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Shoe sizes explained

Poor fitting shoes are a common cause of foot pain and injury. Many people make the mistake of not trying shoes on or thinking a pair of shoes will get more comfortable with time. Shoe sizing can be confusing and varies greatly between brands.

Its important to try each shoe on and preferably have a trained shoe fit expert measure your size each time you buy a new pair of shoes. The most common way to measure shoe size is using a Brannock Device.

A thorough foot measure should include the following

  1. Measure the length from the heel to the longest toe. This could even be your second toe!
  2. Measure the length of the heel to the end of the arch under the first toe joint. The longest measurement out of foot length and arch length will be the correct size. Using the heel to toe length can result in the wrong fit.
  3. Measure the width of the ball of the foot.
  4. Measure both feet and buy shoes to fit the longest foot. Its normal to have a few sizes difference.


There are a few important situations to consider when measuring shoe size.


If you wear orthotics make sure you take them along to buy new shoes. Sometimes an extra depth shoe might be required to accommodate for the thickness of the orthotic. Another reason to take your orthotics along is to ensure a snug fit into the shoe. Shoes have different amounts of built in arch support and this can change the way your orthotics influence your foot.

Narrow or Wide Feet

Some footwear brands offer alternative width options. This is particularly important for foot deformities such as bunions. Ask your podiatrist or shoe fit expert to show you specific styles.

Size changes

Feet can change size so its important to have your feet measured each time you buy shoes. Factors such as age, weight and swelling can change your shoe size.

Sizing Systems

There are a number of different shoe sizing scales used in Australia, the most common ones we see are the UK system, the European system, and the US system.

The UK system was initially set up by King Edward II. His foot measured 12 inches in length, and so that size was determined as size 12. From there, any smaller sizes were based on the length of a grain of barleycorn, which is approximately 1/3rd of an inch in length. And so a size 11 shoe is 1/3rd inch shorter than 12 inches, and so on. ½ sizes are 1/6th inch longer than their full size. UK children’s sizes start from 0, up to 13.5. Then the sizes become an adult size 1.

European sizing uses the Paris point system. A Paris point is approximately 2/3rd centimetre. The size is determined by how many Paris point measurements are in the length of the foot, plus the required additional length for the shoe.

The US system is very similar to the UK system and based on the barley corn measure. The only difference is that the US system starts at 1 whereas the UK system begins at 0. This means a UK 8 is equal to a US 9.


For more information about the characteristics of a good shoe check out our Perfect Shoe page.