Q & Answer: How Do You Pick the Right Shoe Size Online?

Zack writes to us to ask: I’m interested in buying a pair of shoes online, but am having trouble figuring out if they’d fit. I emailed the manufacturer and they gave me the length and width measurements in millimeters. The problem is, I don’t know whether the longest part of my foot aligns with the longest part of the shoe. Do you have any suggestions for what measurements I should ask for, so I can make an educated guess?

I’m not a big fan of measurements for shoes. Like you, I never know what I’m supposed to do with them. 

The length of a shoe can vary depending on a few factors.

  • Size, most obviously. But you’d be surprised how little changes from size to size. The difference can be as small as an eighth of an inch.
  • Welting technique. By welting technique, I mean how the sole was attached to the uppers. The length of your shoes — as measured from the bottom of your soles — can vary depending on the welting technique, as well as within the same kind of construction. Check out the two shoes above, for example. One is from Allen Edmonds, the other from Edward Green. Both are made with Goodyear welts, but the heel on the Allen Edmonds sticks out a bit more from the heel cup, while the heel of the Edward Greens hugs the shoe. 
  • Heel design. Although not as common, some shoes will have what’s known as a canted or Cuban heel, such as these from Saint Crispin’s. Again, compare them to the straight-down heel of the Allen Edmonds shoe above, and you can see how this would affect the measurement of the shoes at the bottom of the sole. 
  • Most importantly, the last. The last is the wooden form on which the leather is pulled over so that it can take a certain shape. You can have lasts in all sorts of shapes. Some shoes can be round and stubby (like Alden); some can be very long and pointy (like Gaziano & Girling). This will affect the length of a shoe more than anything else. You can have two perfectly fitting shoes, but one might be slightly longer simply because the toes were designed to look sleeker. 

In the end, it’s not even the length of your shoes that matter, but rather the heel-to-ball measurement. Critical to your fit is where the heel and ball of your feet sit in your shoes, not whether the ends of your shoe come within a certain distance to your toes.

There’s really only one way to figure out your size online, assuming you can’t try stuff on first.

  • Figure out your Brannock size. Go to a place like Nordstrom and ask someone to measure you. It’s sometimes good to get both feet measured, as few people have the same sized feet. 
  • Ask the store or manufacturer for advice. Not all salespeople will know what they’re talking about, so take their advice with a grain of salt. That said, there are few better places to get sizing advice than from the store or manufacturer you’re buying from. They’re the ones who are likely to be most knowledgeable. Tell them your Brannock size, and if you have other high-end shoes, your size in other brands and models. I don’t mean sneakers like Nike, but rather dress shoes from companies such as Allen Edmonds, Alden, Crockett & Jones, etc. 
  • Check this advice against the forum threads. Styleforum has the biggest archive of all clothing forums, but depending on what kind of shoes you’re buying, Superfuture and Ask Andy About Clothes can be useful as well. Iron Heart and Denimbro are also good for workwear type stuff. The key here is to search the archives before posting anything, as there’s usually a wealth of information you can mine. 

Finally, once you get your shoes, you can check to see if they fit according to this post.

Long story short: measurements are good for clothes, but bad for shoes. To find your size, you have to do some other stuff.

(Photos via Leffot, The Shoe Buff, and Bengal Stripe)

Rugged Belts For Jeans

There’s probably a theory about why a guy my size would like such rugged belts (overcompensating for something, perhaps?), but regardless — lately I’ve come to really like Don’t Mourn Organize, a small, one-man operation based in Utah that makes custom leather goods. Eight months ago, I had Scott, the owner of the company, make me a harness leather belt cut to a 0.25” thickness. It’s thicker than your average belt, but not so thick that it’d be too tough to break in. The color of the leather was originally an unwearable pale beige, but quickly darkened to a light brown after I applied two or three coats of Obeanuf’s LP. It’s since darkened further, to a solid mid-shade of brown, after eights months of regular wear and use. You can see how it looks now in the photo above.

I’ve enjoyed the belt so much that I recently ordered another — this time a two-layer horsehide “Clint stitch” belt that’s so named because the stitching pattern is modeled after something Clint Eastwood wore in one of his movies. I find the Western style goes well with a canvas RRL jacket I own, while the plainer, harness leather belt looks better with heavy leather jackets.

Scott’s belts are beautifully rugged and uncommonly thick. These are not the type of belts you’d wear with dressy chinos or wool trousers. They’re what you wear with denim, fatigues, or heavy workwear pants. Being as thick as they are, there’s something satisfying about cinching up a belt that’s as rugged as your jeans or boots, and it’s great to see how the leather acquires a natural patina over time. You can order one of Scott’s belts in any color you wish, but for me, the joy is all in getting that natural colored leather that darkens with age. Much like how guys like the process of breaking in their raw denim and seeing how it fades, this is essentially the same thing, except that leather gets darker when you treat it to oil and conditioner, and as it gets exposed to sunlight. 

Simple belts like the one I first bought cost $65. The Clint stitch belt ran me $75 (shipping included in both prices). Everything is custom made, so if you want some tweak in the design, Scott can usually accommodate.

To see more photos of the Clint stitch belt, you can check out this post at StyleForum. For photos of Scott’s work in general, check out this thread at Iron Heart’s forum

The Simplest Casual Look
Although I enjoy wearing tailored clothes on weekdays, I dress pretty casually on weekends. Lately, that’s meant dark blue jeans with a clean white t-shirt and a nice, brown leather jacket. For shoes, I wear either sneakers or boots, and if it’s cold outside, I layer with a heathered grey sweatshirt. I find it’s one of the simplest, easiest looks you can put together, and depending on your lifestyle, very well suited to casual weekend activities with friends.
For jeans, I really like 3sixteen’s SL-100x model. It’s a slim straight-legged cut made from a medium-weight selvedge denim that doesn’t bag as easily as other brands’. I’ve also been admiring their premium 3sixteen+ line, as well as Flat Heads 3009s and Iron Heart 634s. Those are made from unsanforized denim, which Kiya at Self Edge tells us will yield more interesting fades over time (without the need to forgo washing, thankfully). For something more affordable, check out Albam, Gustin, and Uniqlo’s Made in Japan offerings.
For the t-shirt, I stick to a pretty basic Hanes’ Beefy-T (I get the one with a chest pocket). It has a stoutness that I think works well with this kind of look, and it can be easily found on sale for about $6. Jesse has also recommended Costco’s Kirkland t-shirts for this sort of thing. For something thinner and stretchier, check out Alternative Apparel, which Jesse does bulk orders on every summer, and American Apparel. Levis also has a nice model that’s in between the toughness of Hanes and the fineness of the last two brands.
Finally, there’s the leather jacket. These can get astoundingly expensive, but it’s worth buying the best you can afford. Just as you can get away with a pair of cheap chinos and dress shirt if you have a really nice fitting sport coat, you can skimp on the jeans and t-shirt if you have a really beautiful leather jacket. 
Some of the best makers here include Good Wear Leather, Bill Kelso, The Real McCoys, Eastman, and Aero. These brands specialize in making reproductions of vintage flight jackets, and they make them as tough as the originals. Temple of Jawnz is also a favorite among style enthusiasts. They’re sadly closing up shop in a month, but are doing one last call for custom orders. 
The price points for any of these is pretty expensive. We’re talking $750 to $1,500 for a jacket, and some even have waiting lists that stretch back a year. As usual, a more affordable option would be trawling eBay and vintage stores, but what you save in money, you’ll spend in time. You could also go for a similarly rugged jacket style, but one not made from leather. One of my favorite stores, Bench & Loom, has some really handsome pieces, and they’re holding a 20% off sale with the code SPRING20. The code is good for both sweaters and outerwear, with some brands being excluded (Mister Freedom, Schott NYC, Buzz Rickson, and The Real McCoys).

The Simplest Casual Look

Although I enjoy wearing tailored clothes on weekdays, I dress pretty casually on weekends. Lately, that’s meant dark blue jeans with a clean white t-shirt and a nice, brown leather jacket. For shoes, I wear either sneakers or boots, and if it’s cold outside, I layer with a heathered grey sweatshirt. I find it’s one of the simplest, easiest looks you can put together, and depending on your lifestyle, very well suited to casual weekend activities with friends.

For jeans, I really like 3sixteen’s SL-100x model. It’s a slim straight-legged cut made from a medium-weight selvedge denim that doesn’t bag as easily as other brands’. I’ve also been admiring their premium 3sixteen+ line, as well as Flat Heads 3009s and Iron Heart 634s. Those are made from unsanforized denim, which Kiya at Self Edge tells us will yield more interesting fades over time (without the need to forgo washing, thankfully). For something more affordable, check out Albam, Gustin, and Uniqlo’s Made in Japan offerings.

For the t-shirt, I stick to a pretty basic Hanes’ Beefy-T (I get the one with a chest pocket). It has a stoutness that I think works well with this kind of look, and it can be easily found on sale for about $6. Jesse has also recommended Costco’s Kirkland t-shirts for this sort of thing. For something thinner and stretchier, check out Alternative Apparel, which Jesse does bulk orders on every summer, and American Apparel. Levis also has a nice model that’s in between the toughness of Hanes and the fineness of the last two brands.

Finally, there’s the leather jacket. These can get astoundingly expensive, but it’s worth buying the best you can afford. Just as you can get away with a pair of cheap chinos and dress shirt if you have a really nice fitting sport coat, you can skimp on the jeans and t-shirt if you have a really beautiful leather jacket. 

Some of the best makers here include Good Wear Leather, Bill Kelso, The Real McCoys, Eastman, and Aero. These brands specialize in making reproductions of vintage flight jackets, and they make them as tough as the originals. Temple of Jawnz is also a favorite among style enthusiasts. They’re sadly closing up shop in a month, but are doing one last call for custom orders

The price points for any of these is pretty expensive. We’re talking $750 to $1,500 for a jacket, and some even have waiting lists that stretch back a year. As usual, a more affordable option would be trawling eBay and vintage stores, but what you save in money, you’ll spend in time. You could also go for a similarly rugged jacket style, but one not made from leather. One of my favorite stores, Bench & Loom, has some really handsome pieces, and they’re holding a 20% off sale with the code SPRING20. The code is good for both sweaters and outerwear, with some brands being excluded (Mister Freedom, Schott NYC, Buzz Rickson, and The Real McCoys).