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How I Wore The Wrong Shoe Size for 18 Years

Date: July 27 2019

By: Minh Vuong

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For a very long time, I believed that my shoe size was US 10, UK 9, EU 44, 28 CM. In fact, for the first 18 or so years of my life, my sneakers were always at least one or two sizes too big.

It’s a sentiment that’s all too relatable for anyone still in school. Parents all over the globe are telling their kids, ‘You’ll grow into them!’ and, more often than not, immediately follow-up that edict with, ‘These shoes have to last you a whole year!’

It’s a sentiment that’s all too relatable for anyone still in school. Parents all over the globe are telling their kids, ‘You’ll grow into them!’

Maybe my parents were being thrifty, and had my best interests at heart. After all, they already had to buy three different pairs of shoes: one for school, one for sport, and one for weekends. It’s a godsend they weren’t aware that the Nike Air Monarch was available in all-black

Ingrained in me were two vital tests, helping to determine whether my sneakers were in fact too small, or still had ample room for me to grow into.


The Thumb Test

The width of one human thumb is the certified international standard in which correct shoe size is determined. Retail professionals, helicopter parents, and individuals mature enough to dress themselves, utilise this consistent measuring device to check if there is enough room in the toebox to account for puberty-induced growth. Quite often, raising the big toe to poke up the toebox created a visual guide, marking out exactly how much space remained. The critical factor, often forgotten, is that the reliability of this age-old test decreases dramatically once the foot stops growing.

The Finger Test

When used in conjunction with the Thumb Test, the Finger Test proves the solution to the shoe size equation. With the foot comfortably pushed to the front of the toebox, place a finger (preferably the wearer’s, to control variables) between the heel and back of the shoe. The conclusion from the Finger Test: each finger that fits in the back of a shoe corresponds to approximately one year of foot growth. Two fingers good, one finger bad.

The conclusion from the Finger Test: each finger that fits in the back of a shoe corresponds to approximately one year of foot growth.

Rigorous procedures out of the way, I grappled with the strange heel slippage that always happened wearing my new sneakers. Surely, they were the right size. Silly me, I was always forgetting to tie my laces properly! Keep your laces loose? Utter tosh.

Silly me, I was always forgetting to tie my laces properly! Keep your laces loose? Utter tosh.

Now, with the shoelaces cinched up nice and tight, I knew my fresh kicks were the correct size, because the eyelets almost touched each other. However, even with the laces tied with the enthusiasm a boy scout has for rope, my heel would occasionally have that little wiggle. There was no way I wanted blisters, especially in my size 10 sneakers that I was 100 per cent sure were the right size. Thankfully, I always carried a neat little trick up my ankle:

Double the socks, double the protection. Any room for growth was marginally compromised, sure, but my feet thanked me, especially during winter. As such, I only ever wore thick woolen socks all year round because that’s how my sneakers fit best. I’m sure all the kids in the schoolyard were mighty jealous of my razor-sharp sock tan.

As I went through high school, my shoe collection grew as quickly as I thought my feet were. By the time I was 15, I managed to amass a sizeable collection of size 10 sneakers. Some were even 10.5 and 11, just in case I had any growth spurts. One time, in a fit of desperation, I bought a pair of sneakers I badly wanted in size 9, as the 10 had sold out. I winced in horror as I loosened all of the laces and felt my foot mash into the shoes. I couldn’t bring myself to stepping out to wear them as I feared the blistering that would ensue. Subsequently, they lived in the back of my wardrobe for the next few years, as I continued buying more sneakers in size 10 and above.

Then, a few years later, I dug those dreaded size 9s out to try them on just for old times’ sake. I was 19, and the shoes felt exactly the same as they did at 15. As an experiment, I tried on dozens of my size 10 sneakers with only a single pair of socks. They still had that annoying wiggle, and the eyelets had warped from repeated tightening. Then I put that size 9 back on with the same socks. No wiggle, and the wide spacing of the eyelets actually looked pretty cool!

Then the penny dropped. My feet hadn’t grown in four years. Could my feet actually not have been size 10 all this time?

Then the penny dropped. My foot hadn’t grown in four years. Could my feet actually not have been size 10 all this time?

It may have been thrifty for my parents to buy shoes too big for me, but it was not thrifty for someone lost in the sauce of sneaker collecting. Deciding to sell off my entire size 10 collection, then buying all those same shoes back in a smaller, more correct size was a very expensive exercise. But, out of the ashes of money burnt on the wrong size, the opportunity arose to purchase and collect rare sneakers produced in sample size 9!

As they say: hindsight is 20/20. I’ll add: feet stop growing between the ages of 14 to 16. So, once you’re about halfway through high school, maybe start looking for shoes that score a ‘1’ on the Finger Test. Unless, of course, you have become accustomed to carrying a spare pair of socks.

For reference, my correct size is US 9, UK 8, EU 42, 27 CM. But I’d better run a Thumb Test one more time just to make sure.

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