Monday, July 9, 2012

Sizing Up Vintage Shoes

So you're looking for that perfect pair of vintage shoes. Something from the 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s perhaps. You are ready to start shopping! But wait, consider a few questions first.

- Are you looking for a particular style to meet the requirements of a particular period of time? And if so, what style? Be sure to do your homework so you know what you are looking at when you start shopping.
- How often do you plan to wear the shoes? Everyday, only for special events, not at all you just want a pretty pair of shoes to look at.
- What condition issues should you look for (and avoid) when shopping for vintage shoes? Cracking, scuffs, worn out insoles, broken straps, etc.
- What about the details? Heel height, pretty details like bows or buckles.
- And most importantly, how do you know what size shoe to buy?

Group of ladies trying on shoes, c 1942. - Source LIFE

So how do you know what size vintage shoes to buy?

Morning Glorious Vintage 
It's true that vintage shoe sizes haven't changed too much over the years, unlike clothing sizes. A size 7 vintage shoe, for example, will be roughly the same size as a modern size 7. Roughly, but not exact. As a general rule, dress shoes do run a little narrow. And this is especially true of vintage shoes, so you will want to keep that in mind if you have wide feet like I do. If you have the option of trying a pair of shoes on before you buy them, excellent. But when shopping online, obviously you won't be able to. Keep in mind that the majority of online shop owners will not except returns for shoes that don't fit properly. They take the time to list the necessary information and it is up to the shopper to know what size will work best for her.

So, to avoid heartaches and headaches alike - know your measurements, know your measurements, know your measurements!

Shoes that are too narrow or too tight will not be comfortable. Ouch!

My pair of red peep toe shoes were marked as a US size 6/EUR 36. However, I tend to wear a modern size 7. Depending on the style and type of shoes I can wear anything from a 6 1/2 to a 7 1/2
Shopper's Tips - Go by the actual measurements of the shoes and NOT by the listed size.
To ensure a good fit, measure of a pair of your own comfortable shoes across the ball of the foot (the widest point), and from toe to heel. Take both of these measurements on the inside on the shoes. A flexible ruler is helpful. Compare these measurements to those of the vintage shoes you think you want to purchase. It's a good idea to measure a pair of shoes that have the same heel height as the pair you're shopping for. Don't measure your own feet to compare with the shoes' measurements on the site. Don't forget to leave yourself a little wiggle room! If you like your shoes to fit snug or a little on the loose side, take that onto account.

Trying on shoes before you buy is best but not always an option. Image source
Depending on the style of the shoes, measuring the inside width can be difficult but this is important to know. For my own feet to be happy, I need an inside measurement of 3" to 3 1/4". I looked at several pairs of 1940s shoes online that listed the widest point at 3" only to find out that actual inside measurement was way less than that. If I plan to wear a pair vintage shoes anything less than 3" on the inside is an absolute no go for me. However, for display purposes the sizing wouldn't matter.

When in doubt, ask for help!
Don't be afraid to ask questions. When looking for vintage shoes online, I found the way shoes measurement were listed to be a little inconsistent, at least on Etsy. One shop will measure the widest point on the inside of the shoes and other shop across the bottom. Once I knew what I needed for my own measurements, I asked shop owners to clarify how their measurements were taken. Each and every person was extremely help I must say!

Good shop owners will be happy to answer all your questions and help assist in finding a pair of shoes that fit.
The Lady Eve - Glamourdaze
Condition issues:
As with any article of vintage clothing, whether it's a hat, a dress, or a pair of shoes, expect some kind of wear. Occasionally you will see NOS - new old stock, or "dead stock" - items in near mint condition. Excellent condition can mean a higher price.

When looking for shoes, take a look first at the soles and then the heels. If no pictures are provided ask to see some. You should look at the amount of wear on the soles. Check for cracks or other flaws to the soles and heels. If you plan on wearing them for more then the occasional photo shoot this is important. You want to make sure the shoes are sturdy and safe to wear. Worn out insoles can easily be replaced. Scuff marks on the soles are no big deal but if there is cracking anywhere on the shoes that could be a problem, particularly with leather shoes as they can become brittle with age. Leather conditioners can help but in some cases the shoes may be beyond repair. Check the buckles (if there are any) and other details such as the stitching or decorative bows to make sure they are secure.

Ask yourself - If there are flaws, can you live with them, considering the age of the shoes of course? Can they easily be fixed? (A bit of polish or leather conditioner, new insoles, etc.) Is it worth the extra cost to have them fixed? If you answer "No" to any of these questions you should probably keep looking.

Remember, the hunt for the perfect pair of shoes is all part of the fun! :) I hope you find this post helpful.

Daniel Green Footwear ad from Vintage Ad Browser

Vintage Ad Browser
Vintage Ad Browser


  1. I have been waiting for this post...thanks

  2. I'm certainly no expert, these are just a few things I've found helpful when shopping for vintage footwear. I hope others find my tips helpful too!

  3. Great tips and tricks. It is so difficult to find vintage shoes in my size 8.5. When I do, it is also difficult to get the right fit. One thing I have noticed with a couple of my shoes is that due to age, they may be quite tight when I first put them on but give them a little time and they stretch. I think vintage shoe stretchers are a good idea if your shoe has been sitting around a long time. Also, I recommend a good shoe condition on leather when you first get it to soften it a bit. I have one pair of shoes at the cobbler right now hoping he can fix the straps because they cracked from not being conditioned for years. But, hey, what do we expect? It is quite amazing how long these shoes have lasted. You know what else fascinates me is how women's feet have evolved. If you look back to Edwardian and even flapper time, their shoes were so narrow and tiny, it's amazing!

  4. Hi Joanna,
    I know what you mean about older vintage shoes being narrow. In fact, as funny as it sounds, people did have narrower feet "back then." Our feet our wider today due to diet and the, often, poor quality or choice of footwear. Flip flops are comfortable but are so bad for our feet!

    Conditioning older leather shoes is a great way to help them last longer. I have used Lexol and had good results. It's what we used on our equestrian leathers (saddles, bridles, etc.) when I was little. Kiwi produces are also good.
    I would use caution when using leather conditioners or shoe polish with light colored shoes or those of bright colors. Always test a small area first to make sure you wont stain or otherwise damage the color of the shoes. Most conditioners or shoe polish should be fine but just to be on the safe side. :)


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