I have received a few questions on this 2009 post about how shoes wear over time recently, and note that there is no post that sets out the basics of how a shoe should fit.
Let’s start with a simple summary. A shoe should be tight at the back and loose at the front. It should hold the rear of the foot firmly, to stop it from slipping, and provide enough room at the front for the toes to move freely.
Movement of the foot is what causes rubbing and blisters on the heel or ankle, and can cause discomfort to the toes by allowing the foot to slide forward. When deciding which size of shoe to buy, therefore, make sure the ankle is held tightly around the opening of the shoe. Bespoke makers sometimes describe the fit as being ‘drum tight’, and it is the reason that a bespoke shape to the heel cup is so useful.
You will often find good makers lacing the shoe tighter than you are used to, for similar reasons. As with the fit of trousers on the waist, tightness in the back of a shoe takes only a few minutes to get used to. You then forget about it (again, as with a trouser waist) as the shoe never moves to remind you of its presence.
That old post made the point that leather stretches over time, and that this is a good reason to buy a shoe that fits snugly around the heel and ankle. It’s good advice, and I wish I’d followed it with some early purchases.
It is for this reason, too, that it is good to have some room between the facings (the two sides that are laced together across the top of the foot) so the shoe can be tightened further as the shoe stretches – or rather, moulds to the shape of your foot.
If it’s impossible to find a shoe last and size that fits in this way, you can try an insole or a tongue pad. Insoles are readily available but have the disadvantage of pushing the foot slightly up, out of the shoe. A tongue pad is inserted into the tongue itself, pushing the foot down instead.
It’s not easy to find a shoemaker that will put in a tongue pad, as the tongue has to be unstitched and then sewn back up again. But I have had them done at Cleverley, and Corthay offers a particularly good service in this respect – helped by having an expanded factory and such a big made-to-order business.
Before resorting to such alterations, though, it is always worth trying several shoemakers in the price range you are looking at, as each will have subtly different lasts and different options for MTO. Good, welted shoes will last you upwards of 10 years; it is worth spending the time to get the fit right.
Image: my bespoke Santonis