"Why do men, women, and children all have separate measurements for how their shoes are sized?"
This question was posed to our online community's "expert" panel, and I was the one who drew it. It's one I myself have often wondered about because my husband and I have the same size feet. I have been known to steal his shoes when I need something sturdy and sensible to wear. He occasionally gets his way in an argument by threatening to wear my strappy heels around the house. And yet, despite the fact that every pair of shoes we own will fit either one of us, it is nearly impossible to find two pairs with the same size printed on them.
At best guess, John can usually wear a men's 9, whereas I'm often a women's 10. What's the difference? Obviously, it's not a marketing gimmick, or the women's shoe sizes would run smaller and have names like "Flirty Fours" and "Enchanting Eights". I would personally like a pair of "Goddess of the Hunt Tens", to counteract the sinking feeling I get in walking into a shoe store that I'm going to find my size next to the cross country skis. That's the reason I don't buy leather any more — I'm afraid animal rights activists are going to picket my ankles, carrying signs that say, "How many cows had to die to make this shoe?"
In doing some research on the 'Net, the best site I could find was www.sizefinder.com. They made the sensible point that men's and women's sizes are, in fact, the same. Apparently it's just that the size of the shoe has little to do with what size foot will fit into it. A pointy size nine shoe has less room inside than a boxy size nine. That made a convoluted sort of sense, given that the entire clothing industry, from shoes on up, is almost always about stuffing reality uncomfortably into a fantasy. But a nine-inch shoe is not called a size nine. So where do they get the sizes from?
Sizefinder.com's explanation looked at once both plausible and utterly silly. Their theory involved barley corns, the King of England and the hypothesis that American babies have smaller feet than their British counterparts. I began to be a little afraid that further research into the history of apparel sizes would reveal facts like pant sizes are actually determined according to how many weasels can be stuffed into the garment at one time, or that brassiere sizes are actually based on ancient Mayan hieroglyphics. I wouldn't even be surprised to find out that eyesight measurements are determined by how many radishes you can count at fifty paces.
Since I was far too lazy to actually get up and go to the library to find a reputable book in the reference section and no one asks our expert panel a question because they want facts, I decided to make up my own explanation. And because April is Poetry Month, I did it in rhyme.
There was a place, there was a time
When the sizes for shoes were all the same
If your foot was nine inches, you wore a size nine
Be you a man or be you a dame.
There was a young cobbler who wore a size ten
The feet of his wife were of the same size
She'd wear his shoes to walk through the pig's pen
He thought her high heels were a wonderful prize
They argued and fought over sharing the shoes
Til one day she said "FINE!" and she walked out the door
In the divorce it was the heels he was most sad to lose
Though the split left him bitter and lonely and poor
Afterwards he decided that shoes ruined lives.
"It would be better for all if none knew how to share."
So he took some eight inchers and called them size fives
And he likewise encrypted each other size there.
He used one code for women's and one code for men's
Then he scrambled the children's, to add to his cure.
Then he called all his buddies, so now it depends
On the manufacturer's vagaries, and no one is sure
What size shoe really fits, so you must try them on
Sometimes it's a seven, sometimes it's a six
And if it fits in a women's, in a men's it's all wrong
And in this manner, shoes and marriage were fixed.
Comments and shoe sizes to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the April 24, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.
Originally appeared in the Piker Press 2005-06-06.