The Interesting History of Shoe Sizes

Have you ever had this experience? You want to buy some beautifully-designed footwear displayed at your local shoe store, only to end up discovering there’s no available shoe size for you? It was so disappointing that they didn’t have the right size. Keep in mind the shoes are a crucial factor to some people, especially for basketball payers as wearing unfit shoes may affect their footwork. Or, how about shopping for shoes online and finding out that the limited shoe sizes they offer provide only a small number of shoes to choose from?

You may be asking yourself where these shoe size measurements originate anyway? Did you know shoe sizes aren’t the same across the world? If you do any international traveling and shopped for shoes on your travels, you will find that shoe sizes definitely differ by region of the world.

In order to ease your woes, you might be interested in how shoe sizes have developed across the world. There are quite a few fascinating facts about this particular aspect of shoe history, so let’s discuss them below:

The Early Measuring System for Shoe Sizes

Different regions around the globe follow varying measuring standards when determining shoe sizes. During the Roman civilization, shoemakers used a “barleycorn” to measure feet when making a sandal. An inch, as we know it today, would be the total length of three barleycorns. During the reign of King Edward of England, he signed a royal decree in 1324 making barleycorn as a unit of measurement in shoe sizes. He proclaimed that three barleycorns were, in fact, equivalent to an inch!

From then on, in England at least, sizes of shoes were derived from the length of barleycorns. For example, a 39 barleycorn size would be equivalent to our size 13 shoe. Incidentally, this was also the average shoe size for English men. Infant shoe sizes started at 0, whereas children’s shoes were generally 1 to 13 barleycorns. The ‘barleycorn’ system is still in use today and is the basis for shoe measurement in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Some ex-colonies of the British Empire might also use this sort of measurement for certain brands.

Different Shoe Measurements in Different Places

In the United States, the same concept of ‘barleycorn measurement’ was also in use. However, like almost everything else in the United States, the shoe size measurement system varied from the traditional English size. The difference lay in the starting point of measurement, which is 1 rather than zero.

A size 12 in the UK has an equivalent of size 13 in the US, which is also the same for Canada. It is also worth mentioning that the FIA (Footwear Industries of America) scale adds a 1 to every male size to make women’s sizes. This means that a man’s size of 10 is a size 11 to women.

The Varying Measurement Systems

In some parts of Europe, such as France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, they used ‘Paris points’ in their shoe sizes. This is roughly equivalent to two-thirds of a centimeter.

Another system worth mentioning is the ‘Mondopoint System’ which means a world-point system. This is based on mean foot length and foot width and is measured in millimeters. This unit of measurement also takes into account the width of the shoe as well as the length. This system of shoe sizing is used for ski boots and military shoes because it allows a better fitting of shoes than other sizing systems.

Asian countries, on the other hand, used the metric system when measuring shoe size. This system takes into account the foot length measured in centimeters. There is also a 5mm increase for every size and girth designated by letters A to G.

Most US shoe store today use the Brannock device to come up with an accurate measurement for feet when buying shoes. This device was invented by Charles Brannock in 1925. It measures not only the length of the feet but also the width. After that, it converts the foot directly to a shoe size.

Finding the Perfect Size

Getting to know your shoe size is important in order to find a shoe that fits perfectly. This could be a bit tricky, as certain health issues and other environmental factors may cause our feet to change sizes within the course of a single day.

One tip on determining your shoe size is to make sure you measure your feet during the day, after a decent amount of standing or walking. The reason for this is that the foot expands somewhat during the day. This will naturally affect the shoe size. You want to be certain that your shoes fit well even when your feet are at their biggest. Hence, take the measurements properly and select a shoe based on the right information.

Choosing the Right Size

When you’re looking for new shoes, make sure not to buy anything that’s too tight or too loose. Many parents, especially those who’re on a budget, think that they should size up when buying their kids’ shoes. While half a size or one size bigger might be fine with thick socks, they should take special care that the child’s foot isn’t skidding about inside the shoe. This could pose a high risk of tripping or rashes and irritation due to the foot rubbing against the shoe.

The same goes for buying too-tight shoes if the shop is out of larger sizes. While it’s true that shoes could widen a bit as you break them in, wearing tight shoes for any amount of time is not recommended. By the time you break in the shoes, you may be ready for new ones. Hence, it’s always best to walk around in a pair of shoes, such as chukka boots, before buying them, making sure that they’re just the right size.

Another tip here is to try on both shoes in a pair. If a shoe fits well on the right foot, there’s no guarantee that its mate would fit just as well on the left. Our left and right feet might even have different sizes, so make sure you try on the whole pair before investing in a pair.


Once you have the perfect fit for shoes, your walking and running experience would definitely become a lot better. The right fit ensures that you’re comfortable throughout the day and can give your best at any task. This is especially true if you’re a runner, a sportsman, or just have to be on your feet for the major part of the day.