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What are shoe sizes?

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

What are shoe sizes? That depends. This varies from country to country.

What are shoe sizes? That depends. This varies from country to country.

Shoes are designed in a variety of widths and lengths to accommodate the various feet found in the world. Trying to understand what are shoe sizes? It can get rather complicated.

If you don?t know what size shoe you wear, it can be frustrating to find shoes that fit. Add to that the fact that shoes vary in length and width – as well as other size factors – from designer to designer. The ante is upped even more if you are buying shoes that were made in another country.

Keep in mind that a man?s shoe size doesn?t correlate to a woman?s. A man?s size 12 shoe is equal to a woman?s size 13.5 shoe. A woman?s size 12 shoe is comparable to a man?s size 10.5 shoe. There are also variances in width size. Shoes for narrow feet (N) or shoes for wide feet are sometimes available but not always. In the United States, a woman?s width B is considered average whereas a width size of D is considered medium for men — but would be wide for a woman.

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Even more importantly, shoe sizes vary significantly according to what country the shoe was made in. Be aware of this before purchasing size seven woman?s shoes from another country.


Since 1970, the average shoe size has increased a full size, notes the National Shoe Retailers Association. Women used to have an average shoe size of 7.5 (in America) and now it is 8.5. Men?s average shoe size has increased from 9.5 to 10.5.

No one knows why feet sizes are getting bigger although obesity is seen as a culprit. Feet are larger because people are carrying too much weight. When a child is obese this results in what is referred to as ?pan-caking? or the flattening of his feet. The child loses his arch. A fat child can grow up with splayed feet and no arches. Feet are also getting wider. It may also be that shoes that are designed for comfort, such as Crocs, have allowed feet to spread and get wider and bigger in general.

Technically, a shoe size is an alphanumerical indication of the fitting size of shoes. However, the shoe size systems throughout the world are different. Each system uses its own unit of measurement and each differs in what it measures. Not all shoe size measuring systems take width into an account and shoe size measuring methods can vary between children and adults.

It gets rather complicated if you are purchasing shoes from a foreign country so bone up on your shoe-size information before getting out that credit card. Some of the systems used to measure shoe size include the barleycorn approach, which is an old English unit that is comparable to 1/3 inch or 8.46 mm. The barleycorn unit is used by U.S. shoe manufacturers and English shoe makers.

The Paris point is another unit which equals 2/3 centimeters or 0.26 inches or 6.6 mm. This method is used in Continental Europe. Only full size shoes are made; no half size shoes are available. And then there is the use of metric measurements that involve centimeters and millimeters. This is used in the Asian system as well as in the international Mondopoint system.

This Mondopoint is based on the mean (average) foot length and width measure in millimeters. The fact that this approach takes width of the foot as well as the length into account results in a better fitting shoe than the other systems.

When purchasing shoes from another country, you must convert the foreign shoe size to the U.S. shoe size to ensure a proper fit. Do this by referring to a shoe size conversion chart. Shoes are ordered in terms of centimeters, millimeters or inches depending on where you are ordering them.
Your foot length is the distance that is present between two parallel lines that are at right angles to your foot and in contact with the toe that is most prominent and the foremost part of the heel.

Stand up in your bare feet and distribute your weight equally on both feet before having your foot size measured. You may discover that your feet are different sizes. If that is the case, buy shoes that fit the larger foot.

Also keep in mind that shoe widths and general fit can vary significantly from one manufacturer to another. You may find that one brand of shoe tends to run wide or short. If you are ordering shoes online this may involve some trial and error.

Read the online company?s return/exchange policy before purchasing anything. If it sounds as though the company is easy to deal with and will accept returns or agree to exchanges, then go for it. Online stores often have a greater selection of shoe sizes and widths in a wider variety of styles and colors.


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