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)

The Wallet I Use with Jeans

Since my post on henleys yesterday, a few readers emailed me asking for details on the leather wallet shown in my picture. That’s a mid-length, steerhide wallet made by the Japanese brand Flat Head. It’s thick and heavy, and over-the-top in terms of durability. It’s also the only wallet I’ll use with jeans, as my regular card case and money clip combination feels too insubstantial when I’m wearing a rugged jacket.

High-End Japanese Models

The Flat Head’s wallet is admittedly ridiculously expensive. Part of this is due to the materials and construction (it has a sterling silver ring, and has been handsewn with waxed cow tendon thread); part of it is the cost of labor in Japan (where it was made); and part of it is simply a result of the high-demand for Flat Head products in the hardcore denim-enthusiast community. If you’re not bothered by the price, you can find similarly nice pieces at Self Edge and Blue in Green. They have stuff made by Flat Head, as well as other high-end Japanese brands, such as Kawatako, Studio D’Artisan, and Red Moon.

More Affordable Options

There are a number of more affordable options, however, from companies based the other parts of East Asia and the United States. These include Angelos Leather, Obbi Good Label, Tenjin Works, PCKY, Voyej, Hollows Leather, and Tanner Goods. I’ve also seen some really nice models made by Don’t Mourn Organize. The man behind that operation, Scott, doesn’t list his mid-length and long-wallets on his website, but I assume they can still be made. Almost everything he sells is made-to-order. Lastly, you can search eBay for “Redmoon style wallet,” which should pull up a few models. I have no experience with those, but I did buy my braided leather chain, which you see above, from eBay a few years ago (it cost something like twenty-five bucks). There are still similar ones on eBay

Getting That Patina

If you buy one, you have the option of getting something already dyed, or something that comes in a tan “natural” color. The second will darken into that golden, honey brown you see above. All that’s really required is about a year or so of regular use. Sunlight will darken the leather, so if you want to speed up the process, you can leave the wallet out for a couple of days in direct sunlight. To get a truly nice patina, however, you’ll need to use it. Sticking it in your back pockets, for example, will give the leather a more natural, broken-in look, and transfer some of the indigo from your jeans to your wallet’s leather and threads. I also routinely treat mine with Obneauf’s Heavy Duty LP. Some say the hue of your wallet’s patina is determined by the kind of leather treatment you choose, while others say this is nonsense. I have no opinion on it either way, but you can browse threads like this one at Superfuture to see how some people’s leather products have aged. I have noticed, for what it’s worth, that some Flat Head wallets have developed a slightly reddish patina, while mine is more golden-brown.

Either way, if you purchase something of quality, and give it some good, hard, honest use, you’re sure to get something beautiful at the end. Just don’t let a chiropractor see you with one, as sitting on such a bulky thing all day is apparently bad for your health.

Repairing Jeans

As many readers know, the point of buying jeans made from high-quality denim is to get something that will age well and look better with time. In the process of wearing your jeans hard, however, you’ll find that certain stress points can “blow out,” particularly around the pockets, hem, crotch, knees, and buttonholes. A tailor or denim repair specialist can fix these for you, usually by using a technique called “darning.”

Darning is a process where you essentially “reweave” new yarns into an area that has been worn thin or completely blown out. A friend of mine recently darned my 3sixteens, and I just got them back this weekend. The first photo above shows my jeans before they were repaired, and the second shows them after. The jeans were getting a bit thin after about eight months of effective wear, but after some darning, the weak areas have been reinforced and they’re as study as they day they came. 

Generally speaking, you want to repair your jeans at the first sign of danger. Like all fabrics, denim is woven with yarns running lengthwise (called the warp), and transverse threads running the width (called the weft). On denim, the blue warp yarns are typically the first to give out, so you know what areas are in danger of “blowing out” when you only see the white weft yarns holding an area together. If not taken care of soon, the area can suddenly just rip. The worse the damage, the more noticeable the repair will be. (Though, even with a badly ripped area, a good tailor can perform a pretty good repair. Here’s a particularly impressive job over at Superdenim, posted in a thread about just this topic.)

Many tailors can darn your jeans for a reasonably small fee, but if you’re not sure who to go to, or if your jeans are particularly dear to you, you may want to go to a specialty shop. Operations such Self Edge, Blue in Green, Denim Doctors, Denim Therapy, Schaeffer’s Garment Hotel, and Denim Surgeon are commonly recommended in the denim community. Some of these places might charge a little more than your local tailor, but you can be sure they’ll also do an excellent job. 

If you’re feeling up for the challenge, you can also learn how to darn your own jeans. These two ladies have a tutorial on YouTube, and The Bandanna Almanac has a post on how to darn by hand. I imagine the second technique won’t give you something sturdy enough for jeans, but it looks like a neat thing to learn.  

Shell Cordovan for Foul Weather Boots
Pictured above is a beautiful pair of cognac shell cordovan boots, custom made by Carmina for Ethan Desu. As Ethan notes, these are his go-to wet weather boots, and they’ve taken quite a beating in their time. 
Shell cordovan is also my material of choice for rainy day footwear. Some men worry that harsh elements will ruin their “precious” shell cordovans, but it’s important to remember that one of the material’s main advantages is its toughness. You can walk through hail, rain, sleet, or snow in these things and your feet will stay bone dry. Yes, this may cause the leather to rise a bit in some places, but you can smoothen it out by rubbing it with a deer bone (or simply the curved side of a metal spoon), and giving it a vigorous brushing. If you wish, you can also help protect the leather by applying a bit of wax polish once or twice a year (any more and shell cordovan won’t shine up well). 
Just take a look at the gleaming pair of shoes above. Although Ethan uses these as his rain boots, and has put in a lot of wear, he’s taken a stiff brush and a little bit of water, and made them look better than most people’s pampered dress shoes. 
Don’t be afraid to use your things. 

Shell Cordovan for Foul Weather Boots

Pictured above is a beautiful pair of cognac shell cordovan boots, custom made by Carmina for Ethan Desu. As Ethan notes, these are his go-to wet weather boots, and they’ve taken quite a beating in their time. 

Shell cordovan is also my material of choice for rainy day footwear. Some men worry that harsh elements will ruin their “precious” shell cordovans, but it’s important to remember that one of the material’s main advantages is its toughness. You can walk through hail, rain, sleet, or snow in these things and your feet will stay bone dry. Yes, this may cause the leather to rise a bit in some places, but you can smoothen it out by rubbing it with a deer bone (or simply the curved side of a metal spoon), and giving it a vigorous brushing. If you wish, you can also help protect the leather by applying a bit of wax polish once or twice a year (any more and shell cordovan won’t shine up well). 

Just take a look at the gleaming pair of shoes above. Although Ethan uses these as his rain boots, and has put in a lot of wear, he’s taken a stiff brush and a little bit of water, and made them look better than most people’s pampered dress shoes. 

Don’t be afraid to use your things.