Shoe sizes

Sizing – this is typical.. I mean not knowing anything about it. I usually ask my students about their feet size in the first class – they tell me a number, let’s say 7. Then I ask – 7 WHAT? They can’t answer. Never.

Can you imagine? You wear something, you know you have to look for that certain number, but you don’t know what it means? Well.. I know.. there are numbers, like this around us, but in this community we want a bit more, especially with shoes, right? So, let’s educate you a bit.

There are 4 different systems:

– metric (mm)

– French (European as it is called in the USA)

– English and

– American.

Yes. English and American are different, believe or not. Don’t ask why.

Metric is pretty simple, there is nothing to talk about – they us millimeters or half centimeters.

French is an older system, one Paris Point (that is the unit for this) is 6.666666666… mm, or if you prefer: 2 cm equals 3 PP.

English sizes.  (a) This is where the fun begins. Not just they don’t use any known units, but they just don’t start measuring the foot from the heel. Let me explain: the unit is 1/3 of an inch (or you can call it  Barleycorn as well. I mean no one will know what you are talking about..). So the difference between 7,5 and 8 is…. yes! 1/6 of an inch!) Obviously using inch for measuring foot wouldn’t be too precise.. so it is kind of reasonable… But there is more. The shoe sizes starts at 4 inches (assuming that customers under 4 inch foot focus more on sleeping, crying and to be breastfed than buying shoes.. maybe…) So at 4 inches (12/3) the kid shoe sizes start: 13 exactly.

So if a baby wears a size 2 – that means that the real size is 14/3, or with other words: 4 + 2/3 inch.

The biggest shoe size is usually adult 13, which means: 12/3 + 13/3 + 13/3 = 38/3 =  12 + 2/3 inch (apprx. 32 cm, or 48 PP).

By the way – a little help to find out what is what: you can use these numbers like this: I/3 – kid shoes, II/8 – adult shoes.

American sizes – pretty much the same, described above, with the little difference starting from 4 inch (12/3), they start from 11/3.

1 cm= 0.846 a = 1,5 PP

8 thoughts on “Shoe sizes”

  1. what a headache, thanks for that, I’ve always had trouble understanding what was going on. this is a much better explanation than i’ve been able to find in other places

  2. Great article, I’ve learned more than I ever knew about it in minutes. I have similar problems with customers ordering belts. You would not believe how many people do not know their own waist size.

  3. The real headache begins when you have to figure out the difference between vintage and modern shoe sizes AND vintage men’s and women’s shoe sizes. I buy and wear vintage shoes and the sellers often don’t measure the shoes properly. Anyways that’s a whole different problem…nice article btw. I really could have used something like this, when I first started buying shoes.

  4. Have to remember …how the English measuring system came about. Largest foot in Kingdom…was found to be 39 barleycorns…hence able to divide by 3. Thus, leaving you with 13 inches. A ‘babies foot’ is 4inches =size 0.
    I guess, they take that size because that is when the large enough for stability & able to walk.

  5. Currently, the industry uses these methods (while the barleycorn and paris point methods are a base for these)_

    European sizes: foot in centimeters + ~1,5. Divide by two, multiply by three.

    UK sizes: Foot + ~1,5cm in centimeters. Divided by 2,54 (for inches), multiply by three, subtract 25.

    US sizes: Same as above, subtract 24.

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