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On Shoe Size and Sole Searching

Photo: Getty Images

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I’ve always had huge feet.

By the time I hit sixth grade, I was wearing a size 9.5 shoe, and Adidas Superstars were all the rage. I’ll never forget wearing my brand new pair to school, only to have a classmate point and laugh at my “clown feet.” I cried in the bathroom and shoved the shoes into the back of my closet, vowing to never buy flashy white sneakers again.

Then I grew to wear a solid size 10.5 — sometimes an 11 — and realized that most designers and popular shoe brands cap their production at a size 10. When I moved to New York City for college, I found the siren call of sample sales too tempting to resist, and spent most of my early 20s squeezing my toes into deeply-discounted Lanvin flats and Dries van Noten boots that were at least a half size too small for me. Sure, my shoe collection wasn’t comfortable, but as The Devil Wears Prada and countless episodes of Sex and the City reminded me, fashion can be painful. (Remember, this was the mid-aughts.)

Eventually, inevitably, my body rebelled. Five or so years ago, I developed a painful ulcer on the pinky toe of my left foot that left me limping. After visiting a podiatrist for the first time, I learned that the injury (along with a pesky ingrown toenail I’d developed) had been caused by hours spent pounding the pavement in too-small shoes. I wound up wearing a surgical boot for several weeks until the toe healed, and vowed to stick to properly-fitting footwear from that point on.

The Repetto ballet flats I’d lived in during college that, like many European shoes, run a full size small? Donated them, along with the size 10 Maison Martin Margiela knee-high boots I’d scored for $200 at a Barneys Warehouse sale and a handful of other too-snug shoes that tortured my toes. To replace them, I purchased roomier new versions from brands like Stuart Weitzman and Topshop, both of which sell plenty of options in size 10.5 and up.

Ultimately, I’ve come to accept (if not necessarily love) my larger-than-most feet. True, there are certain brands and shoe styles that have sized me out, but while I wait patiently for that to change (please, Rag & Bone, won’t you make your Harrow Boot in an 11?!), there are also tons of great retailers who happily cater to women who wear extended sizes. I still prefer to shop for shoes in person rather than online, but now, instead of going with the largest size available on the sales floor and hoping it’ll stretch to fit, I typically do the actual purchasing part online, where extended sizes are more plentiful.

A few months ago, I even picked up my first pair of Adidas Stan Smiths. They’re blindingly white, they don’t do a damn thing to minimize my feet, and I love them. After all, you know what they say about girls with big feet: They know where to buy really cute shoes.