Understanding The Fit of a Shoe
I had a good question from a reader not too long ago and it was all about fit and how big the gap should be between your shoe laces on the facing. I like this question as I feel that there is a lot of misconception about fit and how things should be. Too many people often think that there is a rule and that if the shoes do not fit (no pun intended) within that rule then the shoes don’t suit their foot. What most people fail to realize is that it is not the shoe, but rather their feet that don’t suit most shoes. So, allow me to explain a few things that will affect the fit and how to know whether or not that shoe suits your feet.
1. Flat Feet = Gaping
When you have flat feet and the shoes do not have enough arch support to withhold your sunken arches, what happens is that your feet will apply pressure on the inside of the inside quarter of the shoe. That pressure will thus cause the mouth of the shoes to gape at both ends (as shown above in the black shoe). This effect is immensely pronounced when you also have a wide, flat foot as the width will push out the inside quarters even more so. It is also intensified if you are a heavy set person. That being, if you have this problem and find yourself with gaping at the mouth of most shoes, it is not that the shoes don’t fit, it is in reality that you need either bespoke or wide shoes with firm arch support. Problem is that most shoes don’t come like that. So in reality while I hate to be harsh, it is something that you will have to live with until you find that perfect shoe that corrects the problem. But unfortunately most shoes are not built with proper arch support nor come in wide widths. Loafers and low cut shoes are going to be the worst. You will want to find shoes that have depth (think 6 eyelet shoes) as the higher lacing will help to lock in your ankles and thus slightly deter the gaping.
2. High Instep/Low Instep = Spacing Issues Between Laces
This is where a lot of people tend to judge whether a shoe fits them or not and it’s quite funny really as these things really have to do with your foot more than the shoe. If you have a high instep (associated with a high arch), more likely than not a derby is going to fit you better than an oxford (as the open lacing allows for more generosity in the instep) and the lacing in the oxford is going to have a large gap in the facing (the lacing area). That does not mean that you need a larger size. You could have a perfect fit in the rest of the shoe but have a abnormally high instep that causes pressure on the facing of the shoe and thus the laces to gape, but that does not mean that the shoes don’t fit. Of course they don’t fit perfectly, but if there is not a model that is suitable to a high instep are you just not going to buy shoes? No, of course not. And it’s the same with shallow feet, like mine.
There are times where there is a model that fits me throughout the foot relatively well but has a bit of looseness in the instep. I try the smaller size down and it is too tight. Therefore, I either just give up on the model altogether or realize that if I really want a shoe that is not made for my feet, I have to fit my foot to the shoe. Sometimes that involves an extra cushion to take up volume or whatnot. Is it a perfect fit? No. But if you have a problem foot, you are never really going to get perfect fit outside of bespoke are you? I have personally dealt with this my whole life as I have a flat, low volume, narrow foot and trust me, not many makers make shoes for feet like mine. So I have to learn what makers and models fit me best and stick with those. Do any of them give me perfect fit? No. But I make due as I cannot afford only bespoke shoes. And this is also why I rarely wear derby’s as they are no good for low instep folks.
A new shoe should in theory have a slight gap between the laces, so that when the shoes break in and your foot sinks into the foot bed, then the laces will come together to create the perfect enclosure. If they close already when they are brand new, then chances are they are too big or you need to fill up some volume with a insole. If there is a 1/2 inch (1.25cm) gap between the laces, then they are either too tight or your instep does not suit that shoe. But as I said before, this does not mean that you can necessarily go to another size.
3. Heel Slip = Shoes Too Big
Heel slip can be caused for a number of reasons. First and foremost the shoes are too big (of course). But more often the not, people have slight heel slip but the shoes are actually not too big at all. So what causes this? Okay, well this may sound stupid, but you would not believe the amount of people that I have seen only slightly lace the shoes, and then say that their heel is slipping. Well of course it is as you have not laced the shoes properly! Dress shoes are not meant to be worn like trainers. They need to be laced up as much as they can without cutting off circulation. If you don’t like a snug lacing, then expect heel slip and stop moaning.
Another reason is a rigid heel counter that needs breaking in/forming to your heel. Most shoes are made with a composite of textile/plastic like material (celastic/thermolastic etc) that is meant to act as leather and form to your heel after the shoes are broken in. Trouble is that this composite is nowhere near as forgiving as leather and can sometimes be quite stiff and rigid, thus not gripping your heel upon the first few wears. That does not necessarily mean though that the shoes are too big and should even break in and start to grip your feel.
Narrow heels are the main reason though. Most people have a narrower heel than that of the last that made the shoe. And that is because the shoe companies are trying to fit most feet, so they don’t make a narrow heel cup as they would immediately cut out people with wider feet and they are the majority in this day and age. So, people with narrow heels suffer, but what can you do? You can be diligent in finding narrow shoes, but it’s not always feasible nor practical so you have to make due with what you have.
The bottom line is that fit is subjective. What one man’s perfect is another man’s nightmare. I tend to believe that a shoe should fit snug in the beginning so that when it breaks in, it will fit just perfect. But I grew up playing football/soccer and am used to tying up my shoes so tightly that there is no room for slippage. But you won’t believe the amount of people that wear a half size too big and swim in their shoes and think that they fit perfectly. What kills me is when those same people who wear their shoes too big, try on a new shoe and say ‘oh my heel is slipping.’ ,Well yeah, it is in your old shoes too!,
(this post is not directed at any one that has tried my shoes recently, but rather an answer to a reader’s question and a look back to all of the shoes that I have ever fit on those that I helped while working at Nordstrom)
All pictures outside of the one directly above, courtesy of Style Forum