Shoe width can be quite complicated to understand. This is because different shoe manufacturers, and styles, use different moulds and techniques to create their shoes. Brands like Vessi, for example, use sizing ranges that adapt to their products specifically where one shoe size can fit two regular sizes.
Another thing worth noting is that there are two alternative measurement systems most brands use. One uses a letter system and the other uses a word-based system.
We touch more on that below.
What Are Wide Width Shoe Sizes?
Wide shoe sizes are defined with different terminologies, which can be confusing. There are a variety of sizes (normal, medium, wide, and extra-wide), as well as letters ('M', 'D', 'E', etc) and even combinations with letters and numbers (2A, 2E, 4E).
Wide-width shoes are versions of regular-sized shoes with a bigger toe box and forefoot to fit wider feet. This is because wider feet have a comparable heel width to narrow feet but a wider forefoot and wider toes.
In addition, because wide feet tend to have higher arches, wide-width shoes may have more depth as well.
Shoe Widths Explained
a) Shoe width by letter
1. A/2A/4A Widths (Smallest)
For people who normally wear women's shoes, seeing the letter 'A' under the width section indicates the shoe is considered to be narrow or extra narrow. That same letter but for men's shoes would mean it's an extra narrow shoe.
The shoes will continue to narrow as more "A"s are added (2A, 3A, 4A, etc.). These can also be written as letters and without numbers (2A = AA, 3A = AAA, 4A = AAAA, and so on).
One thing to note is that women's shoes are frequently referred to as slim and super slim as well. They mean the same as narrow and extra narrow.
2. B Widths (Medium)
Women's most frequent letter sizing when it comes to widths is 'B'. This means the shoe is classified as a regular width. It's also known as normal, medium, or standard.
A 'B' width when it comes to men's shoes, however, is considered a narrow fit.
3. D Widths (Large)
For men's sizes, their version of a regular width is a 'D'. It's the most common width size available across most brands. It's also known as normal, medium, or standard.
On the other hand, a 'D' width is considered wide for women's shoes.
4. E/2E/4E Widths (Super large)
The most frequent 'E' letter sizes are 2E and 4E while adding more 'E's increases the overall width. As an example, 2E would be considered a wide shoe for men, and a 4E or larger would be an extra-wide.
A 2E or anything larger, on the other hand, would be an extra-wide shoe for ladies. Some shoes come in sizes larger than 10E, which are more popular in diabetic footwear.
b) Size-Based Shoe Widths
1. Narrow and Extra-Narrow Widths (Smallest)
When it comes to letter sizes for women's shoes the convention follows a similar set-up as with numbers. First are the narrow widths called narrow, and then extra-narrow for anything equivalent or larger than a 2A width.
For men's sizing, a 'B' width shoe is considered narrow whereas an 'A' width shoe is regarded as extra-narrow. Slim and super-slim are other naming conventions for narrow and extra-narrow. Because the difference between A and 2A is so small, manufacturers usually offer 2A and 4A sizes.
2. Normal and Standard Widths (Medium)
For men's sizes, the letter size 'B' is the equivalent to a medium, normal, or standard width. When it comes to women's sizing, that same 'B" is considered a wide.
This means that if a shoe's width isn't specified, it's usually fair to presume it's a medium.
3. Wide/Extra Wide Widths (Largest)
In the world of wider widths, a men's medium is also known as a 'D'. For women's shoes, however, it's considered a wide width. Anything 'E' or larger is considered an extra-wide.
For men, wide normally starts at an 'E', and anything beyond 2E is referred to as extra-wide. Not all brands offer widths in every increment, although the most popular are 2E/4E.
4E vs 2E
The width difference between 2E and 4E is usually not that big - just around 1/2-inch. Other width letters like 'B', 'D', and 2A are also affected. However, there is a 3/8-inch difference in width between 4E and 6E.
This difference is most noticeable on the ball of the foot and is the most significant in terms of width. Normally there's also a tiny width discrepancy between the tip and heel of the shoes.
What Does 4E Mean in Shoes?
When it comes to men's shoes 2E is considered wide, and 4E or wider widths are termed extra-wide. This is because wide shoe sizes are described using a variety of phrases and abbreviations - like we mentioned above. 4E is a typical width letter used to signify something being extra-wide in men's shoe sizing charts.
2E and 4E are the most frequent 'E' letters in this range. The more 'E's added, the bigger the overall width, just like with the letter 'A'.
When it comes to women's shoes, however, things are a little different. Since 2E or wider already denote extra-wide widths, options with a width of 4E are uncommon.
The only exception to this is shoes made with a 10E width or bigger, which are the most common size for diabetic footwear.
What is the Average Shoe Width?
Approximately 90% of the population will fit into normal width shoes. If you're not sure about your foot width you're most likely wearing a regular width shoe ('B' for women and 'D' for men). The width of a shoe is usually only mentioned if it's not a standard one. This means that most shoes won't say 'B' or 'D' at all and it's safe to assyme they're a normal width option.
Non-standard widths, on the other hand, will definitely be noted on boxes and the label found inside the shoes.
How to Tell If You Need Wide-Width Shoes
If you find yourself trying on shoes that fit well in length but are tight on the sides, it probably means you need a wide-width shoe.
Unfortunately, a frequent band-aid solution is to switch to a longer-length shoe. It gives you a little more width, but it will be an awkward fit with extra space in the heel or toe box. This is a bad idea because it can create friction and blisters, change your gait, and even cause you to trip.
How do I Figure Out the Width of My Shoes?
Measuring shoe width is not as difficult as it sounds. There are quite a few ways to do it. But, the following method may be the most straightforward and precise:
On an even surface, like the floor, stand barefoot and straight on a piece of paper.
With a pencil, trace the contour of your foot. Make sure the line follows the curve of your foot as closely as possible.
Measure the widest part of your feet with a measuring tape (usually the forefoot area).
Tips for Finding Your Perfect Size
One you've determined your width you then want to make sure you're picking the right overall size as well.
Here are some helpful tips to make sure you find your perfect size:
Try on shoes in the late afternoon when your feet have swelled the most.
Make sure your heel is secure and isn't slipping. The midfoot of the shoe should be snug but not too tight under your arch and over the top of your foot. Make sure you can wiggle your toes comfortably.
If your feet are in between sizes, go with the larger option. Socks, insoles, and laces can all be adjusted for a better fit.
It's a useful idea to measure your feet once a year. Women's feet normally grow a half size or more after pregnancy, for example.
Always try on shoes with both feet. Your left and right foot could be a full size apart in length and width. Always get shoes that are large enough to fit your larger foot.
Some key giveaways that your shoes are too tiny or thin include feet cramping. Your feet falling asleep while your walking, or calluses and blisters between or on your toes are also dead giveaways. This is because people are more likely to purchase shoes that are too small than too large.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Does the Width of Your Feet Change Over Time?
They certainly do! If you've always worn regular or medium width shoes you may be surprised to find out that you should actually be wearing wide width shoes instead. Your feet naturally widen as you get older, either due to weight increase or regular changes in ligaments and tendons. I'ts a good idea to try on a pair of wide-width shoes if your shoes have started to feel tighter than they used to.
2. What Happens When My Shoes Are Too Narrow?
Narrow shoes can cause hammertoes, bunions, and other health problems. Cramps and excessive sweating are also common. Both those symptoms can even lead to bacterial or fungal infections.
3. What Happens When My Shoes Are Too Wide?
If your shoes are too wide they'll feel too loose, will rub against the back of your heel, and can even cause calluses and bone spurs. On top of that, walking will make you feel less steady and your feet will slide around in your shoes. This can produce friction, sores, and blisters. Nail troubles and hammertoes are also known to be caused by overly-wide shoes.
4. Is it Necessary to Wear a Wider Shoe If My Foot is Wider?
Yes, but not always. Larger shoes are usually a little wider than smaller ones, but the shoe will still be proportional. A size 9D men's shoe, for example, will be narrower than a size 13D men's shoe because the latter is larger overall.
However, purchasing a larger shoe size just to have a broader fit is not a good idea because it can lead to tripping hazards. Instead, make sure you choose a size appropriate for both the length and width of your feet.