'If the shoe fits, wear it' is only part of the equation we look at when fitting shoes. Shoes mean so many different things to so many people. For some, the primary consideration is style. For some, it's function. And for others it may be comfort. But more times than not, shopping for the perfect pair of comfortable shoes is a struggle. Let's talk a little bit about how we bring all of these issues together to put a smile on people's faces.
The science of shoe fitting, called
Pedorthics, is centuries old. The first documented history of shoe fitting dates back to 1324AD when King Edward II of England decreed that three barley corns would constitute and inch. He also stated that one barley corn (1/3") would represent one full shoe size. This custom of sizing varied so that numerous arguments ensued and most cobblers went back to the tradition of custom fitting each and every shoe. The expense of custom shoes was out of reach for most commoners. For the vast majority of the population, shoes consisted of two layers of leather, one thick for the sole and another thin for the top of the shoe. The two layers were sewn together for a 'custom' fit.
Although we've worn shoes for thousands of years, our current sizing methods are a mere century old. In 1880, the first uniform shoe sizing method was introduced in by Edwin B. Simpson of New York. Simpson's method defined each incremental shoe size as 1/3" and each half size as 1/6". In addition to a standardized length size, Simpson defined the heel to ball measurement and the first proportional relationship between length and width of the shoe. The measurement of the width of the shoe increased in increments of 1/4" per increase in shoe size. Going from an A width to a B would increase the circumferential measurement of the foot by 1/4". In the same light, going from a size 7 to a size 8 would also increase the inner dimension of the shoe volume by 1/4".
Even though sizing and custom shoe fitting has become a science, many stores still struggle with conversions between American (inches) and European (metric) sizing. Shoe sizes also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. But most importantly, remember that sizing is simply a reference.
So if the shoe fits, you may not wear it, but at least you're off to a good start.
Jeffrey A. Oster,
Dr. Oster practices podiatric medicine, surgery and pedorthics in Granville, Ohio and is medical director of