Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Agony of de Feet

August 03, 2003

If you've taken a child for new shoes recently, you've probably noticed something normal but expensive: The kid's feet keep getting bigger. Now here's the strange part: So do yours. Some recent surveys, not to mention mounting anecdotal evidence from nearby adults wincing while walking, indicate that the average adult American foot, if you can picture such a bony unsocked thing, is one size larger now than at the end of the Reagan era.

Back in the late '80s, women's most popular shoe size was 7. Today, it's 8, even 9, way up from the 1900 average of 4. Men wore 6s a century ago, moved up to 9s by the '80s, and today it's more like 10.

Not that the former president's boots had anything to do with this, but in 15 years those goofy-looking, toed appendages at the bottom of your legs have silently grown, on average, one full size. That's a lot more foot volume in America, auguring well for soccer and football coaches. But it's a pretty quick change as evolutionary averages go.

The foot is one of the hardest-working, most tender body parts, and unappreciated -- until something goes wrong or gets in your shoe. While toes have evolved from gripping jungle branches and bananas into smaller, ugly things better suited for adjusting their owner's balance and being painted, the main foot part keeps getting fatter, especially in the middle. Oops, that's right, fatter.

Average American feet have gotten larger, due in part to the average American bodies that are getting fatter, especially in the middle. Makes sense. You don't put VW tires on cement trucks. Then there's nutrition. Though we're eating fattier things, we're also eating more nutritious foods, which helps explain taller average Americans. Taller Americans need a broader base. Look out, foot size.

Here's the catch: Shoemakers apparently still reside in the last century. Anyone who's gone shoe shopping recently for any size on either side of average has noticed the starkly slim selection of styles, colors and design. If you're shoeing a large child, say, in a 12 or 13 shoe, forget it. You can choose from this white pair or the brown ones, except they only have one brown pair and it's sold.

In a recent Chicago Tribune report, shoe sellers say shoemakers are unwilling to tie up money and warehouses in broader size ranges with unproven sales volumes. Never mind customers; we've got a warehouse to keep empty. One solution: Maybe the Chinese, who now make much of America's footwear, could exploit this above-average market niche for themselves. They got over this foot-binding business decades ago.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|