When is a duck not a duck?

Reading a post by Suitably Scruffy, it reminded me how sometimes the shoe I wanted didn’t fit properly when I picked my size. This is a real problem when you’re either a small or large size where you can’t go either up or down in size. Over time I’ve learnt that the reason this happens comes from the various processes involved in turning a design on paper into a shoe.

A typical shoe is quite a complex product, it’s assembled in a number of layers from many parts which are glued, stitched and/or nailed together. Obviously, it’s hard to give a floppy piece of leather structure, so a form called a last is used. The last is the only fixed measure when making a shoe and it is from the length of the last that the shoe size is based. However only the length is used in calculating a shoe size, therefore factors such as shoe width, the shape of the vamp, toe box, etc are not accounted for when listing shoe sizes, and you’ll find that two different designs from the same factory will have fit differently.

Traditional lasts are made of a material into which nails can be hammered to hold the leather in position. Used with permission © Jeremy Engleman

Starting out I measured the widths as this seemed to cause the most problems, but it’s become apparent that there are other things that seem to affect things such as the cut and materials, since the widest shoe measured happened to be the tightest fit. The next stage will be to look at shoe designs and materials and comparing them to foot shapes.

Slightly OCD but I was curious how much variation there was. Between different manufacturers there was more than 0.5mm despite being the same size

However the one recommendation I will make and will always make is that you should never buy a pair of shoes you can’t return. You will also save a lot of time if you went to an actual shop where you can try the shoe out.



  1. Agreed. I’ve even had the same style from the same brand in two different sizes. I find the outer material used can affect it a lot and like you say it’s much handier if you can try before you buy. I’m housebound so don’t have that luxury and spend a lot of time getting someone in my family to return items for me! I still try to judge it by eye from online pictures (not at ALL scientific or accurate), but you have to start somewhere! I love shops that have reviews and where someone has described their size/shape along with fit info for the shoe or used example of other styles in that brand that they fit/don’t fit.


    1. Well I know of the example where leather from the cow belly is stretchier than other parts of the animal.

      It must be tough living with ME, at least it sounds like your family are quite understanding. Hopefully scientists will get a better understanding of it in the future, but in the meantime I know you’ll always look fabulous at home.


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