by manufacturers in actual shoes. They do not apply to skates, ski boots, some other forms of boots, and other specialized footwear, which have their own systems of sizes.

European Equivalents of 
U.S. Men's Shoe Sizes
U.S. Euro
6 39
39½-40
7 (39.5) 40-40½
40½-41
8 41-41½
41½-42
9 42-42½ (43)
42½-43 (43½)
10 43-43½ (44)
10½ 43½-44 (44½)
11 44-44½ (45)
11½ 44½-45 (46)
12 45-45½ (46½)
13 46-46½ (48)
14 47 (49)
European Equivalents of
U.S. Women's Shoe Sizes
U.S Euro
5 35½-36
36-36½
6 36½-37
37-37½
7 37½-38½
38-39
8 38½-39½
39-40½
9 39½-41
40-41½
10 40½-42½
10½ 41
11 41½

 

Buying the right size

Shop for shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are largest. Have both feet measured. Old measurements may no longer be accurate: adults' feet, like children's, change with age and activity.

In the United States, shoe fittings are usually made with a tool called the Brannock Device, made since 1927 by a company of the same name in Syracuse, NY. The person being fitted should sit and keep his or her socks on. If the person doing the fitting has a fitting stool, he or she puts the measuring device on the inclined ramp of the stool, otherwise on the floor. Either way, the measuring device must be moved about until the leg is perpendicular to the foot.

drawing of foot

The fitter first measures the distance from the heel to the ball of the foot, taken as the outermost point of the bone. Call this the arch length. Then the distance from the heel to the longest toe is measured. In doing so the sock is drawn against the ends of the toes so that only two layers of cloth (at heel and toe) are included in the measurement, and the toes are gently pressed down. Call this measurement the toe length.

If the arch length (in the markings on the device, not in inches!) is the same as the toe length, this is the basis of the size. If the toe length is greater, it is the correct size. If the arch length is half a size larger than the toe length, the arch length is the correct size.

Having the size, the width can now be determined. Some judgment is called for. Very fleshy feet or ones with very high insteps may need a width one size larger than the measuring device indicates, while if the foot is thin it's considered good procedure to apply a bit of pressure with the bar used to measure width, to see if the foot compresses to a smaller width. In some countries width is determined by measuring the circumference of the foot at the ball joint with a tape measure.

Widths are designated by letters. The average man takes a C or D width, but shoes are made up to EEEEEE.

Now the whole procedure must be repeated with the other foot. Always insist on having both feet measured.

A competent fitter will also examine the shoes you were wearing, especially if they are the same style as the ones you are purchasing, because the ways in which they are worn can reveal how well that size fit you. Just as an auto mechanic can tell a car's shock absorbers need replacing just by looking at a tire, an experienced fitter can read the sweat line and bumps in the innersole, and the wrinkles in the vamp.

Real feet only approximate standard sizes. Real shoes also only approximate standard sizes. Two shoes, the same size but made on different lasts, may fit quite differently. That is why it is essential to try on shoes, and not simply rely on the size.

Try on both shoes in the size from the measurement of the larger foot. If you wear orthotics, insert them. In trying on a shoe, before lacing it stand up, put your weight on the shoes and wiggle your feet around a little. Otherwise lacing may clamp your foot in an unnatural position.

Make sure there is 1 centimeter between your longest toe and the box. The sides of the throat-line, where the shoe is laced, should not meet. In walking about, be aware that many shoe stores install extra-thick carpeting.

Leather may stretch, but synthetic materials won't. If such a shoe doesn't fit when you buy it, it never will. Don't buy shoes that don't fit.

For Further Reading

William A. Rossi.
Professional Shoe Fitting.
New York: National Shoe Retailers Assn. for the Professional Shoe Fitters Society, 1984.

ASTM F 539-78 (Reapproved 1986)
Standard Practice for Fitting Athletic Footwear.

Preserving the fit

Use shoe trees. Don't wear the same pair day after day. Replace worn heels promptly: walking in worn heels can permanently deform a shoe's counter, the part that cups the back of the foot.

High heels and other female footwear problems

 Women tend to wear shoes that are too small for them. In a survey lead by Dr. Carol Frey, an orthopedic surgeon at UCLA, 88% of the women wore shoes smaller than their feet and 75% had not had their feet measured in the last five years.1 Eighty per cent of the women with shoe sizes of 8 or larger suffered from foot pain.

High heels, which first appeared in England between 1570 and 1580,2 double the pressure on the forefoot, throw the back out of line, stress the knee, and make the ankle more vulnerable to twists and turns. Dr. Frey recommends never wearing heels higher than 2 inches, and never wearing any high heels for more than 3 hours at a time.

In the Framingham Foot Study, the feet of more than 3000 individuals, averaging 66 years old, were examined and compared with the types of shoes they recalled wearing  during their lifetimes. The reasearchers classified as “poor” footwear lacking support, namely high heels, sandals and slippers.

In conclusion, our study found that in women, past shoewear was a statistically significant predictive factor for hindfoot pain.…Past shoewear in women is associated with hindfoot pain, regardless of age or weight. Thus, young women should make careful choices regarding their shoe type in order to potentially avoid hindfoot pain later in life, or perform stretching exercises to alleviate the effect of high heels on hindfoot pain.3

1. Carol Frey, F. Thompson, J. Smith, M. Sanders, H. Horstmann.
American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society Women’s Shoe Survey.
Foot and Ankle, vol. 14, pages 78-81 (1993).

2. Iris Brooke.
Footwear: A Short History of European and American Shoes.
New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1972.

Page 47.

3. Alyssa B. Dufour, Kerry E. Broe, Uyen-sa D. T. Nguyen, David R. Gagnon, Howard J. Hillstrom, Anne H. Walker, Erin Kivell and Marian T. Hannan.
Foot pain: Is current or past shoewear a factor?
Arthritis Care and Research, vol. 61, no. 10, pages 1352-1358 (15 October 2009).
doi:10.1002/art.24733

Shoe size systems

Shoe sizes are based mainly on the length of the shoe.  In modern times, the length meant is the length inside the shoe—the length of the last, the form on which the shoe is made—not the length of the sole. Obviously, the last length must be greater than the length of the foot the shoe will contain. 

Before the rise of manufacturing most shoes were custom made. English shoemakers apparently measured customers' feet with a ruler marked in thirds.  When shoe sizes were systematized, the one-third inch difference between whole sizes was retained, and size 0 was a length of 4 inches.  Sizes went from 1 to 13 for children and then from 1 to 13 again for adults. Half-sizes did not appear until late in the nineteeth century.

The American colonies adopted the English system, but made the zero size 3 11⁄12 inches. The reason for this change is unclear. Some say it was due to use of a defective standard, others that the change was made to make the sizes of American shoes more closely approximate the sizes of shoes in Europe. 

In Europe, shoe sizes were measured in units equal to two-thirds of a centimeter, called a Paris Point or, in Germany, a Strich.  Thus a size 40 shoe has an inside length of 40 × 2⁄3 cm = 26.67 cm, which is 10½ inches.

In the 1980's, in an attempt to rationalize shoe sizes the ISO introduced a shoe size system called Mondopoint.  Sizes in Mondopoint are in actual millimeters or centimeters.

For a table showing the nominal lengths of sizes in many shoe size systems, click here.

Thus far we have been concerned with length. Even a tracing of a foot, however, may not provide enough information for a good fit, since feet are three-dimensional. Footprints do capture some of this three-dimensionality. A person whose wet footprint outlines the entire sole needs a different shoe from someone whose footprint is an unconnected forefoot and heel, even if their footprints have the same length and width.

But width, sized in letters, also affects length. A 10 EEE shoe is wider than a 10 D, but it is also longer.

ISO 9407:1991
Shoe sizes-- Mondopoint system of sizing and marking.

home| people index| search| to contact Sizes drawing of envelope| acknowledgements| help