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Mens size 9.5, womens 11.5.
April 7, 2011 9:42 PM   Subscribe

Why do we have men's shoe sizes and women's shoe sizes?

Why are a man's shoe size different than a woman's shoe size? I know different companies use their own numbers, which already complicates things.. Why do we make things more difficult by having different sizes for the different sexes? If my foot is 11 inches long, why not my shoe be size 11? Baby shoes be size 3?
posted by lain to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I once heard someone say this is for the same reason that women's pants (and I guess dress) sizes are done numerically instead of with measurement numbers - it's a marketing trick from the olden days to make women feel smaller. The reasoning being, I guess, that no woman wants to be reminded that she has 36-inch hips, so instead she can be a "size 6", which sounds smaller. The same applies to shoes (Women don't want to think of themselves as having big feet?).

Of course, as you point out, it would be so much simpler if everything were just done by measurement instead of "sizes".
posted by Zephyrial at 10:47 PM on April 7, 2011


Not an answer but related: European shoe sizes don't distinguish between women, men, children. One point = 2/3 centimeter.
posted by londongeezer at 10:52 PM on April 7, 2011


And in Japan 1 shoe size = 1 cm for boys, girls, men and women.

Apparently no one definitively knows. (As long as you trust MIT faculty.) I had been told that the sizes were deliberately kept different because of the overall difference in foot profiles for men and women. But if that was true shoe sizes wouldn't be the same in so much of the world.
posted by Ookseer at 11:01 PM on April 7, 2011


"I once heard someone say this is for the same reason that women's pants (and I guess dress) sizes are done numerically instead of with measurement numbers - it's a marketing trick from the olden days to make women feel smaller. The reasoning being, I guess, that no woman wants to be reminded that she has 36-inch hips, so instead she can be a "size 6", which sounds smaller. The same applies to shoes (Women don't want to think of themselves as having big feet?)."

This does not make sense with regard to shoe sizes, though -- although I wear a 10-11 in women's sizes, that's 8-9 in men's. The men's sizes have a lower number for smaller feet.
posted by naturalog at 11:50 PM on April 7, 2011


From observation, the shoe sizes seem to be arranged so that the "normal range" of foot sizes is about the same for each set of wearers (men, women, children). Since they have different sizes of feet the normal range is scaled to match.

I'd guess this is more of an inventory/standardization thing than a marketing thing. Once you start mass-producing shoes and shipping them long distances, you need to assign names to the sizes. It's common to take your product line and simply number the sizes 1 through N regardless of what the physical measurement is. I think something like that must have happened with shoes.
posted by hattifattener at 1:48 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think men and womens UK shoe sizes are basically the same, but the shoes are built slightly different.. so a womans size five and a mens size five are the same length, but the womans shoe is slimmer.
posted by stillnocturnal at 4:19 AM on April 8, 2011


Kids shoes are sized the same- so a boys size 3 is identical to a girls size 3. A size 4 is the last kid's size, and then a size 5 is the first adult size. The men's size 5 is one size up from a boy's size 4, just like you would suspect. However, a women's size 5 is actually the exact same size as a girl's size 3.5. I'm assuming this is because there is a decent population of grown women who have feet smaller than a girl's size 4, but they don't want to be shopping for little girls shoes their whole life when they really need work shoes or high heels or what have you. Thus, men's shoes are one-and-a-half sizes larger than women's shoes.

I used to work at a shoe store, and we'd have the occassional tiny woman who would be very perplexed when she tried on a girl's size 4 because the women's 5 was too big and the size 4 was actually bigger. The difference in shoe sizes between men and women used to really bug me until I knew why, but it makes sense to me now and I'm sure there are a lot of women out there who appreciate being able to shop for adult shoes.
posted by shornco at 7:07 AM on April 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Iain, thanks for asking this question, and shornco, thank you for your answer. I've been puzzled for a long time about how kids' shoes are the same sizes for boys and girls, and then somehow sizes become different when you get to adult shoes. All has been revealed!
posted by Sublimity at 8:16 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In American sizing, (adult) men's shoes and women's shoes have different default widths. There's a common notation for widths (the letters are something like B, D, E, etc) but many labels will just say narrow / regular / wide.

I wear close to an 8 in men's shoes and a 9 wide (or double-wide) in women's shoes. In my experience, your example of translating 9.5 to 11.5 doesn't work for everyone's feet because those shoes are probably the same length but different widths.
posted by tantivy at 1:26 PM on April 8, 2011


(Oops. I reread comments upthread and I guess I'm just agreeing with stillnocturnal and confirming it applies to American sizes, not just UK sizes.)
posted by tantivy at 1:28 PM on April 8, 2011


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