Dear All,

Here are some thoughts on shoe sizes that I have collected from various
sources over the last few years.

I would appreciate your comments.

Shoe sizes

Pat Naughtin

Normal adult feet come in about 100 different combinations of length and
width. This means that shoe sellers could carry 100 different sizes for each
of their shoe styles. The best shoe stores carry about half of the possible
range of shoe sizes. The net result is that although you can buy shoes in
hundreds of Œhigh-tech computer-designedı styles, but you have only a 50 %
chance of getting a pair that actually fit your feet.

That means that, at best, they only carry sufficient sizes to fit only half
the population. The rest either get by with ill-fitting shoes or go to the
considerable expense of having their shoes individually made for them.

The reason that this situation exists is, of course, due to economics. In
recent decades, the shoe selling business, once quite conservative, has
become extremely style-driven and competitive. But individual stores canıt
afford to carry too many sizes, particularly if a shoe style will be out of
fashion next season.

When professional shoe salespeople measure your feet, they do so, not as an
absolute fact regarding your shoe size, but simply as a starting point to
try to get your foot size and your shoe size to be as close as possible.
Professional shoe salespeople also know how to allow for wiggle-room
depending on the style and purpose of the shoe (pointed toes, rounded toes,
tight climbing shoes, loose cowboy boots, etc).

To obscure the fact that they only have a limited range of shoe sizes, shoe
sellers rely heavily on size numbers that either have no meaning or whose
origins have, almost, been lost in history. My impression from talking to
some shoe industry people is that they prefer obscure sizing numbers because
they donıt want you to know that they donıt carry your true size.

Following discussions with shoe sellers, I am convinced that none of them
know anything about the basis of any of the shoe-sizing schemes they use
every day. I have yet to find anyone who actually understands our crazy shoe
sizing methods.


It is not true, however, that there is no basis in reality for size numbers.
It is just that the history is a trifle obscure. Apparently our present shoe
sizing methods began in the year 1324 when an appeal was made to King Edward
II of England by the peasants, tradesmen, and scholars to establish some
standards of measurement. The king agreed, and with the guidance of his
subjects, decreed that three barleycorns (from the middle of the ear, full
and round) laid end to end would henceforth be equal to one inch, and that
twelve inches (36 corns) would be equal to one foot. The difference between
one shoe size and the next, according to the King, was the length of one
barleycorn. This formula is still the basis of the modern English, North
American, and Australian shoe size methods.

In Australia, the first normal Œbabyı size shoe is size zero (0). Size zero
is set at the length of 10 barleycorns (approximately 85 mm) long or about
the width of a woman's hand across the knuckles. Maybe a child was fitted
with its first shoes when its foot would reach further than the width of its
mothers hand.

Back in the old days, shoemakers used a size stick with a mark for each
size. The stick had marks something like a ruler. The first mark was called
size zero, and another 12 marks were one barleycorn apart; this gave 13
whole sizes for children's shoes. As we also use half-sizes children's sizes
go up to size 13 1/2. We have to use half-sizes, especially with children's
shoes, because whole sizes are too large to get a good fit. The next size
ranges, for men and women, start again at size one and then proceed upwards
at barleycorn intervals.

As a side issue, primary school kids will probably wear out the tops of the
shoes before the bottoms. In either case, the child will probably outgrow
the shoe before it wears out; at peak growth childrenıs feet can grow at
about 1 mm every 10 days, or 8.5 mm (one shoe size) in 85 days.

The shoe sizing methods of England, North America, and Australia are all
based on the length of barleycorns (approximately 8.5 mm), or
half-barleycorns for half-sizes. The differences between the various sizes
is due to the initial length given to 'size 0'; England and Australia begin
with a size 0 of 10 barleycorn lengths while the USA begins from 9
barleycorn lengths.

Have a look at the side of a shoebox where the shoes are intended for an
international market; choose a brand such as New Balance, Adidas or Nike.
When you find the size, you will notice four sizes listed. For example, on
the side of a Nike box for a ladies shoe you might see: 8.5 US, 7.5 UK, 40
EUR, 255 mm; these are roughly the same sizes expressed in four different
ways. A similar men's shoebox might be labelled: 7 US 6 UK, 40 EUR, 255 mm.
Although generally menıs and womenıs sizes are two sizes apart, with Nikeıs
there is a one-and-a-half size difference between menıs and womenıs shoes.

Here is a description of the four different size schemes, as I understand
them, but because the sizing methods are not well understood, even by many
senior shoe industry people, there is wide variety in the practices of the
various shoe companies.

Australia and England (UK)

Children's: The length of 10 barleycorns is taken as size 0; all other sizes
are calculated using additional barleycorns. Length = Size ÷ 8.5 + 85 mm.

Men's: Size 1 is taken as being 23 barleycorns (195 mm) long and then
additional barleycorn lengths are added for each size. Length = Size ÷ 8.5 +
195 mm.

Women's: Size 1 is taken as being 178 mm long and then additional barleycorn
lengths are added for each size. Length = Size ÷ 8.5 + 178 mm. Women's sizes
are two barleycorn lengths different to men's; a size 8 men's shoe is the
same length as a size 10 women's shoe ­ except for brands such as Nike.


Children's: The length of 9 barleycorns is taken as size 0; and then
additional barleycorn lengths are added for each size. Length = Size ÷ 8.5 +
76 mm.

Men's: Size 1 is taken as being 22 barleycorns (186 mm) long and then
additional barleycorn lengths are added for each size. Length = Size ÷ 8.5 +
186 mm.

Women's: Size is taken to be two barleycorns shorter than the men's size.
Size 1 is taken as being 20 barleycorns (169 mm) long and then additional
barleycorn lengths are added for each size. Length = Size/8.5 + 169 mm

European (EUR)

Size = Length in millimetres ÷ 6.666 mm or Length = 6.666 x Size. Initially,
European sizes were based on a measure of the shoe length in lots (sizes) of
2/3 of a centimetre, but without any initial size 0 to start from. I have no
idea why 2/3 of a centimetre was chosen originally.

Mondopoint (mm)

Size = Length (in mm) rounded upwards to the nearest five millimetres.

Width = width (in mm) rounded upwards to the nearest five millimetres.

Mondopoint is obviously the most sensible. But although it was introduced in
the 1960s, it has not caught on widely. Other than its simplicity,
Mondopoint has two other distinct advantages. The first is that Mondopoint
is based on a measure of your foot wearing appropriate socks for the type of
footwear you are buying, and not on the size of the shoe. A second advantage
is that Mondopoint has an ideal 5 mm increment, which is small enough to
ensure a good fit but large enough to reduce the number of sizes a shoe shop
has to carry. By comparison, English, North American, and Australian
half-sizes are 4.2 mm and European half-sizes are 3.3 mm.


Width sizes are even more complicated. Sometimes, they are designated in
proportion to the length, in letters from AAAAA (narrowest) to EEEEE
(widest), but many brands have done away with widths altogether, or use a
vague Œnarrow-medium-wideı description that doesnıt correspond to any
precise dimension. Again, Mondopoint makes the most sense with its simple

Width = width (in mm) rounded upwards to the nearest five millimetres.

Shoe sizes are a mess, and there's no question about that. We can only hope
for the day when can walk into a shop and say 'My foot, with the socks I'll
be wearing with these shoes, is 270 mm long and 95 mm wide. Could you show
me some shoes about that size please.'


Pat Naughtin
CAMS - Certified Advanced Metrication Specialist
    - United States Metric Association
ASM - Accredited Speaking Member
    - National Speakers Association of Australia
Member, International Federation for Professional Speakers

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