The Hunt for Shoes

This week I found myself on Payless Shoe Source’s website browsing for my favourite pumps that were on clearance for around $15 a pair. While there are great many things I very rarely buy new, these particular pumps are one of few items I would buy new if the price was right. They are what I would call “my shoe” you know, that one style and brand that really fits your foot? Alas I’m just about done browsing, I review my shopping cart and I realize it doesn’t allow me to select Ontario. Sigh, a quick Google search tells me that Payless does not ship to Canada but they invite you to go your local store (which in my case is the smallest selection on the planet and never a style I’m looking for!) Huge let down.

Disheartened, I glanced quickly over a few of the “fast fashion” websites based in China and I just thought: I don’t want to risk this when it comes to shoes. Shoes I cannot alter to make bigger or smaller, they are what they are. I’ve been told many tricks to stretching but that works so rarely considering most of my footwear is not leather and typically thrifted, which means its already stretched as much as it ever will be. Anything I’ve ever ordered online I have to be 100% certain that I can return it to a store locally or the item is priced low enough that I wouldn’t care if I couldn’t return it. When it comes to footwear, I just don’t like to gamble the odds. I bet you’re wondering why I would even consider cheaply made shoes but for me its about far more than price.

Let’s start off with my feet shall we? I am one of those medical enigmas, a rare case when it comes to my feet. I was wearing a 7.5 to an 8 before entering grade 9. Within a few short years my feet began changing, bones compressing and adjusting for wearing pointe shoes in Ballet twice a week. Now this isn’t something that happens to most people or many dancers for that matter, but it happened to me. A doctor had looked at them years ago and said you can see the structure has changed as bones bump where they shouldn’t. Along with the new compressed structure they have become very narrow to the point where there is very poor circulation resulting in my feet almost always being cold. These days I am a size 6 US on a swollen day, a 5.5 US on some occasions and in a perfect universe: a size 6 on the left foot and 5.75 on the right.

Whenever I have attempted to shop the “real stores” for footwear I am always always disappointed in my purchase unless its Payless, like I said earlier as these always fit my feet. Having worked so many years in retail I’ve heard the complaint “its so hard to find my size” regarding every possible size in existence. Its apparent that we all struggle in this hunt for the perfect shoe. You name it 5, 12, 8… I’ve heard it from everyone. Too big, too small, too high an instep, bunions rub too much, too narrow, too wide… I would find the complaints of women with sizes 6.5 to 9 (the most readily available and average shoe size) rather strange – but it just adds to the theory that shoes are very hard to fit. These women are competing with the largest group of consumers for their shared popular size.

I was reading statistics about women’s footwear in the last few decades to see why it feels so much harder to find shoes now compared to before. As I predicted, sizes are changing just like clothing. The natural progression of the human race suggests we have become larger, taller and wider. This also brings to light the challenges within the footwear industry. Sample sizes still tend to be in the size 5-6 US range as they were in the 60’s. While this can be great in some ways for me, I don’t have to wait for an associate to grab me a shoe – but on the other hand can be worse as they may have one pair left, but its the display pair. Inevitably that means one shoe is much larger from being tried on repeatedly than the other.

Fast forward a few decades and small is considered a size 7 and children’s footwear is encroaching with a size 4 being actually a women’s 6. The average shoe size now for women in America is about an 8 or 9 wide. Manufacturers are actually spending more money to produce larger sizes to try to keep up with this growing progression unfortunately, not fast enough for demand. This also means there will become a shortage of size 5-6 footwear in the coming years that isn’t full of rainbow glitter and the Barbie logo on them!

Which brings me to thrift shopping for shoes. You’ll frequently see this on lists of what not to buy second hand for the sake of possible bacteria, fungus, athlete’s foot, warts… Now if I haven’t completely scared you away, did you know you can clean shoes quite easily and remove the threat of any such bacteria finding its way to your feet? Chronologie Vintage has a great post with a list of ways you can sanitize footwear. 90% of my shoes are second hand, already worn in and in my opinion, ten times more comfortable to wear than buying new. I’ve never understood the logic in suffering for days, weeks, months trying to get shoes to feel right. While they may not last forever, spending $10 on a pair of pumps that I might get several years of wear out of is the most efficient way to spend my money. Thrifting shoes is also a great way to discover brands, styles and shapes that may suit your feet. This is how I found my love of Nine West pumps!

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