Most people know that it's not the best choice to go ballroom dancing in your soccer cleats, or to run a marathon in a pair of pumps. But in trying to find just the right footwear for different activities, the choices can seem overwhelming. "Athletic shoes and work boots are the most specifically designed categories," says Ed Redfield, sales associate with Norris Shoes in Medford. "It's no wonder people are confused."
The best place to start when shopping for shoes, says Linda Heath, owner of Norris Shoes and Birkenstock Shoes in Medford, is by considering the function. "Is it an everyday shoe or a casual shoe?" And after function comes not fashion, but fit, Heath reminds. "The cutest shoe is not always the best pair. People let the look of the shoe influence their choices, but it isn't always the best fit."
One of the biggest problems people have when buying shoes, says Linda Heath, owner of Norris Shoes, is identifying the right fit. "A lot of people are doing self fits," she says and tend to buy based on the size they've always worn or the available widths on the shelf. But a poor fit will be uncomfortable and can even damage your foot.
"Your foot is a 3-dimensional object," says Ed Redfield, sales associate with Norris Shoes in Medford. "When you surround your foot with a shoe, all three dimensions must be considered." The closer the shoe matches the shape of your foot, the better the fit will be. Here are some other tips Redfield and Dr. James Holdermann of the Active Foot & Ankle Center in Medford provide for finding the best fit:
"Always start with the arch length," says Redfield. If that proportion is correct, the rest of the shoe is likely to fit much better.
Check the correct width. Don't just buy a bigger size to get the width you need.
Don't cramp your toes either front or sides. A cramped fit can contribute to bunions, blisters, ingrown toenails, hammertoe or neuromas, says Holdermann.
Make sure your heel doesn't slip.
Fit your larger foot. Most people have one foot slightly larger than the other so be sure both have adequate room.
Check the style. A lace-up shoe will usually fit better than a slip-on style.
Take a walk. Stand up and stroll around the store to check the comfort of the fit.
The distinctions in footwear serve a purpose besides just appearance, says Dr. James Holdermann of the Active Foot & Ankle Center in Medford. "Each sport requires certain movements, certain mechanical loads on the foot." For example, court shoes for tennis or racquetball are designed for stability during repeated side-to-side movements. Basketball shoes allow for hard court surfaces, quick lateral changes and support the ankle in order to keep the player's leg properly aligned over their foot. Does this mean that every sport you play will require a different pair of shoes? Not necessarily, says Holdermann. For those at a competitive level, there are distinct benefits to a sport-specific shoe. "For the weekend warrior, you just need the structural support of a typical running shoe," says Holdermann.
Away from the playing fields, your footwear is still important. "Someone that works on a hard floor"¦wants to look for a shoe with good structural integrity, has room for your toes to move freely, fits snuggly at the heel and [has a] low heel," advises Holdermann. Any shoe should provide good cushioning for the foot and not pinch or contort your foot when you're wearing it.
And of course, the quality of the shoe plays an important role as well. When comparing shoes, says Heath, "they may look the same but there really is a big difference." A higher-end shoe typically uses better quality materials, has a better shape to the shoe and will last longer as well. Holdermann agrees. "There's a lot of shoes out there that you are going to get what you pay for," he says and recommends looking at a slightly higher cost ($70-80) shoe. Shoes should be a natural material and have the best possible fit (see sidebar). And consider an additional support, advises Holdermann. "Most shoes just have what's called a sock liner. It has no structural function whatever." For those with high arches, flat feet, gait imbalances or other physical discrepancies in their feet, an orthotic support can help.
Because your feet are just as individual as you are, take the time to try a new pair of shoes out thoroughly when shopping. "You cannot appreciate a shoe in a minute or by standing in it," says Holdermann. "Walk around the shoe store for awhile." Redfield adds that trying a few different brands is also important. "Every shoe fits differently," he says. And your feet might become different, too, he reminds. People's feet change over the years and Redfield recommends having your feet measured regularly to ensure you are buying the right size.
With the right shoes and a good fit, you can be sure that whatever your plans are for the day, you will be stepping out on the right foot.