The truth about… Kids’ shoes


But four young oysters hurried up, All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat –
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.

Here’s a spooky thing. Lots of my favourite reading as a child seems to have been about shoes. Cinderella? All about the shoes. Mr Magnolia, whatever became of your second boot? The Walrus and the Carpenter? See above. Oh, and also:

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax –
Of cabbages – and kings –
And why the sea is boiling hot –
And whether pigs have wings.”

And now, what’s the subject you lot have bugged me (sorry, ‘politely enquired’) about more than than any other? Shoes.

Shoes and kids, kids (and oysters) and shoes. It’s clearly a relationship that has bothered parents for generations. Well, Johnny hasn’t grown out of his yet, so I’m not quite at the stage of worrying how to replace them for free.

But since lots of you asked and since you all seem to be pretty great, I sought out the advice of Laura West, representative of the Society of Shoe Fitters

Now look. You can tell from the title of her organisation that she’s pretty keen on getting your kids’ shoes properly fitted. But she’s also a highly skilled and experienced expert, so her opinions are really worth close attention.

Further than that, as Dr Seuss would say: You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you’re on your own and you know what you know, and you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.


Me: How important is it to get your child’s feet properly measured, and to buy shoes that fit those measurements?

The actual size and fitting from a gauge is merely a starting point to a qualified fitter.  It is vital to regularly check the size and fitting of your child as they have growth spurts, but no two pairs of shoes are the same regardless of what it says on the box end label.

Two different styles in the same size and fitting will fit differently as the construction method, materials, country of origin, and more importantly last shape, all have a bearing on the fit of a shoe.

A fitter will consider the person’s gait, their weight, high or low ankle bone, high or low arch, heel bumpt, pronation, supination etc. etc. …there are lots of things to consider when fitting a pair of shoes professionally.

Up until the around the age of 18, feet are continually developing and the bones are not fully formed/ossified until that age, so lots of damage can be done in that time, particularly to the much younger feet.

Me: Is there anything about children’s feet (or children’s bodies more generally) that makes properly fitted shoes particularly important for them (more so than for adults)?

Your feet have 26 bones and around 250,000 sweat glands.  To start they are gristle and cartilage and easy to mould like a jelly.  The nerve endings are not as reactive as in an adults foot, therefore a small child may not notice that they are in pain or able to communicate it.

If your feet hurt it affects your entire physiology because you shift your body weight to counteract the pain, or walk differently to keep shoes on, in turn this throws out other joints and muscles – knees, hips, back, shoulders and neck may all suffer and if joints wear incorrectly in later life arthritis and rheumatism will always go to sensitive, worn joints.

You only have to watch a teenager walking down the street from behind if they are wearing cheaply constructed shoes or boots, to see the pressure they are putting on a part of their shoes and how they have worn, allowing feet to turn over.

Me: What’s the realistic likelihood of problems arising if you don’t buy shoes that have been professionally fitted?

It is a very real risk as only a third of the population have ‘average’ feet.

Me: What about getting your child’s feet measured in a shop and then finding second hand shoes of the same measurements? 

Second hand shoes should never be worn as they take on the shape of the original wearer and this means new pressure points are created within the shoe which can rub.

They can also harbour foot ailments like fungal diseases. A size and fitting is only a number.  All gauges are calibrated differently, there is no standardisation of shoe sizing which is a good thing because feet are not a standard shape.

A gauge is the starting point because it may be in some styles the child needs to go up a half a size and down a width fitting – some styles simply don’t suit or fit a foot properly, however much you like them.

A qualified fitter can often put in a small orthotic to help with the fit (never heel grips right at the back of a heel – they should be banned as they simply push toes down into the toe box in parts they should not be), but it is best to chose a style more suitably fitting.

From : does width matter? Clarks put a lot of emphasis on it but you can’t buy different widths in other countries like US. 

Yes width does matter. The shape of the shoe is what is most important and how it is fitted. The size might be the same, but the design etc. changes the volume inside the shoe and where the foot is positioned within it.

People often query the fact that other countries often do not have fittings…BUT children in warmer countries are more likely to be bare foot longer during the day, or to wear strong sandals – we tend to have soft sandals in the UK but if you look at sandals overseas, they are often made of very strong leather and sole units are less flexible because of the constant wear.

Sadly we have to encase our feet for more of the time.

From : how often SHOULD we get their feet measured? How important is half a size?

The younger they are the more regularly they need to be checked.  It can be soul destroying to buy new shoes and then only 3 weeks later a child has outgrown them, but if you have loyalty with your local shop they are not going to sell shoes that are bordering on the size that your child is already wearing. Of course, it is very dangerous to buy shoes that are too big hoping the child will grow into them.

From : Are there styles of shoes to be avoided?

The right shoe for the right occasion and a change of footwear through the day is the sensible way forward. Any sort of shoe that has a fastening is good because it gives greater flexibility of fit, but a slip on has to grip to a certain extent to stay on. Also, the sole unit is often very thin and the foot becomes tender when hitting the floor because of the lack of cushioning.  This is why podiatrists are seeing a larger number of Plantar Fasciitus sufferers in young girls – due to the current fashion for ballerina pump styles.

From : if I buy shoes from Asda etc (not their main school shoes but trainers for example) will it affect my kids feet?  

If they don’t fit correctly and worn a lot then very possibly, but if they are worn irregularly then not as much risk.  Supermarkets selling footwear are one of the reasons that the public have the wrong perception of the importance of a good shoe and of personal fitting. They buy in bulk cheaply and you pay for what you get.  If a shoe is not fitted by an experienced or qualified shoe fitter, then you pay your money and take your chance – stack them high, sell them cheap.

From : is it okay to put child 3 in child 1 or 2′s sandals or wellies given that they’re not main shoes and only occasionally worn? 

Sandals no, but wellies should not present a problem unless the soles are showing signs of wear.  The sole of a shoe will give away the gait of a wearer and often a fitter will look at the sole unit of any footwear when fitting to see if the person puts undue pressure on one part of their shoes.  From a foot health angle, simply make sure the wellies have been disinfected and dried very thoroughly and naturally before the next child wears them.  Wellies are just occasional wear in rainy or muddy conditions, not an everyday in the garden playing footwear.