Wearing shoes, like an adult for trans*, queer, butch, masculine people
Okay, so one of the main complaints that I’ve noticed other FTM, queer and butch people share has been the topic of shoes. I wear a men’s 6 U.S. (or 5.5 U.K.) which means I’m on the cusp of fitting into all men’s sizes, but alas not quite, so I understand this qualm. There are, however, some ways to get around that. Additionally, I have some unrelated foot problems which means I can’t wear cheap shoes either.
First, wear thick socks, like wooly ones. If your feet are almost big enough, but not quite there, thick socks do a couple of things; they will help you get that length you need in your foot (although I wouldn’t recommend this method if you got stuck more than a half size off) and they also cushion if it’s a dress shoe, which have less padding than sneakers for example. Also, a lot of men’s shoes are wider to accomodate the additional width of most men’s feet.
Second, be prepared to shop in the boy’s section or pay more than most people. Most kids shoes go up to size 5 or 6, which means if you’re up to a size 7.5 in ladies, then these will fit you. Additionally, buying children’s shoes costs less generally than adult shoes. On the flip side, many companies do make smaller sizes, but they’re harder to track down. Most men’s shoes come in sizes 7 at the smallest, however, buying online usually reveals that the brand makes smaller sizes (often in a more limited selection though), only you have to order them online. Sometimes that means it costs less, but depending on where you live there is often the issue of shipping, duty and the possibility of having to make a return to consider. For this I can say that I have had numerous good experiences buying Red Wing shoes, which have recently become fashionable, because select styles come in sizes as small as men’s 4! Pictured is the Wabasha, that I bought a year and a half ago and have been nothing but pleased with.
I tend to buy fewer items that I know will last, rather than many items that may not, simply because I spend so much time tracking down clothes that fit me.
Thirdly, do your research. Obviously you’re aware of the value of research if you’re reading this, but keep a log or mental list of stores and brands that produce smaller sizes. Here’s the thing, just because one store doesn’t carry your size, that doesn’t mean the brand doesn’t make that size. In my experience, a lot of stores will only order what they know will sell and even though you or I might go in asking about a size 6, that doesn’t always translate to a sale, whereas somebody is always going to buy a 9.5. Sometimes, the best bet is to go to a flagship store if you can, because they always make an effort to carry their biggest selection including the smallest to the largest. The upside of flagship stores is that you can actually try things on, as opposed to crossing your fingers when you buy it online.
Fourthly, have an idea of the actual measurement of your shoes. If you’re ordering online, this is especially helpful, because on sites like Etsy, most sellers list their shoes with measurements like ‘10 1/4”’ regarding the length. Make sure you know if this is from heel to toe on the outside of the shoe, or the insole because they will be different enough in size that it could make a difference. Also, remember that a shoe with substantial inner padding will be longer than one without. This is also helpful when you’re trying to decide between two sizes, never be afraid to email customer service and ask them to measure the shoes for you.
Fifthly, don’t wait for a sale. The most unfortunate thing about shopping as a guy with small feet is that you can’t just wait for a sale. Most people can wait for the season end sale or something like that, but because companies don’t make an equal number of sizes across the board, that means the smallest sizes and the largest sizes tend to have the least quantity available. If you wait, you’ll probably miss out.
Some companies I’ve had good experiences with:
Doc Marten’s, not because they have particularly good customer service (it’s total crap online), but because many of their men’s shoes go down to smaller sizes. I find they’re true to size, sometimes a little small.
Red Wing Shoes, as I mentioned above, often stocks smaller sizes albeit in a limited selection. Their handsewn collection has some awesome boat shoes. Their shoes fit big. I have one pair of boots that are a size 5 and a pair that’s a size 6 and I wish they were a half size smaller. Impressively enough, they’re comfortable anyway.
Bass shoes, while I didn’t end up buying anything, their online help was decent. They also often stock smaller men’s sizes.
Cole Haans are super comfortable and they tend to fit a bit smaller which means if you’re on the cusp of a men’s 7, you might be able to push yourself into that size. If not, their women’s section often carries brogues and saddle shoes that are exactly the same as the men’s just smaller.
Gravity Pope is a Canadian shoe company that sells high end products, but they also make their own shoes, which are often cheaper versions of their brand name products. Luckily, their sizes tend to go a bit smaller than most. I have a decent pair of desert boots from there that look like Clark’s.
Mark McNairy, if you’re absolutely rolling in it and have exceptional, or eccentric taste look at the women’s Mark McNairy section on his website, not at secondary retailers because they never have the whole collection. Many of their shoes are just smaller versions of the male counterparts. Because I think a lot of ladies note the masculine style and the price, they don’t seem to sell out as fast as the men’s shoes. That’s a bonus for us.
Brooks Brothers has an expansive children’s selection where you can get some pretty awesome penny loafers for cheap. Ralph Lauren also has this, but their sizes don’t seem to go as high, but have a look anyway. Both companies have good return policies and sales often.
Hope this helps out some people!
really great advice. just an add-on: frye is also an excellent place to check. i had been looking for some red wing moc toe boots in a small size FOREVER (i wear a women’s 6) and had no luck, as that’s one of the boots they don’t make in smaller sizes. but then i discovered that frye had pretty much the exact same boot, of excellent quality, made for women. looking at the frye website shows lots of women’s options in very similar styles to red wing boots including mocs, chukkas, and work boot styles. i have the dakota wedge and i can’t say enough good things about them.