Everyone tends to think that they know their own shoe size, right? If we asked you about yours right now, you probably wouldn’t hesitate to rattle off an answer (or possibly a foot joke). But according to science, most of us are wrong about what size we should be wearing. Per the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society, 88 percent of women wear too-small shoes, and 70 percent of men regularly rock the wrong size shoes. Wait, what?! Not only is this absolutely ridiculous, but it leaves little doubt about why our feet always hurt. You may be wondering how this is even possible, and that’s a valid question. So, what gives? How can we figure out which sneakers won’t squeeze our toes?
Our propensity for wearing the wrong sized shoes is likely because shoe sizes change from brand to brand, and we often just default to what feels the closest to the most comfortable — even if we are off a half size or two. Or, to quote Truvy from Steel Magnolias, “In a good shoe, I wear a size six, but a seven feels so good, I buy a size eight.” The accuracy!
It’s also likely that we are wearing the wrong size because, well, measuring your feet size can seem complicated. Don’t worry, though; we’re going to walk (do you see what we did there?) you through that process.
How do you measure shoe size?
Growing up, you likely had your shoe size measured at the store using a Brannock Device. Most high-end shoe stores will also have them, given that if you’re going to drop a ton of money on a pair of designer shoes, you want to make sure they fit.
Before Charles Brannock patented the device in 1928, the only way to measure your shoe size was by using a block of wood. (Hey, whatever works, right?) Brannock’s father worked in the shoe business, and the son wanted to carry on the family legacy by making it even better. Using an Erector set, he constructed the device, usually made of metal or plastic, with knobs at both ends to fit the heel and to adjust for width.
A men’s size one is actually 7-2/3 inches, and then each size is an additional 1/3 inch. Measuring the width is also linear, though each width size is measured by 3/16 of an inch. In the American system, there are nine widths — AAA, AA, A, B, C, D, E, EE, and EEE. As you can imagine, the introduction of the Brannock device greatly improved — by as much as 97 percent — the accuracy of measuring your shoe size.
Although it might not sound like it, measuring your shoe size with the device is relatively simple and easy to use. If you buy a pair of shoes at a high-end shoe store in the near future, you’ll likely see for yourself!
How can I measure my shoe size at home?
While you can certainly buy your own Brannock Device for your home, you don’t need one to measure your shoe size accurately. In fact, all you need is:
- Two pieces of paper
- A pen or a pencil
- Some tape
- A ruler
- Someone to help you out, ideally (though it can be just a one-person job)
From there, you want to put on the socks you would typically wear with whatever shoe you are considering buying. For example, if you will be wearing just a pair of tights with some heels, put those on. If you’re buying snow boots, grab your thickest wool socks for the measurement. It would help if you also waited until the end of the day to measure your shoe size so that your foot is at its widest point. (Yes, blood flow throughout the day can cause swelling in some people, so your feet are actually bigger at the end of the day than in the morning.)
Once you have your supplies and have waited until the late afternoon or evening, you can get started. According to Dick’s Sporting Goods, you should follow the steps below to measure your shoe size.
- Tape one piece of paper to the floor and then one to the wall, making sure that they don’t slip so you get the most accurate results.
- Stand on the paper with your heel against a wall.
- Have someone trace the outline of your foot (this is where a friend, a partner, or even a kid comes in handy), holding the pencil upright and not at an angle so that you get the most accurate outline.
- Measure the length and the width in both centimeters and inches, just in case.
- Do both feet separately, since both of your feet can vary in size (although buying two different-sized shoes can prove to be a tough task).
You can also just measure the length and width with a ruler or tape measure without outlining your foot, though it might be more of an estimation.
Afterward, you can use a conversion chart like the ones below to find your size.
Is there a shoe size calculator to help find shoe size?
Whether you have a Brannock device or use the old at-home method of measuring your shoe size with a pencil and a ruler, you’re going to need to figure out what the measurements mean in commercial shoe sizes. Luckily, a shoe size chart is easy to come by, whether you measure for yourself, your kids, or even need to figure out what size shoe to buy in a European size after going into an online shopping hole and finding the perfect pair — in London.
Here are a couple of easy shoe measurement charts to save for reference after measuring your shoe size at home. You can also find shoe size calculators online that allow you to plug your measurements in for conversion.
Women’s Shoe Sizes
Men’s Shoe Sizes
Kid’s Shoe Sizes
A quick note, in conclusion: If you are buying children’s shoes, it’s a good idea to go up a half-size or so since their tiny feet are always growing. But using these methods and charts should always do the trick — no fancy device necessary.
How do you know a shoe fits?
Want to ensure your shoe is a perfect fit? You should be able to fit at least one finger’s width between the end of the shoe and your big toe when trying on shoes. The shoe should not touch the tip of your longest toe — you don’t want a super-snug fit to avoid blisters and uncomfortable rubbing. It’s essential to check the back of your foot, too. There should be enough space back there to fit your finger as well.
What happens if you wear the wrong size shoes?
Wearing the wrong size shoe may not seem like a big deal, but it can actually cause a bit of damage to your feet. It can lead to calluses, corns, hammertoes, bunions, and blisters. It can also make it harder to walk or run and sometimes even cause you to trip and fall.
How do you stretch shoes that are too small?
Let’s say it’s too late to return a small pair of shoes, or the boots you want only come in a certain size. Sometimes, the only option we have left is to stretch our shoes, which you can do using these tips below.
- Blow dryer. This device isn’t just for your hair. Put on two or three pairs of socks and put on your shoes. Then blow-dry the areas on your shoes that feel too tight. Keep the dryer on medium heat and avoid lingering on one spot too long to avoid ruining your shoes.
- Freeze your shoes. Fill a sandwich bag with about half a cup of water. (It depends on the size of the shoe.) Make sure there aren’t any holes in the bag and place it in your shoe toward the toe area. Then put the shoes in the freezer. When water freezes, it expands, which stretches the shoes. Take it out of the freezer and let it thaw. Keep doing this until your shoe is the desired size.