Everyone knows Americans are getting larger, wider, and taller, but are our feet getting bigger as well? Although the trend in bigger feet isn’t new—it’s been going on for 150 years—it’s the rate of foot growth that’s alarming doctors and shoe companies alike.
Why the Long Foot?
In the beginning of the 20th century, the average woman wore a size 3.5 or 4. In the forties, she was up to 5.5 and stayed there through the sixties. By the disco years, the average woman wore a 7.5; by the eighties, she was up to 8.5. By now, the average women’s size is around 9.0.
And it’s not just the ladies; the lads are getting a little large in the loafers, too. Sales figures released in early 2009 in Britain revealed a one-inch increase in men’s feet in the last fifty years. There are more requests for traditionally larger sizes (12) than for smaller sizes (7). Bigger sizes also sell out faster than they did even twenty-five years ago.
Ed Watson, of Debenhams department store in London says, “For the first time, we’re considering stocking size 13 as a standard fitting across all of our ranges, and size 14 is a possibility, too. Our largest shoe currently available is a size 12. In the past, these shoe sizes would have been available only on special order.”
Getting to the Foot of the Problem
Some experts believe that our diet is fueling the increase in foot size. Eating high-density and processed foods during puberty can stimulate growth in girth and in other parts of the body, including hands and feet. Also, since we have easier access to large quantities of food, our bodies have more nutrients than they did in the past, which makes us bigger.
Early American immigrants were shorter than we are and had smaller feet to boot. But their children began benefiting from better healthcare and nutrition, so their feet stared growing.
According to Ted Landphair, a writer for Voice of America, the frightening rise in obesity-related diseases like diabetes is also contributing to our big feet. Additionally, podiatrists suggest that our heavy bodies are causing our arches to collapse, which results in a flatter (and bigger) foot.
Do You Have This in Size 9?
Why are retailers ignoring our growth spurt? Many reasons. Since there aren’t many studies determining how big our feet have become, retailers are holding onto old notions of what an average shoe size is. Because they are relying on this faulty “average,” they aren’t producing big enough shoes. And there aren’t any standards either. It’s just like trying on a pair of jeans and finding you’re a size eight in one pair and a size twelve in another.
Podiatric historian William Rossi says, “The shoe industry gets away with murder—foot murder—and it has been for generations. People are getting taller and heavier, as they have for generation after generation, and their feet are getting larger in proportion to their bodies.”
London-based shoe retailer Jesol Umeria, MD agrees, saying, “The population at large is growing but most shoes are still made to fit a size that is increasingly no longer average.”
When we are trying on shoes and the salesperson disappears into the secret back room, what he is sifting through are boxes and boxes of shoes. Since boxes take up a lot of space, department stores are less likely to carry these larger sizes, which is part of what’s driving the success of online shoe companies.
Women with bigger feet also get the short end of the stock when it comes to style. Unless you fall into the “normal” range (6–10), you can pretty much forget about having the hottest Manolos.
We Just Keep Growing and Growing …
So, by 2200, will we be tearing up the pavement in size 30 shoes? Probably not. Rossi says that the growth will eventually taper off. We may continue to see bigger feet for the next century or so, but after that, Rossi says, “There’s a point at which Nature says, ‘Enough.’”
Darwin’s whole point was that those who adapt are the ones who survive. Tripping over huge feet is probably not the best way to stumble into the future.