How Should Shoes Fit? Proper Fit & Foot Health Guide

Jeans and Black Shoes

Right Size, Happy Feet

How Should Shoes Fit? A question many of us asked at least once in their lives.

The truth is that many people wear the wrong size shoes which can severely impact their foot health.

Having experience as a buyer and a seller of dress shoes, I am here to guide you through it with valuable tips.

Shoes might be crucial to your style, but not to the expense of comfort and health.

Let’s begin the countdown.

Why Is The Right Shoe Size Important?

Let’s begin with the most fundamental question of them all.

Your legs and feet are possibly the most important parts of your body. They help you support your entire weight for 12-16 hours a day!

Imagine having to do that while wearing uncomfortable, painful shoes. Your feet, heels, ankles and even back will suffer and it can also lead to serious conditions such as bunions and deformities.

According to research, an astonishing 1/3 of men wears the wrong size of shoes. In fact, a 2018 article concluded that 63-72% of the participants wore ill-fitting shoes (Source).

Believe me, while you can shrug it off initially the effects of choosing the wrong size will bite you back in the future.

Wearing the right shoe size is not only important for you, but also for your shoes. The wrong size of foot or shoe tree will damage the shoes and decrease their longevity with unsightly creases and cracks.

How Should Your Shoes Fit

In this section I will discuss fit and foot health.

The way we perceive fit differs from person to person. Some like their shoes extra snug, while others prefer a more comfortable fit.

However one thing is for sure! Your shoes should not be too tight or too loose.

Be ready to accept defeat if a shoe just doesn’t fit and don’t romanticize them.

Width

There are many different areas where a shoe can be tight and all should be taken into consideration.

For me personally the most important one is the width. If a shoe is too tight you can notice it immediately as your feet are cramped at the widest point. A very good example was the fit of the Passus 2000 Last in my Review.

how should shoes fit
How Should Shoes Fit | Width & Toe Shape can play a huge role

Your little toe and the area behind that metatarsal is prone to damage so make sure you choose the right shape for your foot. An overly wide or square foot for example should prefer rounder toes over chiseled.

Heel Fit

Another super important aspect of shoe fitting is the heel area.

Your heel should fit nice and snug into the cup but just right. The best way to test this is to take a few steps while wearing the shoes.

If your heel moves a lot, the shoe is too big while if it stays totally in place is too tight. Both can cause issues such as chaffing and blisters.

What you do want is a nice balance between the two. If you can put your index finger in-between your heel and the heel cup the shoe is too big.

Sometimes, certain high end shoes with a fiddleback can be stiffer and have a bit more heel slip. This can disappear after a bit of use so bear that in mind.

However, if it hurts it is definitely the wrong size.

Toe Space

How much space you need at the front of your toes is rather debatable.

It depends greatly on the shape of your foot but generally 1.5 cm is fine (about half an inch). For some (like me!) the foot slides forward a bit when walking reducing space, but not comfort.

So test the toe depth when standing and not sitting! Make sure there is a healthy bit of space and just enough wiggle room.

Instep

Your instep is a great indicator of fit especially on shoes such as oxfords with a closed lacing system.

When you lace them quite often you will spot a “V” shaped gap at the top which eventually disappears when the shoes break in.

People with very high instep however might find that the V gap is too big. This will put unnecessary pressure on your instep and top of the foot. It can get annoying after hours of wear.

TLB Mallorca Artista 107 Picasso - Overview
How Should Shoes Fit | Here’s me wearing the wrong size on my TLB Artista with a big V gap

On the other hand, if you have no gap during the first wear it might mean that your foot has a lower instep. This can cause your foot to slide forward while moving causing all sorts of trouble.

From my experience, most people I deal with in the shop have a regular or lower instep.

For shoes that have no laces such as monk straps or Chelsea boots, you can gauge the pressure on your foot.

Tip: What is an Oxford? Read our Ultimate guide to Types of Dress Shoes!

Extra Tips & Adjustments

I wanted to use this opportunity to mention something about our bodies.

As our age changes and weight fluctuates, your shoe size might also. Make sure to evaluate your fit (and feet!) over time.

For those that get blisters or chaffing, a small heel pad might be helpful. If you have a lower instep or you have loafers that slip, a suede tongue pad is phenomenal!

Breaking in shoes can be tough in some cases, so wear the shoes indoors for a few hours at a time to stretch them slow and nicely.

How To Find Your Perfect Fit

There are a few things that you can do to make sure your shoes fit well whether you are trying them at home or in a store.

Some of them might be slight repetitions of things mentioned above but it is ok!

1. Try Them Later In The Day

After a whole day of walking and doing things, it is only natural that your feet expand and swell a bit.

By trying them on later you ensure there aren’t going to be any surprises with too tight shoes.

2. Stand While Trying Shoes On

When you are standing in an upright position, your feet cover a bit more space and spread.

It goes without saying that you should walk a few steps to get a feeling for the fit, but important to mention nonetheless.

Paolo Scafora Double Monk Boots Review
How Should Shoes Fit | Stand while trying shoes on

Make sure to try the shoes on a carpet so you do not scratch the soles. Additionally don’t bend your foot and crease the uppers as this is critical for returns.

3. Try The Larger Foot

Our feet are not the same size. One is a bit larger, wider, narrower or smaller.

Therefore you should definitely try the shoes on your larger foot. The differences are often negligible but it is better to have a bit more space than tightness.

After all, leather stretches just a little and you cannot create more space. Whereas with a tad of space you can adjust the fit with an insole or a tongue pad.

In an ideal situation you should try both shoes on. If there’s more than 1/4 of a size difference between your two feet it’s a good reminder you might need Made To Measure.

4. Wear The Correct Socks

I always found the word hosiery hilarious for some reason.

Nonetheless you should remember to wear the appropriate socks for your shoes since it can make a difference.

Viccel Socks Petrol Mustard
How Should Shoes Fit | You wouldn’t wear these socks with a pair of winter boots!

Would you complain that your winter boots are too roomy but you wore them with dress socks? It’s more likely you would wear woolen or thicker socks right?

The same goes for an oxford shoe. It’s the type you will wear with dress socks indeed.

5. Check Heel Slip With Your Finger

I briefly mentioned this before! You can check how your heel fits at the back with your index finger.

A little bit of space is fine and some say up to quarter of an inch. If you can fit your whole finger in there it’s too big.

Your finger should also fit just right and snug, not tight or loose.

Think of it as the equivalent fit test for your shirt’s collar!

6. Toe Box Depth

Also something we touched upon before is the toe box area.

The depth between your toes and the toe box is important since rubbing can lead to calluses and discomfort.

7. Pick The Right Shoe Shape

There are different shapes of shoe lasts.

Besides the aesthetics not everyone can fit their feet in a chiseled, almond or square toe.

Carlos Santos Lasts
An Example of Carlos Santos Lasts and different shapes

Men with wider feet will often benefit from a rounder last and keep them comfortable.

After all, shoes have to feel good from the get go so never buy something that fits badly from the beginning!

7. Consider The Shoe Construction

There are many different kinds of shoe construction (Read the Guide!) and each one comes with perks and advantages.

A Goodyear Welted shoe for example will take longer to break in than a Blake Stitched shoe. For summer, spring and more lightweight shoes blake is a great construction for those that value comfort and lightness.

8. Some Brands Might Not Work For You

Certain brands have a notoriously long and painful break in period.

The chief suspect is of course Meermin and it all comes down to the material used.

Just be ready to give up on a certain brand if it doesn’t work for you for some reason.

Problems I Encounter As A Retailer

Before we wrap this up, I also want to tell you my experience as a retailer.

As many of you know, I run an online shoe shop called The Noble Shoe. Since there is no physical store, it is imperative to give proper sizing advice since returns hurt my business (and your foot!).

Every day I receive dozens of emails or messages revolving around the same topic of fit. Many clients (maybe 50%) and mostly from the USA ask for advice using the following:

  • Sneaker Size
  • Foot Measurements
  • Brannock Device Size

These 3 methods have fundamental flaws that render them almost useless and I will talk about each one of them.

Sneaker Size

This is probably the most obvious of them all. Sneakers come in many forms and serve different purposes.

With hundreds of brands out there that use their own last/form, sizing varies wildly between them. That can even be the case in different sneakers of the same brand.

A retailer that focuses on the dress shoes niche is likely to have less experience or data when it comes to sneakers.

Unless the retailer is the god of fitting and you trust him so much, you shouldn’t rely on your sneakers size for finding the correct shoe fit.

Foot Measurements

Another mostly useless way to determine or ask for your shoe size is giving your foot measurements.

You see, our feet have different builds and measurements don’t dictate accurately how something will fit. Those measurements are something professionals use such as podiatrists or bespoke shoemakers.

Mario Bemer measuring feet
Bespoke Master Mario Bemer taking proper foot measurements for a client

Your average retailer or salesman (including me for now) has no formal training or experience in foot health and anatomy.

Most importantly, two almost identical feet will sit differently inside the shoe. And even if the shoe measurements look good on paper they still might not fit you well.

We are also not experts in measuring properly leading to significant errors.

The only thing measurements can help you with is with generally understanding your foot.

Heat pressure scales can show how wide or narrow your foot and if it’s flat or not. You can also get a feeling for how high (or low) your instep might be and help you avoid certain types of tighter laced shoes.

Brannock Device Size

A Brannock Device is something popular in the USA and not encountered in Europe often.

For those of you unaware it’s a simple device that can measure the width and length of your feet alongside other stats.

Unfortunately, a Brannock Device is simply an indicator and not a fit guide. Yes, for some people in certain occasions their Brannock size will be enough to determine their shoe size.

Brannock Device
The Brannock Device

In fact, when browsing the popular Goodyear Welt Subreddit many users will ask leading with their Brannock sizing. Due to the sheer data available, there can be helpful recommendations.

However measurement again depends on the skill of the person doing it. I had countless clients tell me they are E or EE wide yet still had to size down half on a regular width shoe.

In other words, be careful about picking shoes purely because of your Brannock.

So How Can I Help My Retailer Find My Size?

The best possible scenario of course is to try on the shoes yourself in a store.

Unfortunately this is quite impossible most of the time but that’s where your retailer comes in. A good retailer will have experience and valuable data and statistics or trends to make the right recommendation.

Even more importantly, a good retailer will not be afraid to say no if they think they cannot help you accurately.

If you had welted dress shoes before, the best way is to list the brands, lasts and sizes. Popular shoes such as Allen Edmonds are an excellent starting point.

On the other hand, if you are new to the welted shoe world, discuss it with them and there is surely a point where you had some form of even cheap dress shoes.

Good retailers with good and responsive customer service will guide you through this!

Other Things You Can Do

Another trend I see a lot is customers obviously not reading two very important things: Return Policy and Sizing Advice.

Every product I upload has a comprehensive description with sizing advice and a link to a more detailed page. When someone asks me if my shoes run large or normal I know they probably didn’t read it at all.

The reason I am mentioning this is because when you are ready to spend a significant amount of your hard-earned money on shoes, take some extra time to do due diligence. But never be afraid to simply ask!

Lastly, nobody seems to read the return policy which could save you a lot of trouble. Most of the times, a custom product is made for you and chargebacking the poor retailer is not a lovely thing to do.

Returns do happen, so please respect the product and return it in good condition!

Summary

How should shoes fit is a rather subjective question and depends on each individual.

One cannot dispute however the fact that it’s imperative to get the right shoe size for your foot. A shoe that fits loose or tight can damage your foot severely and in my opinion most dress shoes already lack proper cushion.

The next time you try on a pair of shoes follow some of the tips above and think about your daily life and routines. It’s a combination of foot shape, shoe shape and occasion.

I am extremely curious to hear about your experiences when it comes to shoe fitting. I had my own terrible experiences where I had a full size down from my correct size for 1.5 year. Re-evaluate your fit and keep your foot healthy!

Don’t forget to Subscribe for more shoe and style content and a 10% Discount on The Noble Shoe!

Thank you for reading,

Kostas Mandilaris,
Misiu Academy

Comments (12)

I wonder if retailers could send sample shoes to try for fitting purposes. It is hard to buy shoes online, but there are not stores to try on good shoes in most US cities.

Kostas Mandilaris

Hi Joe,

it can be quite challenging to do all that, especially with the level of scam and fraudulent attempts that we are exposed to daily. Even here where I am in Europe, the brands I can try on physically are limited!

Another great article! I find a lot of lasts unsuitable for me as my left foot is significantly larger than my right (1-1.5cm longer and wider). To date, TLB and J Fitzpatrick fits me best (still not perfect). For most other shoes I need to install pads on the inside heel, and may even need tongue pads too. I own a Santos (made for Herring), perfect fit on left foot but just way too much room in my right. If I order something via the Patina Service, would you be able to make shoes in 2 different sizes for my feet?

I find that fit is a very subjective manner, especially for people like me who hasn’t had too much experience owning pairs in multiple lasts within a brand and across brands. I know that I need to experience different things to nail my correct true size, still. Plus, some people prefer their shoes to be more snug, while some prefer a bit more room (I’m in the latter category). This is why I always champion getting used shoes from eBay to people new to welted shoes. Because its cheaper, any mistakes won’t be as bad as a non-returnable new shoe that costs $300.

Kostas Mandilaris

I understand, it can be a serious problem for some. The best way in such occasions is MTM.

Ebay can be a good way to start your journey and learn a bit more about shoes.

Hola Kostas.
Coincidencias !!
Justo después de leer tu articula he descubierto la App FeetSizr , la he podido utilizar porque el minorista esta asociado y me ha facilitado su @ y contraseña.
Como he llegado a descubrirla. Viendo el vídeo que ha estrenado hoy Wi Shoegui.
Que opinión te merece esta App para obtener la Talla adecuada ??
Saludos Kostas.

Kostas Mandilaris

Hola Ignacio,

the FeetSizr app is a good idea, but I think some people on Styleforum did some testing and it is not very accurate 100% of the time. I would not rely on it with certainty but if John thinks it works you can try it!

I think technology is still far away from accurate measurements with VR and camera!

Hello Kostas
Thanx for another interesting article (of all the newsletter I receive yours is one of the very few that I immediately read – so please keep up the good work:)
Sizing is definitely a problem, I usually buy the same brand of. Welted shoes that retails for around 5-600 Swiss Francs (about the same in €), and the sizes I need t choose differs between 10 and 11, i.e a whole size within the same brand (I even just bought a pair in 9.5 since they where in a sale, and they are fairly comfortable, even if I wouldn’t go for a longer hike in them.
I can also confirm that ones feet will get bigger when you get older, I have a pair of beautiful shoes from Vass that I bought 20 years ago that now to my regret have started the be uncomfortably tight.
One question: what is a suede tongue pad that you refer to? I’ve never heard of them, and I do have a constant problem with loafers slipping.
Regards
Peter

Kostas Mandilaris

Hello Peter!

I am very happy you find my content useful. Feet do get a bit bigger when getting older as the ligaments loosen and stretch.

This is the suede tongue pad I am referring to: https://www.skolyx.se/en/insoles-etc/299-tongue-pad-in-suede-leather.html

It’s brilliant and can fill up to a half size in some occasions! It pushes your instep down and backwards eliminating heel slip.

Best,
Kostas

The black blucher shoes at the top of this article in pebble grain are simply stunning. Name, style, and maker please? How can I get a pair?

Kostas Mandilaris

Hello Gillis,

Thanks for taking the time to comment and read the article.

The shoes are fully hand made split toe derbies in black hatch grain (not pebble grain). They are from Petru & Claymoor and will cost you $1500.

You can read my review here: https://www.misiuacademy.com/petru-claymoor-shoes-review/

Best,
Kostas

Good evening Kostas,
Thanks for your prompt and thorough reply. very impressive shoe and from this bespoke house.
I also read and watched your review from March. I’m glad i found your blog and site as I’m a serious lover of fine workmanship in shoes and gentlemen attire.

Best regards,
Gillis

Kostas Mandilaris

My pleasure! It’s a passion and hobby for me as well!

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