Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Shoes: A Modest Proposal

Yesterday, while buying a new pair of shoes, I noticed something interesting. The wide size was comfortable on my left foot, tight on the right. The extra wide was comfortable on the right, loose on the left.

According to the seller, that is a common, perhaps even normal, pattern—the right foot tends to be just a tiny bit bigger than the left. My wife confirmed the pattern from her own experience.

My first thought was that perhaps a high end brand could take advantage of the pattern by selling shoes individually—one to fit the left foot, one to fit the right—instead of in pairs. It then occurred to me that the mass market approach would be to routinely make the right shoe of each pair a fraction of a size larger than the left. The first firm that did that ought to increase its sales, since lots of people would find its shoes a little more comfortable than the shoes of its competitors. 

At which point it occurred to me that perhaps it was already happening. Does anyone know? Are right shoes and left shoes precise mirror images of each other, as I assumed, or do some firms routinely make one just a tiny bit bigger than the other?

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19 Comments:

At 11:04 AM, December 21, 2011, Blogger Nadaav said...

People don't like to think of their bodies as asymmetrical. Putting on an asymmetrically sized pair of shoes every morning would be a constant reminder. If a company did make their right shoes slightly wider, they might not tell anybody for this reason.

Also, what about left-handed people? Do they have bigger left feet?

 
At 11:25 AM, December 21, 2011, Anonymous Phil said...

I'm surprised to hear that the asymmetry goes the same way as handedness. I'm righthanded, but my left foot is a quarter size longer than my right. I might be an exception, of course.

I have a different problem: my feet are narrow, and as I break in the shoes, and the padding gets compressed, they get too wide. Eventually, I can't tie them tight enough, because the two flaps of the shoe, where the laces go, are touching each other.

Why not a shoe with adjustable width? Just a little extra padding you can take out or put in. Maybe that would make them too uncomfortable?

 
At 11:28 AM, December 21, 2011, Blogger Augustin Moga said...

I bet it never occurred to you that perhaps there's a wide conspiracy of the shoe industry to always design the left foot shoe a tiny bit smaller than the right one.

I wouldn't rule out that possibility. :-)

 
At 1:56 PM, December 21, 2011, Blogger Aretae said...

I'm with Phil. My left foot is almost a full half-size largr than the right...while being right handed,footed, and eyed. Also...foot width can change substantially...as the barefoot folks are discovering.

 
At 3:12 PM, December 21, 2011, Blogger Wirkman Virkkala said...

Better shoe stores will sell you mix-and-match shoes in cases of bilateral asymmetry. I have a nephew with exaggerated asymmetry, and he's always purchased his shoes at places like Nordstroms, which (if memory serves) will mix and match the proper size shoes right off the store shelf, for no extra charge.

 
At 3:13 PM, December 21, 2011, Blogger Wirkman Virkkala said...

Er, I guess that's "lateral asymmetry." Oops. Or something different. Ha!

 
At 3:15 PM, December 21, 2011, Anonymous Martin said...

I'm left handed and my left foot is a tiny, tiny bit longer. Which would seem to support the foot size-handedness correlation hypothesis. For the record, I'm right footed.

I doubt it's true, though. Seems like confirmation bias or pure chance.

 
At 3:32 PM, December 21, 2011, Anonymous Nightrunner said...

+++
The wide size was comfortable on my left foot, tight on the right.

Are right shoes and left shoes precise mirror images of each other, as I assumed, or do some firms routinely make one just a tiny bit bigger than the other?
---

Not on the evidence :-)

 
At 1:23 AM, December 22, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I deliberately buy shoes that are too big. Otherwise, something pinches, and it's painful. The first time I tried this, I did get blisters. However, the blisters heal up. Since then, I find that shoes that are too big are extremely comfortable and I have a lot of walking stamina. The shoes need to be the type you lace up. You may need to lace them up tighter than otherwise. Ever since I made this "great discovery", I have been in "shoe heaven".

 
At 9:44 AM, December 22, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This company makes custom shoes based on foot measurments:

http://www.herseycustomshoe.com/faq/info_8.html

 
At 9:54 AM, December 22, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This company sells "mismatched shoes" and inserts that fit into regular-sized shoes to make them fit:

http://www.healthyshoestore.com/conditions-different-sized-feet.html

 
At 10:15 AM, December 23, 2011, Blogger Sub Specie Æternitatis said...

Isn't selling left- and right-side shoes separately the classical textbook example for why dual complementary monopolies are worse for the consumer than single unified monopolies?

And, yes, I understand that the complementary monopoly problem is unlikely to arise practically under most shoe sale circumstances.

 
At 12:30 PM, December 24, 2011, Blogger Ilíon said...

It's my understanding that the right-foot shoe is routinely made slightly larger than the left-foot shoe, as this satisfies the needs of most individuals.

 
At 1:38 AM, December 31, 2011, Anonymous RS GP said...

I have a nephew with exaggerated asymmetry, and he's always purchased his shoes at places like
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At 9:11 AM, January 06, 2012, Anonymous Bill said...

My left foot is a half size larger than my right, and I simply place a heel pad in my left shoe to accommodate and that seems to work fine, even in my running and trail shoes, which take a pounding.

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At 10:18 AM, January 07, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to be honest shoes are made from materials which expand or become more bendy over time (leather etc.). so if your shoes are a little off you just have to wear them for few weeks until they fit your foot.

in the army you get issued shoes which are the right size (we had not only shoe size but also shoe width to choose from) but no matter what people will always get blisters in the first few days of wearing them, on both feet. its just because the leather is very hard and not broken in yet.

 
At 10:19 AM, January 07, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh and there are firms on the internet which sell custom sized shirts (collar width, sleeve length etc).

 
At 11:20 AM, January 07, 2012, Blogger Sub Specie Æternitatis said...

@anonymous Not only on the Internet. Pretty much all higher-end clothing retailers will sell dress shirts not only by size, but also by collar size and sleeve length. Good thing too, or I'd never get a shirt, even of the largest size, to fit my long arms.

 
At 10:13 PM, January 29, 2012, Anonymous schuh center said...

My first thought was that perhaps a high end brand could take advantage of the pattern by selling shoes individually schuh center

 

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