Making shoes work for tiny, wide feet
September 26, 2017 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I wear a women's size 4 and I think I have wide feet. Shoes seem to fit length-wise but still feel small/tight, and my . . . foot knuckles? . . . seem to be pushing the shoes out. Problem is, size 4's barely exist, and size 4 wides basically don't exist at all. I also seem to have plantar fasciitis going on, or something similar. I have some ideas for workarounds and would love your feedback on whether you think they might work. Would also love to hear if you have other tips.

This is mostly for dressier work shoes -- flats like this. I seem to be able to find ok sneakers and hiking boots, and sandals work because they're open and my feet can spread out.

What I'm considering is purchasing larger shoes -- say a 4.5 or 5 -- and doctoring them up with Superfeet insoles and heel liners to help them fit better and also provide solid support. Do you think I could make them fit this way and that it would be ok for my feet? The reason I don't just run out and try it is because Superfeet are expensive, and with a lot of work shoes you have to rip out the insole, making them hard to return (and again, expensive) if this doesn't work out.

Or -- would it be better to buy size 4's and bring them to a shoe repair to see if they can stretch?

If it matters, I have a medium-leaning-high arch.

I know this is a pretty niche problem, but I would love any ideas you have that might help.
posted by imalaowai to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
foot knuckles?

posted by poffin boffin at 12:32 PM on September 26, 2017

For the shoe size issue, have you looked at children's shoes? My feet aren't as small as yours, but I'm at the larger end of some kids' shoes so every once in a while I like to look to see if there's anything I like. Bonus: They're usually cheaper than women's shoes of the same style.

Probably hard to find dressy work shoes in the kids' shoe aisles though.
posted by Seboshin at 12:43 PM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would be tempted to look for boys' dress shoes in a boys' size equivalent to yours (probably boys' two or three?), because boys' and men's shoes tend to be wider than women's shoes (I'd suggest men's shoes, but men's shoes don't generally go down to your size). Loafers in particular often work well with traditional women's work wear. Something like this is what I'm thinking of.
posted by BlueJae at 12:46 PM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Assuming you don't mean bunions, the term is metatarsal phalangeal joint. It's normal for this to be the widest part of the foot, and the feature you're looking for in shoes: a "wide toe-box."


1. Find a well-reviewed cobbler who can do seriously complicated work.
2. Tell the cobbler what you said here and ask how to purchase shoes for modification to fit your requirements. What material (leather is generally easier to stretch), what size, etc.
3. Take the cobbler's advice when shopping, then bring the cobbler your shoes.

1. Repeat step 1 above.
2. Order expensive custom shoes from the shoemaker/cobbler (the professions have largely merged).

1. Find brands with small shoes and which generally make wide toe boxes. The wide toe box means the shoes will likely not be as cute as you want, but the same will be true of modified shoes. (Sorry.)
2. I'd recommend this blog. She's a podiatrist who is very insistent on finding shoes with wide toe boxes.

Children's sizes. This won't solve your wideness issues as children's feet are tiny.

I personally find insoles to be more trouble than they're worth. Also, if your feet are like mine, if you put in enough insoles to size it down to 4, it'll likely also make the toe box a little too tight, which won't solve the problem.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:47 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Older boys' dress shoes are wider and plain, although not for fancy flats. Girls' shoes are not wider. It's worth looking for a local independent or work shoe store to get a real fitting.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:48 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

(By 'largely merged' I mean most independent, small-shop shoemakers are also cobblers and the cobbler/shoemaker distinction is dying out. This does not mean every cobbler can make custom shoes.)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:54 PM on September 26, 2017

I am sitting here wearing a beautiful pair of custom Wesco boots. They were custom made from a tracing and measurements of my feet. When I put them on, I was able to spread out my toes inside my shoes for the first time ever. Their Wesco brand makes primarily work boots, but they also make a ladies formal brand under the Van Spijker label.

posted by mollymayhem at 12:55 PM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also seem to have plantar fasciitis going on, or something similar.
I'd start by addressing this-- if this is the case, you can get prescription custom insoles which generally are covered by insurance, and take up enough room that you may need to buy a 4.5 or 5 shoe anyway. Once you get into 5s, there will be wide options. (Munro American is a quality, stylish brand in a variety of sizes and widths.
posted by kapers at 1:02 PM on September 26, 2017

For sure, check out naturally wide toebox brands like Keen, which, as said above, aren't always as cute but are often super comfy!
posted by acm at 1:21 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wonder if Soft Star Ballerines might work for you, or some of their other sandals. They are made to order and you can special order small sizes, extra wide toe box, lots of colors, etc. They are barefoot shoes which takes some getting used to but my feet have never been happier!
posted by john_snow at 1:24 PM on September 26, 2017

Ballet flats are particularly hard on that area of your foot AND they're hard to get an insole to work in there. Mary janes or anything that goes over the top of your instep will take the pressure off of your "foot knuckles" being the only thing holding your shoes on. I know Dansko, Alegria, and Crocs make limited styles in 4's... if you're willing to try ordering a few styles with free shipping both ways, you can see if their built in arch support works for your plantar fasciitis.
posted by Gable Oak at 1:31 PM on September 26, 2017

Response by poster: Couple answers:
- No bunions. Yes, I mean the metatarsal phalangeal joint (apparently!)
- Used to include kids shoes in my lineup but stopped because the quality and support aren't there. And yes, they're not really narrower.
- Thanks for the tip about boys shoes. It's not something I'd probably really want to try unless I really can't figure this out, just because I feel more comfortable in a "feminine" style. But I will definitely keep it in mind and poke around online!
posted by imalaowai at 1:35 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have very small feet. I always wanted to buy kids shoes but the quality was so low 30-35 years ago. The quality and style has increased so much over the years. I think the styles you are looking for might be available in girls shoes.
I would go to a couple high end department stores and check out the girls' section.
posted by beccaj at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2017

I unfortunately don't have advice on where to source them, but try looking for size 34 in European brands. I find that they tend to run slightly wider (the standard width is a C rather than a B) than the equivalent US size. For comparison, I wear a US size 5 or 5.5, sometimes sizing up for pointy styles vis-a-vis my medium-width low-volume feet; but I'm always solidly in a size 35 Euro shoe, if not sized out because most brands don't offer 34.

In the US, anyway. My aunt lives in China with feet that are slightly shorter and wider than mine; she can buy size 34 shoes from brands like Ecco and Gabor, which only go down to a 35 in the US. Maybe you could write to those companies and see if they have suggestions on where to procure the mysterious size 34 that definitely exists.
posted by serelliya at 3:10 PM on September 26, 2017

Try Spanish brands, a 4 isn't too small there. And also try higher end girls school uniform shoes from Clarks or similar that come in a wide range of sizes in plan black and will hold up to abuse. I don't know if you can get them in the US but very common in Europe and I'm sure you could order something.
posted by fshgrl at 3:37 PM on September 26, 2017

I highly recommend TheDrifterLeather on Etsy - they're a custom shoe company in Greece. You scan in tracings of your feet and they make shoes for you. It's very reasonable for custom shoes, and they're well-made - I just received my second and third pairs. There are lots of fun colors, and the owners are very communicative and lovely to do business with.

I have size 6EEE width shoes with a tiny heel - these are the only flats I've been able to get that fit me. I only wish I had found them sooner - it would have saved me a lot of money.

Conker shoes in the U.K. will also make custom shoes, and their quality is top notch, but they are considerably more expensive.
posted by umwhat at 6:11 PM on September 26, 2017

I came in to find out what your experience with children's shoes had been. I suggest digging around for better brands of children's shoes -- that, and handmade stuff on Etsy. Sandali's stuff is stupid-comfortable and wears like iron. But there are plenty of kids' shoes that are nicer than what most adults wear, and not necessarily because they have silly branding. I'd suggest sorting by size and then price --> high to low on eBay for an idea of brand names to check out, and, as already mentioned, hitting higher end dept stores.
posted by kmennie at 11:43 PM on September 26, 2017

I have this exact issue, I am also a size 4 but need a wide toe box.
These shoes from Clarks are the comfiest shoes I have ever worn although I bought my pair a good 3 years ago so I'm can't say whether they are the same or not. I do plan to buy another pair soon though! They do them in leather which might look a bit smarter? Mine are suede.

I found that Fly London flat boots (I have these)are generous in the toe box/super comfy and I have heard Keen are pretty good for being wide as well.

Doc Martens can be awesome - but you really need to go in store to try them on because not all of them are ideal for feet like mine and yours.
posted by TheGarden at 7:28 AM on September 27, 2017

I have small wide feet and have had great success shopping for shoes in plus-size shops that do shoes because they are made a little roomier!
posted by london explorer girl at 8:27 AM on September 27, 2017

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