It’s been a while since I’ve written about footwear (mostly because the posts I want to write are either historical research projects or would involve me going to the store to try on shoes I don’t usually wear). So here’s a popular question I’ve gotten:
How do you find shoes that are wider in the toe but narrower in the heel that also don’t look like clown shoes?
The fact that this is requires a search is ridiculous. According to the podiatrists I’ve spoken to, most women have wider forefeet and narrower heels. But women’s shoes are usually built either to have toes that are the same width as their heels or toes that are narrower. This is especially frustrating to me as someone with a significantly-wider-than-average forefoot but narrow heels, and it’s also frustrating because shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot cause bunions… which are extra-painful if you are wearing shoes that are narrow in the toebox. But you can find them, and I hope this post makes that process easier for you!
What Are You Looking For?
In general, what you’re looking for is called a combination last. What that means: the toebox of your shoe is 2 widths wider than the heel. So if your toebox is a D width, the heel would be a B width, and if the toebox is a B width, your heel is an AA width. Unfortunately, knowing the terminology most likely won’t help you. Few enough brands build on combination lasts that most of them don’t bother to mention when they do. However, if you see a shoe brand that advertises combination lasts, jump on it. It’s more likely to fit you than the average shoe.
European brands are usually a little wider in the forefoot than American ones. According to Barking Dog Shoes, Beautifeel and Rieker brands are particularly good for women with a width difference between their heels and their forefeet.
Brands That Make Combination Lasts
Here are the brands I know of whose shoes are built on either a combination last or a custom last similar to a combination last. Try them on yourself, because even shoes built on a combination last vary widely. For example, the Walking Cradles shoes I had felt a little narrower to me than Munro American in the toebox.
Aravon ($120-$250). Available in 2A, B, D, and 2E widths.
Never tried, so not much to say here. I’m not fond of the way most of their shoes look.
Casa Couture ($100-$130). Available in M width.
Again, not listed on their website (which I am losing hope will ever update with new products), but Claudia makes shoes that are wider in the toebox than in the heel. I’m pretty sure she’s the one who introduced me to the term “combination last.” Her shoes also stretch up to a C width. If she has them in your size, and you don’t need a bunch of shock absorption in the forefood, I recommend them. They’re beautiful and well-constructed. Do make sure you’re buying the right size: sizes on the site are misleading. A 10 is a European 40, which is 1 size too small for my feet.
Cobb Hill ($80-$200). Available in N, M, W widths.
Same parent company as Aravon, but nicer-looking. One of my best friends’ favorite flats is a Cobb Hill flat.
Joan Oloff. ($335-$495). Available in M width.
Also the most luxury/fashionable of the set– inasmuch as I know anything about fashion. Mostly sky-high heels stiletto designed by a podiatrist who wanted to keep fashionable women from showing up in her office with destroyed feet. Of her shoes’ last, she told me, “we make our own lasts, which are, essentially a combination last… there is room in the toe box, yet the heels don’t slip.”
If I had a million dollars, I would buy a pair of these shoes just to see what they were like. A lot of the evidence they show of their shoes’ comfort is anecdote masquerading as data– for example, their ‘what makes these shoes different?’ page shows as evidence a single scan of foot posture in their shoe vs. “traditional heels,” which is not really a thing you can determine with a single foot scan. However, a lot of their anecdata is pretty compelling. Like, they hired a dancer-turned-model to model their shoes, and she was so excited about how she could move around in them that when she had to work overtime she asked to be paid in shoes instead of money. Also, it’s a podiatrist-designed shoe line, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything– I am not a fan of Taryn Rose shoes– but seems like it might in this case.
Munro American ($132-$227). Available in basically every width.
I own the Munro Vicki, currently on sale for about $99 basically everywhere. Again, not much arch support, and slightly narrower in the toe box than I’d like personally, but I think their gimmick about eliminating pressure at strategic points on the foot is pretty accurate. I’ve worn them for long walks without my feet hurting.
Ros Hommerson ($95-$200). Available in basically every width.
Never tried, so not much to say here. They have a lot of shoes on sale on their site, though.
Walking Cradles (and Elites, and Rose Petals). In transition?
Under new ownership, so who knows what their new shoes are eventually going to look like! The old ones were kind of a mixed bag both in terms of comfort and style, and I never thought they were great at either. The eponymous Walking Cradles brand had squishy shoes without much arch support that either looked reasonably okay or looked horrible, and the pair of Rose Petals shoes I tried was boring and unsupportive and unsquishy but also the only pair of pointed-toe shoes I’ve ever worn that didn’t pinch me in the toes. You can buy previous seasons’ shoes on 6pm.com.
If you know of any more brands that make shoes with combination lasts, please let me know: these are all the companies I could get explicit information from, and it’s way too common a problem for these to be the only companies who’ve addressed it. Right?
Here are some shoe companies I have reached out to that do not have combination lasts: Anyi Lu, Vionic by Orthaheel.
Shoe Styles I’ve Tried That Are Good-ish For My Combination Feet
I had good luck with the Gentle Souls Bay Crest in terms of toebox width, (similar here), but I have a million caveats that eventually made me get rid of the shoes altogether. It took like a week for it to break them in enough in the back that my heels weren’t bleeding; it never had as much support as I wanted; and the first pair I wore the flax seeds started falling out after less than a week and I had to patch it. Definitely buy those on sale if at all.
Conversely, if you don’t mind a shoe that’s honestly pretty ugly but is fine underneath pants, I can personally vouch for the comfort of the Clarks Women’s Un.loop shoe right out of the box. Not much arch support, but tons of padding.
Other Things You Can Do If You Can’t Find Shoes That Fit You In The Toes:
Wear a lot of sandals. At least for me, I’ve found it’s easier to track down sandals that fit me than regular-type shoes.
Look for lace-up shoes. They let you fit the uppers of your shoes more customizably to your foot. Not for me, though. I haven’t liked lacing up shoes since my teacher made me learn to do it in kindergarden.