A Bit about Sizing Systems

Hello friends! Our Wide Collection pre-order is fully underway, and we are really excited about the enthusiastic reception this collection has had. We have been working on our Wide Collection for months. Lots of fit testing, tweaking, and sizing assessment has gone into developing this collection of American Duchess favorites in D-width.

Shoe sizes are an interesting animal, are they not? While all shoe sizing systems use numbers to indicate shoe lengths, what exactly those numbers are measuring, the units of measurement used, and where “size 0” is located differ from sizing system to sizing system. Likewise, width measurement systems vary.

As with clothing sizes, shoe sizing systems tend to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Like clothes, shoemaking was an industry based on handcrafting and cottage industry; though it’s interesting to note that shoemakers have been turning out (haha) shoes en masse and in sizes since the 18th century. By the end of the 19th century, shoemaking was nearly totally industrialized.

Here’s a fun fact- the UK shoe sizing chart uses a unit of measurement called the ‘barleycorn’. A barleycorn is equivalent to 1/3″ (about .85 cm), and it can historically be formally traced back to at least 1300 AD. References to a barleycorn measuring three-to-an-inch can be found all the way back to the 10th century! Anyways, the humble barleycorn measurement forms the basis of UK shoe sizing. One’s shoe size is usually around 1 or 2 barleycorns longer than the foot. The shoe sizing chart has a “size zero”, or the size from which all other sizes are determined by adding more and more barleycorns.

Find barleycorn in this units of measure chart…it’s adjacent to poppyseed.

In the United States and Canada, the system for sizing is pretty similar, but the “zero point” is different. Ergo, different size numbers. In Europe, the shoe sizing system is different entirely. You may be familiar with your own EU size (well, if you’re from Europe, you are certainly familiar). The EU size system is based on the length of a shoe’s last expressed in Paris points (a Paris point measures about 2/3 cm). This size system is unisex, and doesn’t have half-sizes like the US and UK sizing systems.

Shoe advertisement from the Sept. 1919 edition of Vogue

Like shoe sizes based on length, there are also multiple sizing practices around the world for measuring width. In North America, we’re familiar with widths assigned to letters, from AAAA (very narrow) to EEE (extra-wide). B width is currently considered ‘average’ for women’s shoes, and it’s the standard width we use at American Duchess. D width is considered ‘average’ for men’s shoes. In the UK, the common width measurement system ranges from C-H, and as with lengths, the ‘zero point’ is different.

This article from a May 1945 edition of Women’s Wear Daily determined that WACs (members of the Women’s Army Corps) wore an average shoe size of 6-8, with A and B widths being most popular. More women needed AA widths than C widths- that has certainly changed!

After shoe manufacturing was industrialized, in 1880, an American businessman by the name of Edwin Simpson proposed a detailed sizing system to help standardize sizing in the U.S. This system introduced the first standard set of lasts in full and half sizes, using a 1/3″ step-up for each full size, and 1/6″ step-up for each half size. Simpson’s system included a sizing process for widths as well as lengths. Width measurement was determined by the circumference of the last around the ball. The U.S Retail Boot & Shoe Dealers’ Association adopted Simpson’s ideas around 7 years later, but by the turn of the century, most shoes were still manufactured in one width only. In the 1920s, width options started to become more common.

Advertisement from the June 1917 edition of Good Housekeeping.

Our new Wide Collection that’s currently on pre-order features seven of American Duchess’ top-selling and most popular styles in D-width. The more our community participates in this pre-order, the more likely we will be able to pursue making wides in the future! Each pair of Wide Collection styles is $20/€20 off through October 6!

Wide Collection Pre-Order is Open
Sept. 22-Oct. 6, 2023
$20/€20 Discount Per Pair

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