How dress shoes should fit can be a complex question. Many men are wearing the wrong shoe size, especially those in the US. It is not a stab at American men, it is a reality based on what we are taught about fit, comfort, and how things should feel. I know this as I went through it during my time at Nordstrom and fit thousands of people during my time there. And that does not exclude much of the rest of the world, to be quite honest.
In fact, there are only a few cultures that I believe as a whole tend to wear the correct size when it comes to shoes. And those are mainly in Europe, which makes sense as traditional shoemaking really stems from there which means tradition/ideology was passed down. But the reality is that most men wear their shoes too big. Some, in fact, wear them way too big. After fitting thousands and thousands of people in my life I have dealt with this firsthand and have seen that this is the rule and not the exception.
There is a reason most men take a size down when it comes to loafers. And those that don’t you can see a mile away with their heel popping out every step. It is a sad sight, to be honest, and baffles me when I see it. It is so uncomfortable yet so many men have conformed to “always being US10” that they never divert from that even to achieve a better fit. I know as I used to be when first starting out. The Brannock Device measured me at US8 and so I took that. I did not factor in the rest of the parameters like width, girth, depth, and preference. I just took US8 neglecting the fact that my foot was narrow and shallow with skinny toes and ankles.
So I ended up with a lot of bad-fitting shoes that often hurt my feet. So much so, in fact, that I ended up having plantar fasciitis. I started getting these shooting pains in my heels because I had overworked the tendon from the ball of the foot to the heel spur. And that was from wearing shoes too large and over-working my arch
As I was building my own shoe brand at the time I decided to make a change and start wearing a half-size down in all the samples I made for myself. The reality was that I was US8 in length, but I have a very shallow, somewhat narrow, and semi-flat foot. On top of that, I played soccer my entire life and do not mind a snug fit. For too long was I trying to have a larger size instead of taking the size that actually fits best. A painful lesson learned. But that simple switch changed my life.
My foot pain went away, the shoes fit better, felt better, and looked better. You might ask, why did they look better? Well, when you wear your shoes too big, two nasty things occur 1. You get way too much excess creasing (especially if your toes are shallow), and 2. Your toes start to turn up (which I hate more than anything). While creasing is inevitable going that half size down alleviated the excess creasing and took that toe to turn up and look away. A win-win all around. And I felt so much better. And realized then how many other men were in that same position but never go smaller and just stay with ill-fitting shoes.
When starting my brand I realized this phenomenon and the fact that most men wear their loafers a half size down, or more, to their oxfords. This does not make logical sense if you wear your shoes in the correct size. But it’s the case for most so in the hopes to minimize online sale returns I decided to vanity size my loafers by stamping a half size larger than the actual last that it was made on. So if it stated US11, it was actually made on a US10.5 last. Then told most people that we cut the loafers somewhat snug and suggest sticking with your traditional oxford size unless you wear them very snug then it would be best to size up. For 90% of people, this works. This goes to show how many are wearing their oxfords on the loose side.
This is especially the case in America where we have this notion that everything should be cushioned, comfortable, loose, and feel like nothing. But that is not how dress shoes are intended to be. They are not Nikes. They are supposed to be hugging, supporting, well-fitting, and to be honest, stiff in the beginning. It’s not mesh. It’s leather. Your dress shoe should hug your forefeet, support your arch, grip your heels, and ultimately fit like a snug glove and not like an oversized shirt.
The reason is that you will ultimately gain ⅛-1/4 of size after the break-in. So, that snug, a new shoe will ultimately fit perfectly after the leather softens and you sink into the footbed. But if you get them already too loosey-goosey and then the break-in occurs what you are left with is an ill-fitting, sloppy shoe that is not truly supporting your feet. And that, at the end of the day, is not only bad for your support but just looks terrible.
If you feel that your broke in dress shoes are pretty sloppy, I invite you to take the next size down on your next purchase. There will be some potentially new sensations in the break-in period on the new shoe, but once that is over, it will fit miles better and you will feel better. And naturally, look better!