Morgaine Padal has a problem.
"I was a 7 in kindergarten- a ladies size 7."
She's referring to not to her clothing size, but her shoe size. Padal, now 28, wears a size 14 shoe and spends a lot of time looking for shoes in her size. Fashion, style? Not likely.
While shopping at the Mall of America, Padal grabbed an unflattering flat off the shelf at Nordstrom Rack and said "Look at that. Couldn't they make it at least a little pretty? A teeny heel, please? Just because I'm 6-feet-1 doesn't mean I'm not feminine."
The shoe industry has had to take note of larger shoe sizes in the past decade, due to the fact that men and women's shoe size has grown a full size over the past three decades. Mark Denkler, chairman of the National Shoe Retailers Association, says "For women, we say 8 1/2 is the new 7."
However, just because shoe retailers and the industry know that women's feet are growing larger doesn't mean they are expanding their range of shoe sizes. Denkler explains that "The assortments, called casepacks, used to come in women's size 5 to 10. Now it's 6 to 11. But bigger than 11 can hurt the store's margin." Margin, meaning stores can't return what they don't sell, and they are less than likely to purchase shoes sizes at the end of the bell curve, even though there are plenty of women who can fit in those sizes.
Stephanie Stratton, a manufacturer's representative for several European lines of shoes says, "The hot topic is how to serve women with the biggest feet. There are too many of these women for it to be considered strictly a niche. For the first time, two of our manufacturers have gone from a top European size of 42 to 45. That's from an 11-12 to a 13-14."
Shopping online is what Padal often ends up doing, something she's not a fan of. "I have to try before I buy. A couple times when I ordered online they sent me fake 14s. I know a 13 when I feel it."
Barbara Thornton is the owner of Designershoes.com, a Boston based online retail store that sells shoes for women with large feet. "Within a three mile radius, a shoe store may have five women in a size 12. I don't have a radius."
Wholesalers in general provide a smaller selection for women with large feet because the industry is designed to service traditional stores. Thornton believes women with larger feet with always be outliers, with fewer options than their smaller sized sisters.
"A size 12 comes in and the store might have one style to show. She sees 7s and 8s trying on a half-dozen pairs. She feels humiliated, leaves, and doesn't come back. And the store still has the 12. Nobody's happy and it's a vicious cycle," says Thornton.
"The oversize assortment grows every year. Some stores I call on still resist; they will forgo the sale to avoid the risk. But I hear more say, 'I'm going to get killed if I don't carry some 12's and 13's.'"
Many young women have a difficult time finding shoes that are age appropriate as well. Once you reach a size 5, shoes are appropriate for women, not little girls. "I hear the complaints " said Dorie Williamson, buyer for Expressions shoe store in Roseau, MN. "We grow 'em up big there. But it's everywhere."
For women with larger than average feet, the bright side is the more complaints shoe designers and distributors hear, the more likely their favorite shoe store is to carry shoes in their sizes.
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