Footwear system components

This is a list of considerations for footwear systems. Enjoy.

  1. Shape*

Shape is the single most important component of any footwear system. I like to think of footwear as containers that hold feet. The shape of the container determines whether the foot inside feels squeezed, lost, or has that elusive just right Goldilocks fit. Great footwear systems are constructed from the foot out, yet many make decisions based on less critical factors. Shop for shape to eliminate the headaches and heartaches that accompany wearing the wrong shape.

How do you know that a particular shoe is shaped like your foot? Trace each foot onto a piece of cardboard. Put a mark by each MTPJ (bunion joint). Cut it out and bring it along to the store. Match it up to the sole, bend, and you should have a pretty good idea of how your foot will fit into a shoe from heel to toe and from left to right. Many overthink footwear. Patient listening and feedback are helpful here. Do you want to take the shoes off or keep wearing them? Let your body tell you what it likes and listen to it.

* Socks precede shape, but hosiery needs its own post #StayTuned

2. Size

Ideally every footwear purchase starts with a bare foot. Experts are experts because they have seen things and made mistakes that someone else hasn’t. They’ve encountered oddities, bungled decisions, hurt others and themselves, cried, sweated, sworn, and learned far too many lessons the hard way. Your size is your size. Manufacturer variance exists, but for the most part if you are a size eight going up to a size nine or down to a seven is unwise. When shape is right, size is an easier concept. I can give you shoes in your size that hurt your feet, that’s why shape comes first, and then we move on to size.

There are three measurements for every foot. Heel to longest toe, heel to MTPJ, and width. Width is a consideration after you determine whether to fit to toe length or arch length. The Brannock website offers an exceptional tutorial. I find this to be the consistently best way to measure feet as computer systems tend to average both feet and cost a lot more money than I’m willing to spend. There is no substitute for the human brain. Computers have their place, but you should be able to explain the calculations and assumptions they’re making and they should be used in conjunction with human eyes and the Brannock device.

3. Height

If I had to guess, I’d say that instep and arch are the two terms that are consistently interchanged for each other. Your instep is the portion of foot immediately after your ankle if you are looking down at your feet. Your instep is on the top of your foot. Your arches are underneath your feet. Any extreme is more difficult to work with than a more normal or average feature. I have an exceptionally high instep. My children have an exceptionally low rise. Neither is good or bad, these are challenges that need to be addressed for our footwear systems to function properly.

You can measure your instep in the comfort of your own home. Take a ruler and place it next to your foot. Measure from the floor up to the top of your instep. This doesn’t have to be an exact measurement, you’re trying to get a feel for how much area your foot is displacing inside of your footwear. Height can make or break footwear. It’s a little understood and under applied footwear component, but thanks to this article you can go forward armed with new knowledge.

4. Depth

This will be a familiar term if you work in the therapeutic footwear market as government regulations specify how deep the toe-box needs to be to qualify. Height differs from depth since it is measuring the space where your toes go. This is especially important for diabetics with conditions such as LOPS (loss of protective sensation), prior amputations, poor circulation, and/or foot deformities. Some people can’t feel pain in their feet and can walk around with a Lego, bottle cap, or matchbox car in their footwear without realizing it’s there.

Depth is an important concept, if your toes lack enough room your feet will be uncomfortable. Signs that your footwear isn’t deep enough include holes in your socks on the top of the toe area. Shoes rub against them and eventually the friction rubs a hole in your socks. Shoes can also be too deep for people. The extremes here are Clayton Kershaw and Chris Bassitt if you need a baseball analogy. Think of footwear as a container you’re pouring leftovers into, you need just enough room, too little is just as bad as too much.

5. Weight

This component merits our consideration, but first we need to contemplate the two ways that this term can be used. I use it to refer to the weight of a shoe, and to the amount of weight a footwear system will be supporting. As a five foot tall woman sitting at the computer my footwear isn’t working as hard as footwear worn by a leaping shortstop with a forty-nine inch vertical. What goes up must come down; gravity and compression forces act upon footwear which must be resilient enough to withstand distortion, torque, shear, moisture, and temperature changes.

Body weight fluctuates. People lose weight, people gain weight. Pregnancy, illness, and disease are just three of the factors that can influence weight. When your weight changes, your shoe size may too, another reason I stress that feet need to be measured every time you intend to purchase footwear. Footwear that is too heavy fatigues feet. Footwear that is too light may not be durable or secure enough. Everyone has a different weight need, addressing yours will increase comfort and safety.

6. Color

Your shoes are the right shape. You found the correct size. They’re deep enough, tall enough, and the weight is appropriate for your usage. Now we can move onto the fun part which is color. For anyone who wants to learn more about how I determine what color is likely to work well for someone, I use an adaptation of Carol Tuttle’s energy profiling system. I spent a hundred bucks on it and have never regretted a penny of my investment. This tool sets me apart from a lot of other people and explains how I can confidently make recommendations for people I have never met.

Establishing your neutral is the first step. I work with four neutrals to make life easier on myself: white, light gray, dark gray, and black. Typically one of these will work better than another. Carol also has ideas on metallics that I’ve found invaluable. Footwear and art exist in conjunction with this wonderfully wide diverse world around us, but we have to start with the basics before we can proceed to texture, stripes, foxing (this is a footwear term that I thought would be fun for people to learn), etc…

Tying it all together:

Footwear is a statement of who you are and what you want the world to believe about you. Whether you are smart, sexy, sensual, classy, cool, calm, charismatic, enigmatic, melodramatic, hypnotic, erotic, exotic, or all of those things by turns, your footwear helps send messages to yourself and others. Messages to yourself should reinforce your best qualities. Messages to others will be read according to their perspective and life experiences. There aren’t hard and fast rules, but there are some guidelines and there are always those cases when the suggestions can be safely tossed out your nearest window.

One thing you don’t see here: marketing terms. Many employers teach sales people to extol the FAB’s (features, advantages, and benefits) of a product. This works when a shopper selects a shoe that happens to be a shape that is congruent with their foot, they have socks that work well with that shoe, and it’s available in their size and a color that is flattering to them. Avoid letting a sales person talk about why the company that made it thinks a shoe is wonderful, it probably is for the person whose foot they had in mind when it was designed. You need shoes that work for you, not someone else.

You are the star of the show when it comes to footwear. Anyone who does anything other than explain why they believe a footwear system will work for you based on your foot is missing the entire point. People who work in shoes tend to know what they’re talking about and what will work for someone or they don’t last. They can be more rational and less emotional which is a good thing when shoe shopping. Ethical employees will avoid pressuring people or forcing a sale. Expertise is less important than rapport and trust, if you’re uneasy working with someone, speak up or leave.

Many view shoe shopping as a necessary evil. Manufacturers blame retailers, retailers blame clients, clients blame capitalism and free enterprise, but the whole process can be tremendous fun. The key is streamlined simplicity and attitude. Expert decisions and quality information should be guiding this process or it won’t go well. Build relationships, treat others well, and arm yourself with this type of basic knowledge while understanding that a blog post can’t replace years of experience or your own intuition.

My goal is to create a win/win/win for myself, my clients, my employer, and whoever produced the footwear I’m selling. I do this by sticking to my system, listening to my clients and their feedback, and trusting my own gut. Everyone will make mistakes, how you handle the screw up determines whether you can rebuild lost trust or you get sued after someone tripped, fell down the stairs, and died in shoes you sold them. Footwear can be as ugly or as beautiful as you choose to see it.

Thanks for your time today. I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I hope you feel that your time here was spent well. Once you have a good grasp of the fundamentals, the world of footwear really opens up to you. The world doesn’t become your oyster, your prior frustrations were adding layers to the pearl inside. You can not know any of this and still be a healthy well adjusted person, keep footwear in perspective or it will take over your life which upon further reflection, may not be an entirely bad thing… #Wink

Saberfeet: how safe are your feet?

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