The Alden modified last, and Anatomica sizing
Alden has this particular shape of shoe, on what is referred to as the ‘modified’ last.
It’s unusual, almost orthopaedic in appearance, with a narrow waist that hugs the middle of the foot and rather bulging sides to fully accommodate the joints.
It’s got a bit of a following, and has become something of a curiosity in menswear. So I was interested to try it when I visited Anatomica, in Paris, recently.
Anatomica has become well known for the modified last, as one of the few stockists in the world, and also for recommending larger than normal shoes to customers, in the name of comfort.
As always, it is the sole of the shoe that shows the last shape best, and above you can see something of the distinctive wavy lines of the modified last.
It’s slightly ‘banana shaped’, meaning it curves more around the outside of the foot but is straighter on the inside.
This makes anatomical sense, given your big toe is the longest point of the foot, not the middle one. Most shoes involve some kind of compromise between body and style, and the modified last tips that balance a little more in favour of the body.
In the picture below, Anatomica founder Pierre Fournier attempted to illustrate this with two sketches, one showing a normal last shape (right) and the other the modified last (left).
Note how the right-hand shape has to cut the big toe (in white, underneath) in half. The jagged lines indicate pain!
There are other idiosyncrasies to this style of shoe too.
The heel is asymmetrical, being it’s longer on one side than the other. You can see that in the photograph of the sole above, although it’s the kind of thing you probably wouldn’t notice until someone pointed it out.
The sides of the shoe at the ankle are also asymmetric, with the outside cut lower than the inside (below).
This is something you see more on other shoes, particularly bespoke ones. Have a look at my bespoke Cleverley shoes here, for instance, and note how low the sides are cut.
You’re also more likely to see that ‘banana’ shape on bespoke shoes, as makers have more freedom to adapt the shape when they think a customer needs it.
Foster & Sons did that with the bespoke shoes they made for me in 2016, shown here. Although interestingly no other shoemaker has felt it necessary.
When you try the modified last, you do immediately notice a difference. The arch and instep are held more tightly, and there’s a puddle of room around your toes.
It does look unusual too - not to turn and stare at on the street, but the kind of thing even a non-shoe obsessive would notice after a while; rather like the effect created by the typical narrow waist and thin welt of a bespoke shoe.
However, at Anatomica it is hard to see the last in isolation, because of their aforementioned attitude to sizing.
Pierre believes that most people wear shoes that are too small for them, making their feet needlessly uncomfortable at the front.
They should be wearing shoes that are longer - but not necessarily wider. So you go up a size, but take a narrower fitting, meaning the width of the shoe remains almost the same as it gets longer.
When Pierre measured me, for example, he wanted to put me in a 10.5C (American sizing*) rather than a 8.5E.
That is quite a lot narrower, but then the modified last is also wider at the joints than a regular shoe anyway. You can see the two shoes compared above - my Edward Green in an 8.5E on the left, and the Alden modified last on the right.
The shoe did feel comfortable, but the oddest thing was not the extra length, but the fact that the joint of the my little toe - the widest point on the foot - was not at the widest point of the shoe. It was about a centimetre further back.
The other aspect of having a longer shoe is that the front will wrinkle rather more, folding in more than once place. You can see how this looks over time with Pierre’s shoes below.
This is rather accentuated by this Anatomica model, which is unlined throughout the shoe, including the front. This made for the most comfortable cordovan I’ve ever tried, but doesn’t help with the wrinkles.
I can see the advantages of the modified last, and I’d be interested to try it some time. I have friends who swear by it, and like the unusual look.
I wasn’t as convinced by the argument for larger sizing, but then I also haven’t tried it in person, at least on the modified last, so I can’t really judge.
But it has convinced me that I should size up a little, at least in loafers.
I mentioned in my recent article on Crockett & Jones loafers that I was realising I’d prioritised the fit in the heel too much over the years, at the expense of comfort at the toes. Voices like Pierre’s push me further in that direction.
“It’s just inevitable with a loafer,” he said. “I remember an American in here, overhearing someone talk about heel slippage, and slapping and sliding around the shop to show that a little bit of it was fine. He looked so much more elegant than someone creeping around in pinched toes.”
So I’ll carry on buying 9 rather than 8.5, and these Edward Greens will go in for a bit of a stretch.
Read more about Anatomica, its history and other beautiful clothes, on our previous article here.
*Pierre says American and English sizing are the same historically. It's just that the English preferred to put people in smaller shoes for commercial reasons, which is why English shoes and indeed measuring come up smaller. I wear a 9 or 9.5 in Alden normally, so that's not so far off the 10 or 10.5 the Anatomica guys were recommending.
Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt