Open letter to nearly all makers of women’s shoes

Dear women’s shoe industry as an aggregate,

Perhaps you can explain something to me. When I look for new shoes, I nearly always come away empty-handed. My standard shoe-shopping experience goes something like this once I’ve located a pair of shoes and tried them on:

– 85% of the time, they don’t fit my feet. My toes get crushed and my heels slide right out of the back of the shoe and my arches go woefully unsupported. Or else they sort of fit, but a few paces around the store are enough to suggest otherwise.

– 10% of the time, the shoes are comfortable, but they’re also boringly style-free. Dispiriting navy-blue loafers. Shapeless nondescript flats. Clunky numbers that say "I’m an old lady in orthopedic shoes." I don’t want to wear shoes like that until I actually am an old lady, and that’s a good thirty years hence, at least.*

– 5% of the time, they fit and they look good, but they cost more than what I spend on groceries in a month and I balk at the price.

I’m not including the shoes I don’t even bother trying on anymore: the shoes that look good on the shelf but expose big wide stretches of foot, making said foot look graceless and loaf-like; the shoes with super-pointy toes that are apparently not meant for walking; and the shoes that have nothing to secure my heel and fly right off my feet whenever I walk faster than a slow shuffle. (By the way, shoe industry, who among your ranks decreed that slides would be the big thing this fall, and what kind of drugs were they on?)

No, what mystifies me is the remainder, the shoes I try on but end up rejecting. Either I’m the only woman in the entire United States of America who has narrow heels and wide toes, or else you guys are all aliens from another planet, and your species is more or less humanoid except for some crucial differences in the bone structure of the feet. So perhaps you can enlighten me: am I the weirdo, or is it you?

And have you never heard of pleasing the customer? Or designing for usability? If all everyday objects were as badly designed as the average women’s shoe, we would be in serious trouble. Although according to Donald Norman‘s book The Design of Everyday Things, which I’ve just started reading, bad design is everywhere, so perhaps the problem is larger than you, shoe industry. But that’s still no excuse for the near-total dearth of shoes that fit.

And one more thing, while I have your attention: I want a nice pair of oxfords with a slightly stacked heel. What happened to that style? I am most distressed at not being able to find any lace-up shoes for work that don’t look like glorified sneakers. Please bring back the oxford, and please don’t mess with it by making the toes pointy. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Down to My Last Three Pairs of Comfortable Shoes in Virginia

* Actually, when I’m an old lady, I want to be an artsy old lady, or possibly a Hell’s Granny in motorcycle boots, but that’s another story.

11 Responses to “Open letter to nearly all makers of women’s shoes”

  1. Michelle says:

    NO! You are not the only person with narrow heels and wide toes. That’s totally my foot and I have a narrow foot and it’s only a size 6! I despise shoe shopping. I bought my last pair of shoes as a replacement (Clarks sandals) and I confess, I wear them half the time.
    Just recently, I saw a Gilmore Girls actress (I don’t know her name because I don’t watch) on a talk show and she took her shoes off to be stunt-actress, and they were – the pointiest shoes. V shaped. No way I’d squeeze into them. Isn’t that akin to Chinese foot-binding, for pete’s sake?

  2. Mary says:

    It’s worse for me when heels come into fashion (I’m 6’4″). As soon as I walk into a shoe the assistants say, “oh dear, there’s nothing for you this season.”

  3. Clancy says:

    I have very narrow feet, so I know what you mean about needing something to secure the heel. I don’t even entertain the idea of buying shoes if my feet will slip out of them. No slides, no mules, no pumps that aren’t T-strap or Mary Jane style. How annoying to find so few pairs of shoes that fit, though. I hope a shoe designer is reading this…

  4. Cleis says:

    Any luck with Dansko’s? I don’t have feet like yours–I’m a pretty standard 9 regular–so I don’t know if they’d work. Their heels are “slippy;” they’re supposed to be … but maybe too slippy on you? They have excellent arch support and plenty of toe room. I won’t wear uncomfortable shoes. Nor will I wear boring shoes. So mostly I wear Dansko’s. I know the styles aren’t terribly feminine and aren’t for everyone, but I’m a “funky shoe in a great color” kind of girl, so I love them. They do cost a fortune, but since I seem to like the colors no one else does, I manage to find them on sale (though I’ve been known to pay full price). My best purchase was a fab pair of goldenrod-yellow zip-up ankle boots, retail roughly $140, that I found for $35 this summer in a bargain shoe basement in Michigan. Everyone compliments them. I have my eye on the blue textured oxford they’re showing this fall; the blue manages to be both understated and funky.

  5. cindy says:

    Skinny-heeled here, too. The end result of which is always blisters. Sandals are the only things which ever fit me, so I hate it once it’s too cold to wear them.
    I then have the added problem of avoiding leather for ethical reasons. Yes, shoe shopping is one of the horrors of existence.

  6. Rana says:

    Skinny heels, wide toes here too. Then toss in high arches that get bruised by almost any solid top that goes past the base of the toes, and most women’s shoes are right out. (There’s a reason I wear a lot of Birks and Doc Marten-esque boot things.) You might try looking for shoes listed as “Wide” or “C”; they tend to to a better job of being wide at the toes, narrow at the heels. But yes, most shoes are a problem, particularly dress shoes. I am praying that the brief vision of round-toed shoes I saw shopping last weekend are fore-runners of a new trend that will toss out the pointy “toe-cleavage” monsters out on their a…
    …or into the sale shoe racks where I can laugh at their hideousness with my friends. Electric blue pointy toes with wood stilettos and ballet wraps, anyone? (No joke.)

  7. Rana says:

    More seriously… one theory I heard about shoe design is that the size 5 or 6 US is the one they design around (it’s the size that looks so cute on the display racks). Unfortunately, the proportions shift as you scale up or down, so the shoe never really fits.

  8. carla says:

    If you want Dansko’s but want to pay less, go to They mostly do birkenstocks, but they have lots of Danskos, too.
    I’ve been enjoying Born shoes, though they ain’t cheap. Very comfy.
    Best of all, though, are cowboy boots. Amazingly comfortable, can stand up to sloppy weather, can be worn with skirts or pants or jeans . . . I love them. I only have nine pair, though, so I’ll probably have to get more next time Alcala’s has a sale.

  9. Naomi says:

    My heel is just a bit narrow for a medium width, and my toes are normal-sized last I checked, but clearly not pointy at the end. So shopping for shoes isn’t hopeless, but it is kind of a pain.
    Just recently I’ve started wearing a few pairs of slingbacks for Really Dressy Heels purposes. The front looks like a normal dress shoe; the back is a strap. An *adjustsable* strap. It’s brilliant. (Of course, that wouldn’t work so well in real winter weather, but neither do regular pumps — I should only find the perfect pair of dress boots.)

  10. Audrey says:

    Oh my God, finally a group of women after my own heart! With a narrow heal and fan-shaped toes, I’ve never been able to wear the shoes that I see most women wearing – Shoes shaped like pizza slices, mules that slide off my feet and become projectiles the moment I start walking. I end up wearing big ugly flats, and I’ve become resigned to the fact that they slip off the back of my feet. I look at shoes on display in stores with a great sense of anger and dejection.
    I’ve always felt like a second class citizen because the shoe industry has failed to serve me. Sometimes, even a bit of a freak! What a joy it is to know that others share my problem. Perhaps we could band together and start our own shoe line. Even Naturalizer and Easy Spirit tend to miss the mark with me. The rear portions of their shoes are either too wide, or the toe boxes are too harrow so as to conform to the accepted conventions of women’s shoe design.
    These conventions need to be challenged.

  11. Jen says:

    Amanda, for that oxford you’re looking for, check out the Dansko Jazz. My sister and I each bought a pair last year and we love them. They’re cute, chunky, comfortable, they have a rounded toe–and no slipping, as they lace up (I can’t wear the Dansko clogs). Danskos have molded heels, so they don’t flex, but it gives you an almost buoyant feel when you walk. I’ve gotten compliments from all types of people on these shoes. They’re close to $120, but that only seems expensive until you start looking at the REALLY nice shoes, like Thierry Rabotin. Anyway, think of all the shoes you’ve bought and not worn because they were instruments of torture…there’s the real money pit. If you wear the heck out of them, it’s worth the big bucks, in my opinion.