Why doesn’t size-inclusive fashion include women with wide feet?

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In the past few years, retailers have gotten better about providing size-inclusive clothing options and body-positive mannequins. However, there is one segment of the population that still can’t easily find fashionable shoes to wear — women with wide and extra wide feet.

A woman with wide feet is holding a group of high heeled shoes.
Wide-footed women want the same shoe choices as everyone else. Learn where to find shoes to fit your wide or extra-wide feet. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Walk into most retailers that sell shoes and, chances are, you won’t find many wide-width options for women, if any at all. At one point, Payless was a reliable store where you could find women’s shoes in wide and extra-wide widths for everyday use or special occasions. However, all of its brick-and-mortar locations are now closed.

Why doesn’t size-inclusive fashion include women with wide feet?

The fashion world is aware of the need for women’s shoes in wide widths. For example, in 2020, Khloe Kardashian’s brand Good American sent wide-width shoes down the runway. The brand had plus-size models wearing Good American clothes along with the newly launched size-inclusive footwear. An article in Footwear News proclaimed that “every pair of Good American shoes is available in regular and extended widths around feet, calves and thighs to fit all body types.”

Fast forward four years and guess what? When you visit the brand’s website and filter sizes by extended width, there are only two shoes available. The launch claimed there would be 75 styles for women with wide feet.

Research shows women need more shoe widths

This dearth of wide shoes for women isn’t just anecdotal. Research supports this notion. In fact, a study in the journal Nature looked at 3D foot scans for more than 1 million people in North America, Europe and Asia. Those scans determined that, overall, people need at least three different shoe widths available to them.

The data found that shoes offered in a single width can only serve 40% of customers. That leaves very few footwear options for the six in 10 women with wider feet. This is where mom-and-pop footwear retailers, who once specialized in so-called hard-to-fit feet, used to step in. However, with the rise of online retailers like Zappos and Amazon, these small businesses couldn’t compete and, like Payless, have closed down.

The end result? “Many women with wide feet have become used to squeezing their feet into shoes which are too narrow for them,” said Susannah Davda, who runs a footwear consultancy in London called The Shoe Consultant.

It hurts to wear shoes that are too narrow

It seems many people are doing just this — wearing shoes that do not fit. A 2018 study in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research found that between 63% and 72% of participants were wearing shoes that did not accommodate the width or length dimensions of their feet. What happens when you don’t wear properly fitting shoes? You can legit hurt yourself.

That’s what happened to Sharon Rhodes, who writes The Honour System blog. “My doctor diagnosed me with Morton’s neuroma because my toes were compressed from wearing narrow hiking boots,” Rhodes explained. “My podiatrist suggested I look for shoes with a wide-toe box.”

Finding fashionable, wide-width shoes

Rhodes faces a similar challenge as other wide-footed women. “My issue is finding cute shoes that have a wide-toe bed,” she explained, “and don’t look like nursing shoes.” Or granny shoes. Or shoes you wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear to a high school reunion or on a date.

“Women should have the right to wear shoes which are wide enough for their feet,” Davda, The Shoe Consultant, added. She recommended encouraging retailers to stock a wider variety — pun intended — of shoe widths. How can customers do this? 

Simple, Davda suggested. Stop buying narrow shoes and shopping in stores that don’t cater to wide feet. At the same time, let the store manager or customer service department know why you will no longer be a customer and that you won’t be back until they stock wider shoes.

At one time, Nordstrom stocked double-wide shoes in their brick-and-mortar department stores. Now you’ll find significantly fewer on their website or at the Nordstrom outlet store called Nordstrom Rack. Davda said that when looking at the Nordstrom website as well as Zappos, it’s easy to see real-time examples of these width discrepancies. She provided these stats:

  • Nordstrom offered just 1,492 wider-fitting women’s options compared to 18,300 standard-width shoes.
  • Zappos had a higher percentage of wider products, with 3,173 styles, compared to 23,124 standard-width items.

Since Nordstrom prides itself on providing great customer service, why not start by asking them for a better selection of wide and extra wide-width shoes. Use the Nordstrom website to find your local store. Then, call and ask to speak with the store manager. You can also reach out to Nordstrom customer service to relay your concerns about how the store’s size inclusivity hasn’t expanded to include women with wide feet.

Another option for those with a higher disposable income — custom-made wide shoes. The Alexander Noel Design Lab utilizes 3D scans of clients’ feet to create custom-made shoes. They offer expanded width sizes in women’s stiletto and high-heel collections. Prices start at $299.

More than wide calves

There is some movement in the right direction. Women with wide calves are having less trouble finding boots. More brands offer wide-calf boots for women, including designer Vince Camuto. Also, plus-size retailer Torrid and national retailer DSW tend to stock wide-calf boots, including cowboy boots. 

Ironically, though, wide-calf boots don’t always come in wide widths. Maybe that will change in the future, if more women ask for a better selection of shoe widths.

“Expanding their shoe lines to incorporate a broader spectrum of sizes isn’t just a matter of wider calves,” said Kara Harms, CEO of Whimsy Soul in San Francisco, California. “It’s time for brands to acknowledge this gap and make a genuine commitment to inclusivity, ensuring that every aspect of the body is considered when catering to their diverse customer base.”

Leah Ingram is the author of 15 books, including “Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less.” She shares shopping advice for getting the most value for your time and money at Leah Ingram Real Sophisticated Consumer.

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