How to Find Shoes That Fit Your Toes

Shoes can either help with foot problems or have the potential to cause foot problems. There are several ways to help get your feet into a properly fitting pair of shoes.

While shopping for shoes online is very popular, you may be relying only on the stated size and not on how the shoes will actually fit on your feet. Use these guidelines and tips to know how to choose the right shoes and ensure they fit you correctly.

Person in a shoe store shopping for shoes
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Measuring Your Feet

You should have your feet measured one to two times per year at a shoe store. Do not rely on a foot measurement taken 10 years ago.

The ligaments and other soft tissues in your feet tend to relax and stretch as you get older. This causes your feet to change shape and size.

Studies have shown that a large proportion of the population wear incorrectly sized footwear, which is associated with foot pain and foot disorders. Make sure to measure the length, width, and, arch length of your feet.

Measure Later in the Day

Have your feet measured and shop for shoes later in the day. Most everyone develops some swelling in their feet by the end of the day. If you wait until later in the day to shoe shop, you will be more likely to avoid getting shoes that are too tight.

Stand When Measuring

Be sure to stand up when measuring your feet. When standing, your feet will spread out more. It is better to have someone else take the measurement because you need to stand tall and look straight ahead with your weight centered over your foot. How you stand can affect the size and shape of your feet.

Measure the Arch Length

An important part of the shoe fit is the arch length. The arch length is measured from your heel to the ball of your foot (where your big toe joint bends). The bend in your big toe should match with where the shoe bends.

With both shoes on, rise up onto your toes. If you feel the shoe bend before or after the big toe joint, then the shoe is not a good fit for your arch length.

Size Does Not Matter

Try not to get too concerned with the shoe size number. There is a big difference in shoe sizes between shoe companies because of the lasts used. A last is a form that a shoe is molded around.

Each company uses different lasts, meaning that a size 8 New Balance will not fit the same as a size 8 Nike or a size 9 Manolo Blahnik will not fit the same as a size 9 Jimmy Choo.

Fit Shoes to the Larger Foot

No two feet are the same. One foot is usually slightly larger than the other foot. Buy the shoe size that fits the larger foot. There are different pads and inserts that can take up room in the shoe if it is too big, but you cannot add space to a shoe that is too small.

Fitting shoes to the larger foot have a limit. If your feet are more than 1 1/2 sizes different, then get two different sized shoes.

Trying on Shoes for Fit

You may try on shoes at the shoe store or fresh out of the box when you order them online. Here are tips to help you know whether to consider them further or to reject them.

Wear Appropriate Socks or Hosiery

 It is important to wear the socks, nylons, etc. that you would normally wear with the type of shoes you are trying on. For dress shoes, you want to wear the hosiery you would with them (or none if that is how you'll be wearing them).

For athletic shoes or outdoor shoes, be sure to wear the thickness of socks you will usually wear with them. The thickness of the sock will affect the fit of the shoe a great deal.

Leave 1/2 Inch at the Front of the Shoe

There should be about a 1/2 inch between the end of your longest toe and the end of the front of the shoe. Generally, this is about the size of the tip of your index finger (small hands) or pinky finger (large hands). While for many people the big toe is the longest, other people have a longer second toe, known as Morton's toe.

Leave 1/8 Inch at the Back of the Shoe

You do not want the back of the shoe too tight against the back of your heel. This may cause skin irritation and blisters. It is acceptable to have about a 1/8 inch between the back of your heel and the shoe.

Select Shoes with Room in the Toe Box

The toes need room to move. Not having enough room for your toes may lead to corns, calluses, neuromas, or deformed toes.

Walk With Both Shoes On

Do not be afraid to take your time and try on both shoes and walk around the store. Walk on different surfaces (carpet, tile, etc.), if available.

Ideally, it would be best to take the shoes to a gym and walk on a treadmill. This will keep the shoes clean and give you a chance to really try the shoes out. Some stores offer this service, so do not be afraid to ask.

If you have ordered shoes online, be sure that you follow their guidelines as to what form of wear is acceptable in order to be able to return the shoes.

Shoes Should Be Immediately Comfortable

Shoes should be comfortable in the store or right out of the box if you bought them online. Do not buy shoes with the hopes that someday they will be comfortable enough to wear. Return online purchases immediately if they don't feel great.

Laced Shoes Are Easier to Fit

Shoes with laces are easier to adjust to your specific needs and are easier to keep on the feet. Shoes without laces cannot adjust for swelling variances and they are harder to keep on the feet, making your feet work harder.

Get Expert Help

If you have foot problems or are unsure about proper shoe fit, it is highly recommended that you go to a shoe store that offers professional, personalized shoe fitting. A thorough shoe fitting and selection may take 45 to 60 minutes.

To prevent foot problems, the height of the heel should be no more than 1 1/2 inches. Any higher than this puts significantly more pressure on the forefoot and may lead to foot pain down the road.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it OK to wear shoes that are too big?

    No. Shoes that are too large for your feet will be too loose to provide adequate support and may affect how you walk, causing foot problems or falls.

  • What's the best way to break in new shoes?

    Shoes that fit properly should be comfortable from the start, but sometimes the upper part of a shoe will be stiff. To loosen them up, you might try wearing them with thick socks or, if they have laces, tying them extra tight. While breaking in shoes, wear them for short amounts of time until they feel "right."

  • How can I make sure I have the right size running shoes?

    Shop at a reputable running store that has knowledgable salespeople. Try on both left and right shoes and ask to run up and down the block outside a few times. Leave the shoes on your feet for at least 10 minutes.

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Article Sources
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  2. Schwarzkopf R, Perretta DJ, Russell TA, et al. Foot and shoe size mismatch in three different New York City populationsJ Foot Ankle Surg. 2011;50(4):391-394. doi:10.1053/j.jfas.2011.04.030

  3. Clarks. How to break in new shoes.

  4. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. Selecting a Running Shoe.

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