Why Doesn’t Size-Inclusive Fashion Include Women with Wide Feet

When I first wrote a version of this article in February for Food Drink Life, asking why size-inclusive fashion doesn’t include women with wide feet, I had no idea that other writers were tracking the lack of inclusivity, too. Not so much from a shoe perspective but from a runway perspective.

For example, Glamour UK did a look back at fashion month aka every February to see just how many fashion designers included size-inclusive models. This included New York Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week.

While the magazine wasn’t looking at wide-width shoes, the lack of representation vis a vis plus-size models was subpar. For example, at New York Fashion Week, designers showed close to 4,000 looks. Of them, about 40 — or merely 1 percent — featured a larger-sized model wearing their look.

The one bright spot? Designer Christian Siriano consistently cast plus-size models in his shows. Also, in the past I know that he sold wide-width women’s shoes, because one of my daughters wore them for her high school prom. You can still find some of those wide-width shoes on eBay.

A woman in a red dress walking down the runway showcasing size-inclusive fashion.
A model walks the runway for the Christian Siriano collection during, New York Fashion Week. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

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

yitty fabletics lizzo best plus size leggings activewear pin
Plus-size mannequin and size charts at Fabletics store. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

In the past few years, retailers have gotten better about providing size-inclusive fashion options, such as plus-size activewear, and body-positive mannequins. For example, whenever I shop at Target, I know I’ll see mannequins of women that look more realistic. I’ve even seen body-positive mannequins in the children’s department.

Even with these steps forward with size-inclusive fashion and mannequins, there is one segment of the population that still can’t easily find fashionable shoes to wear. And that is women with wide and extra wide feet. I am one of those women.

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 and it has joined the list of stores that are now defunct.

As evidenced by the Glamour UK article I mentioned, at least some in the fashion world are aware of the need for size inclusivity. Sadly, only a few include women’s shoes in wide widths. However, in 2020, I had a glimmer of hope.

That’s when 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.

Want to Save This Article?

Save this article and we’ll send it to your inbox. Plus, we’ll send you more great links each week.

Save Article
By submitting this form, you consent to receive emails from Leah Ingram

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.”

Well, guess what? When you visit the brand’s website today and filter shoes sizes, the option for extended width isn’t even there anymore. The launch claimed there would be 75 styles for women with wide feet. To be fair, the shoes do go up to size 14 so there is size inclusivity, just not width inclusivity.

Research shows women need more shoe widths

This dearth of wide shoes for women isn’t just anecdotal. Research supports this notion that size-inclusive fashion does not cover women with wide feet. 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 percent 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 percent and 72 percent 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 size-inclusive 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.
A sign on a wall in a mall advertising size-inclusive fashion.
Shoe department at Nordstrom flagship store in New York City. Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

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.”

Portions of this article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *