not a comfortable shoe

Why We Don’t Have Comfortable Shoes

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On my very long walks through the city, I sometimes look at my more or less comfortable shoes and think to myself: “Where should I go to replace them when their time comes?” I then think of all of my boxes of once- or twice-worn shoes gathering dust under my bed. Why is it so hard to find comfortable and pretty shoes? 

Every time I walk out, I look at the shoes in the shop windows and most of them are ugly. Sometimes I’ll find a pretty pair, so I’ll go in and try them on, only to learn that moving around in them will probably be painful and will cost me at least one blister. I’m sure that most people have this exact same problem, since only a lucky few can feel comfortable in the standard-sized shoes of today. All the rest of us unfortunate souls have to break in our shoes at home with three pairs of thick socks on, which doesn’t always work. 

Historically, this wasn’t an issue until the end of the 19th century. People went to shoemakers who made shoes to measure, fitted exactly to the customer’s feet. There were no stores where you could buy ready-made shoes and this also held true for other items for clothing. Every piece our ancestors wore was made by an artisan, or for those who could make their own clothes, at home. They also had second-hand stores where people could find hand-me-downs that fit them. 

Towards the end of the 19th century, the first catalogues of ready-to-wear clothes started appearing and they became very popular among people who lived outside of cities where there were no tailors, shoemakers and the skills to make clothing or shoes were absent. It was also more convenient than travelling to the city several times for measuring, corrections etc. This period also saw the first ready-to-wear clothing stores, which found runaway success. Unlike today, however, the employees were usually experts in the items they sold and they’d help with making the right choice of clothes and shoes. A customer would walk into the store, sit down and have his feet measured by the staff and would be offered a pair of shoes unlike today, where we have liquor stores run by people who don’t drink and therefore cannot possibly know anything about the products they’re selling. 

We live in a world where the consumer must make the decision solely by himself and the salesman is a hostile entity which seeks to talk you into buying a poor product, something he couldn’t pawn off on any other fool.

Circling back to standard sizes, in the beginning, there were such things as different lengths of shoes, like for example the European sizes of 39 and 40, but also half-sizes, such as 381/2 which still exists today but is much rarer. This is a big problem for me personally because I’m a half size and it’s difficult for me to find shoes of the proper size. Another factor is that shoes used to have a second size number, and that’s the width. In the beginning, manufacturers used to have 5 different widths of shoes, so that if for example, someone has a shorter but wider foot, they’d be able to find a pair of shoes that fit them. Today, such a person would have to buy a size longer or a wider model of shoe. 

Another interesting fact. Shoes had no sizes written on them but a code which was understandable only to shoe salesmen. This was done intentionally so people could not know what size shoe they wore. The point was to avoid a situation where the customer demands a specific size shoe which doesn’t fit them, as often happens today. Sometime in the 1920s, the system I’ve described here was abandoned, and shoes became standardised. The system of widths and lengths was abandoned in favour of standardised sizes. Today, you can’t find even a single width variant of any shoe. 

We can conclude from everything we’ve hitherto mentioned that in the beginning, people had more and better options when it came to finding wearable shoes. Of course, it wasn’t like having shoes made to measure, but it was markedly better than the current state of the market. Instead of improving consumer choices, the shoe market has made them worse over time with quality decreasing year after year. 

Not even high prices can protect you. You’d think that paying more will make sure that you get high-end, comfortable shoes, but this is no longer the case. Even expensive shoe brands impose uncomfortable and ugly shoes on consumers. 

As for how to solve this problem of standardised and uncomfortable shoes, I don’t know. All I know is that nobody is happy with their shoes, the system does not function and must be changed. 

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