My friend Oliver Wang, the proprietor of the great soul music MP3 blog Soul Sides, was at my studio the other day recording a segment for my NPR show Bullseye. Oliver’s been upping his style game lately, trying to look like the grown-up university professor he is, and he’d just bought himself a pair of shoes. In the process, he’d had a breakthrough.
“If you’ve worn sneakers for your whole adult life, it’s a small revelation that things like accurate length and width actually matter.”
After being uncomfortable in his dress shoes on the rare occasions he had to wear them for the first 40-ish years of his life, he went to an Allen-Edmonds store here in Southern California and got properly fitted. He tried a few different lasts and a few different sizes and widths.
And what did he find? You can wear shoes that fit. It makes a big difference.
The truth is that putting your foot into a pair of sneakers isn’t all that much different from putting your foot into a foam mattress topper with a foot-long slit in it. Rather than size the shoe, sneaker makers fill it with foam padding, and rely on that to hold your foot in place. It works OK, though it should be said that in actual athletics it sort of falls apart – which is why there are specialty running shoe stores.
Dress shoes are different. Dress shoes are made of (and lined with) leather. There might be a bit of padding in the insole, but for the most part, they’re a cover for your feet, with a tough enough bottom to protect you from sharp pokey things. Getting the size right, in other words, is absolutely essential.
I wore size 12D for most of my life. It was my size in the Nike Air Pegasus sneakers that I wore in high school and the burgundy-and-white Dunks I wore in college. My dress shoes were 12s, too, with insoles in them to make them (mostly) fit. Because when I measured my feet, actually put them in a Brannock Foot Measuring Device, I found that I was a short twelve, and that my feet were very narrow – about a B width. I started buying shoes in 12B, and trying on 11 1/2s, and my life has been improved dramatically. When I tried my first 12 A/C, an old pair of Florsheims, from when heel and forefoot had separate width measurements? I was in heaven.
So… buying shoes? Go to a store with a staff that knows their products, measure your foot, and try on a bunch of options. Don’t neglect width.
In other words: do it right.