Understanding foot structure and the various terms used helps a lot when you’re truing to find the right fit on RTW shoes. Especially if you order over the web and haven’t had the opportunity to try the shoes before, since a good salesman always know how the last and the shoe is for different types of feet you can rule out shoes that won’t fit one just by getting some information over email. Here I intend to go through the different aspects of the foot’s anatomy that are commonly used, and what they mean.
Measurements of the foot
A. Ball width
The ball width is measured between the big toe joint and the small toe joint. The ball is the widest part of the foot, where the foot flex, and thus also where the shoe should be built to flex.
B. Width at widest point
This is almost the same as above, but sometimes the measurements may be different, and therefore they are called different things. The measurement is taken by standing up with the outside of the foot against a wall and you put a tape measure under your foot out to the big toe joint. Distribute weight evenly between your feet, so you stand as normal as possible. As a rule, you measure your feet with socks, since that’s the measure that will apply when you wear the shoes. This is the measure that usually is to be specified when a manufacturer or seller asks for your foot width. Remember to measure both feet, as it often differs.
In short, the length from heel to toe. Also measured most easily distinguished with the heel against a wall, with the tape measure placed under the foot front to the big toe. Again, stand with your weight evenly distributed.
D. Heel-to-ball length
This measurement is virtually forgotten, but according to many at least as important as the total length of the foot. This because it’s at the ball the foot flex, and for a shoe to be comfortable it should be made to bent in the same place. If it’s not it could for instance be a gap between the arch and the ball, which means that when you walk the foot is pushed forward by insole under the arch of the foot and the entire foot is sliding forward in the shoe. A Brannock instrument is designed to measure all of these three dimensions listed above, B, C and D. Some cobblers or good shoe shops have a Brannock instrument, sometimes just behind the counter so you have to ask for it, otherwise, it is unfortunately now standard with simpler and cheaper measurement tools that only measure the length and width.
E. Ball girth
Of course the above the two-dimensional measurements above doesn’t say all of one’s foot shape. Circumference, volume of the foot, may still differ between the feet that have exactly the same dimensions above. A bespoke shoemaker always take several circumference measurements, but here I was just going to mention the most important one when buying RTW, and it’s the girth of the ball. It’s measured by taking a tape measure across the ball around both joints, and are also taken standing up.
Parts of the foot
1. Inner ball
This is where the inner metatarsal bone and the bone of the big toe meet. The inner part of the ball.
2. Outer ball
As above but in reverse, that is, the outer metatarsal bone meets the bone of the small toe. The outer part of the ball.
The instep has great significance for how a shoe fits. The instep is the upper part of the foot which is between the ball and the leg. One can for convenience call i the area under the laces of a common lace-up shoe. If you have a low instep can have problems with shoes that fit otherwise closes too tightly around the lacing which means that they can’t be tightened enough. If you have a high instep, it is the other way around, you can often get a too large gap between the laces, especially with oxford shoes, which can look bad and the shoes can be uncomfortable. Do you know that you have high or low instep you should simply buy shoes with lasts that have high or low instep, or if you have a high instep go for derby’s which works better for that type of feet than oxfords.
Arch is the part between the heel and the inner ball, which on a normal foot does not touch the ground when you stand on a flat floor. Flat feet have a low arch where more or even the whole foot touches the ground, while people with high arches have an abnormally small part of the foot touching the ground. The height of the arch usually is connected to the height of the instep, and sometimes therefore these concepts are mixed up. If you have a high arch, it may be comfortable with a shoe or insole that provides good arch support.
Thank you for the good information. I really enjoyed reading this post.
Fran Kim: Glad to hear that, thanks!