By the time Quarter Life shoppers are asking me about vintage shoe sizes, they’re frustrated. “Why are vintage shoes so small?” they ask while trying to cram their completely average feet into tiny, tiny shoes.
I have several untrustworthy, not-entirely-medical theories about why our feet are bigger now than they were 100 years ago, but they all sound a lot like my theories on why we can’t fit into tiny-waisted dresses anymore. We are simply larger than we used to be—in height, weight, and everything in between.
It doesn’t mean great vintage shoes aren’t out there for everyone to enjoy. It just takes a lot of searching and patience to find those that fit you.
Before you look at a single pair of shoes online, measure your foot. This is a reliable way to know if something has any chance of fitting, and any good online retailer will provide measurements. Measure the length of your foot (from heel to big toe) and the width across the toe box (from the joint of your big toe across your foot). Do this with your foot flat on the floor, on top of the tape measure. I find that it’s also helpful to measure across the big toe’s big joint, you know…the one that gets bunion-y for some of us. Trust me, the last thing you want is a pair of shoes that rubs your bunions. Pinched nerves are awful.
If you’re trying shoes on in person, take a guess two sizes above your normal size. If you’re an 8 and the shoes all look pretty narrow, give a 10 a shot. Start with the foot opposite your dominant hand (if you’re a righty, start on your left foot). This is another theory I can’t back up the science on, but this handy international shoe size converter site (more on that later) mentions it and I know the two-different-sizes issue can be a pill.
eBay seller modlucy offers this guide to all those letters on the inside of vintage shoes:
If the shoe is marked “S,” it stands for slim.
If the shoes is marked “N,” is stands for narrow.
If the shoe is marked “B” or “M,” it is a normal width.
If the shoe is marked “C,” then it is either wide or a men’s pair.
If the shoes is marked “W” is for wide.
Vintage Vixen also notes that widths range from AAAAA to D. Some better vintage shoes have two widths listed: the toe box as well as the heel.
How should the vintage shoe (or any shoe) look once it’s on your foot? I’ll refer you to Kassie at Simply Soles to school you. If the shoe doesn’t truly fit, don’t force it. It’s not worth the pain.
Once you find a pair that fits, it’s important to consider the materials and quality.
Some easy fixes:
- New heel taps ($5-$10)
- Rubber piece added to sole for your stability ($10)
- Insole coming up? Just super-glue it down
- Want a new insole? Get a cushy one from CVS. ($10)
- Leather cleaner and conditioner to spiff up your new kicks (I love Apple‘s cleaning kit)
- For genuine, sturdy leather, try stretching (It works. I swear.)
Not easy fixes:
- Stretching patent leather (not worth the effort)
- Having the entire sole replaced ($30-$40 and up)
- Leather that’s cracking or crumbling
- Vinyl that’s peeling
- Suede that flakes off
The bottom line: When it comes to vintage shoes, you’re Cinderella. Someday your shoe will come.
Some resources to keep close by:
Vintage Vixen Buying Guide: Vintage Shoes (especially note the list of qualities/features to look for—bottom of the page)