Just as the way people look varies around the world, people’s feet also are different depending on where you come from. Here a large review of feet shapes around the world.
First a disclaimer, this is clearly a generalising walkthrough, there are large variations of people’s feet even if one originates from the same country/region. It also varies a lot about how much knowledge I have / have managed to allocate myself between different areas, so if you know that I am wrong about something, please correct me. Satra, the independent research and test institute for the shoe industry, has made a giant survey of foot shapes around the world, but since it’s only available for member companies and costs €6,000 (it is aimed for international shoe companies), this is nothing I have had the opportunity to do learn from. But there are other research, data and general information. Since this blog is mainly about men’s shoes and this is where I have the best knowledge, this also applies when it comes to feet, but as a rule, you can say that the same rules go through for women’s feet (unless stated otherwise).
What is the point with such a post? On the one hand, it can hopefully be interesting to learn more about this topic, and then it can also be useful for you as a customer to know how shoes fit is in feneral if you shop made in different parts of the world, and if you sell shoes to international customers it’s of course practical to know about how feet shape varies.
Central and Southern Europe
Here we find the foot shape that forms the basis of what often goes under the really very vague term “true to size”, which can both refer to shape and size relation. Central and southern European feet. The reason is that countries like England, Italy and Spain have been important to the shoe industry in Europe and the world, hence these feet are the basis of some sort of “standard”. They are also generally medium in their shape, right in the middle of width, and instep is neither high nor low. European (and even North American) feet have historically been relatively bony, but with an increased average weight more people nowadays have a “fleshier” foot.
Up in the north of Europe people have a slightly wider feet at the ball (the widest part of the foot), while the rear part and the heel are more “standard” in width. This, in combination with a slightly higher instep, and thus higher arch (normally the foot’s volume is roughly the same, so if the instep/wrist is high the underside follow, so to speak, and vice versa, if instep is low the arch is lower) can make it a bit harder to get the fit right, since we generally buy shoes that are made for the previous group’s feet.
Russia and Eastern Europe
Here, especially for Russian feet, the characteristic is like the northern European foot, but further pushed, so to speak. Here, many have really high insteps and wide feet over the ball. Often has a challenge when it comes to finding shoes that sit comfortably and looks good on the feet.
Asian feet are to begin with much smaller than western feet, on average about 2 cm shorter. Moreover, the instep is lower, they are wider and less bony, plus the heels are more cupped if you see them in profile, which can make a difference between Asian manufacturers’ shoes and European. Are you visiting for example in Japan or China and if you have feet about the size of UK9 / EU43 or above, it’s almost no chance to find shoes in the stores there.
Here is a clear and interesting difference to European feet, and it’s the fact that the Americans generally have narrower feet. Quite similar in shape, but not as wide (for unclear reasons, this only applies to men, women’s feet are very similar on the two continents). This is why it’s common for European brands, for example, who use the term E for standard width in Europe, to have the narrower D-width as the standard for the shoes sold on the US market. That said, with the increased average weight of people especially in the US, it’s something that seem to be changing a bit.
Here I mist admit that I didn’t find any information that explains how South American’s feet are in shape and relate to the rest. Unfortunately. If any reader has good info, you are welcome to write in the comments so I can update the post.
A continent that has a great variety of foot types, so here one cannot really be as generalising as above. What one can say is that, for example, a large part of the population in the central parts of Africa has a slightly different underside of the feet where the outside of the middle part lies more towards the ground and contributes to the rolling step, which is believed to be one of the reasons for Africans often have light, flowing running. It’s also relatively common with a slightly triangular-shaped feet so to speak, with a clear triangular shape from the heel to the toes.
As can be seen in the graph above, Australians have both slightly shorter and wider feet than Europeans. The shape is relatively similar in general to the Central European foot, so you don’t have to think significantly about the last shape here, but it’s more that you have a step down on the size scale so to speak.