We’re two minutes into pedicures at Tenoverten in New York City when my guest Kilee Hughes looks at her feet and says, “I come from a line of giants.” I was treating Hughes, founder of her own public relations agency, Six One, to a soak and polish after hearing through the grapevine that she wears an above-average shoe size. “My mother wears a 14, my sister a 13, and I’m a 12—it’s an ongoing fight to find shoes that don’t make my feet look like skis,” she says, glancing down at the water. “Or boats!” It’s not just size 12–plus shoppers like Hughes who struggle to find stylish shoes; women with wide, narrow, and size 5 or smaller feet have similar issues. Belong to one of those categories? Here’s help.
If You’re a Size 12 or Larger
It’s time to start shopping online. Nordstrom.com has an entire extended sizing section; zappos.com allows shoppers to filter results by size; and shopstyle.com scans the whole Web. “I shop online almost exclusively,” says Hughes. “That way I don’t have to walk into a store, ask what the biggest size they carry is, and get disappointed when nothing fits.” When she does shop IRL, she makes friends with sales associates who can call when new deliveries arrive, since stores order only a few 12s and they sell fast. “Being nice goes a long way,” she says. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
Stretching your shoes is also an option, but make note of these rules:
• A cobbler can give you a half size with a professional machine. But if you’re doing it at home, opt for wooden stretchers (like Easy Comforts Cedar Deluxe Shoe Stretcher at amazon.com) instead of plastic ones.
• Spray insides of shoes with a stretching solution (like Leather Spa Shoe Stretch spray at leatherspa.com) first.
• Know that suede and leather stretch easily; satin and patent leather stretch very little, if at all.
• Flat shoes are easier to stretch than heels, but you can have a cobbler make pumps into peep-toes or mules for breathing room.
• After your shoe is stretched, place silica gel packs inside after each wear to avoid any shrinkage from perspiration or precipitation.
The best brands for you: Stuart Weitzman, Sam Edelman, Nine West, Vince Camuto, Via Spiga, Dolce Vita, J.Crew, Tory Burch, Kenneth Cole New York, Michael Michael Kors, and Shoes of Prey, a line that lets you design shoes in sizes 3 to 13 online. Designers Jimmy Choo and Aquazzura offer European size 42, which cuts a bit smaller than an American 12.
If You’re a Size 5 or Smaller
Padding is your friend—and there’s more than just the Dr. Scholl’s you’ve tried. At a drugstore you can find full insoles that make the whole shoe tighter; half pads for the ball of the foot, to push you back; heel strips to make the back of the shoe smaller; and toe-box inserts that keep feet from sliding forward. A cobbler can sew in longer-lasting versions made of 4mm foam, which compresses and offers maximum comfort, and 2mm cork, which keeps its shape and lasts longest. Insert both and you’ll make the shoe a half size smaller.
As for shopping, “I’ve learned all the tricks,” says Glamour accessories associate Jaclyn Palermo, who wears a 5. “I can’t walk into an office full of fashion editors with shoes that don’t fit!” Her best intel: “Boutiques don’t always have small sizes, so your best bet is big retailers. And if I’m shopping at a designer store like Dior, I ask the sales associate to search for 5s globally. They can often find them in markets like China, where the average size is smaller.”
The best brands for you: Stuart Weitzman, Vince Camuto, Via Spiga, Michael Michael Kors, Shoes of Prey, and Pretty Small Shoes, whose shoes run from size 2 to 5. European 34s (slightly smaller than a U.S. 4) are available from a number of designers, including Gianvito Rossi and Gucci.
If You Have Wide Feet
The simplest solution is to size up—the extra length accommodates some width. Otherwise, it’s all about that stretch! Use two-way stretchers for width, instep stretchers to lift the part of the shoe that sits on the top of the foot, or toe stretchers to make room in the toe box.
“Unfortunately, there’s no oasis of fashionable wide shoes,” says blogger Chastity Garner Valentine, who wears an 11 wide. “You have to get creative.” Years of blogging have taught her some unusual tactics: “For a last-minute stretch, I put on thick socks with the shoes and blow-dry them. Overnight, I put water in a ziplock bag and place that in the shoe, which then goes in the freezer.” You can also tweak the design of tricky-to-wear shoes. “I cut Mary Jane straps off,” she says. “And if boots are too small in the leg, try the Boot Band, an extension you zip into the boot to widen the calf area up to eight inches.”
The best brands for you: plus-size retailers like Lane Bryant, Eloquii, Torrid, Simply Be, Addition Elle, Ashley Stewart, and Fashion to Figure; also, Sam Edelman, Vince Camuto, Nine West, ASOS, Badgley Mischka, and Salvatore Ferragamo, as well as sneaker brands Nike and New Balance, which offer wide widths.
If You Have Narrow Feet
Did you know shoes can shrink? A cobbler can submerge the shoe in stretching solution, heat it, and dry it to bring it down a half size. For a more targeted fit, he or she can sew a small elastic band into the heel of the shoe for a pinching effect; add Mary Jane or ankle straps; or shorten existing straps to hug the foot.
“Having a narrow foot is not ideal, since standard-width shoes slip right off,” says Sacha Brown, senior manager of professional development for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, who wears a 7 narrow. “Whenever I run across a New York City street in stilettos to hail a cab, I risk losing a shoe midstride!” Her fix? Padding. “I have a drawer full of insoles,” she says. “Ones that sit at the toe push the foot back and make it feel more stable and secure. Target sells a line called Fab Feet, which comes in various colors to camouflage with different shoes.”
The best brands for you: Stuart Weitzman, Cole Haan, Bella Vita, Franco Sarto, Louise et Cie, Rockport, Kate Spade New York, and Salvatore Ferragamo, which goes up to an AA width. At margauxny.com you can design custom ballet flats, a style that generally cuts wide. A footnote: Try on shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are biggest—size matters!
Related: How to find a bra that fits.
Now that you know exactly how to find shoes that fit, watch 6 tips for finding your perfect bra.