Finding, Making Large Size Women’s Shoes, Size 12-15

Abby & Dad

Abby & Dad.  Abby, at 17, needs shoes sized 14 or 15.

Dear Shoe Lady,

My daughter Abby (in the attached picture with me) who is 17 YO, 6’1″, and wears a woman’s 14 or 15 depending on the maker has struggled finding shoes since she was 12.  We are glad to have medical confirmation that the growth plates in her feet are fused so she won’t be growing more, but that’s not to say that pregnancy or life may not increase her foot size more. All that to say that she is intimately acquainted with the difficulties of finding shoes in her size (that weren’t made for cross dressers).  We are of course aware of Barefoot Tess, Long Tall Sally, and other outlets for bigger shoes for women, but more often than not the shoes we order from their still don’t fit correctly.  She is also blessed with very long toes.

We are considering buying a 3D laser cutter/engraver that would allow her to cut leather, cloth, rubber, cork, and wood among other materials, so she could design, cut, assemble and sell custom shoes for girls and women with size 12+ feet.  (Statistically it appears that this is about 1.2% of the US women’s shoe market with shoes in Abby’s size be less than 0.1%.

We’d like to get your sense of the market and whether this really meets a need.  We would be making an investment of about $8000 to get going.

What are your thoughts?

Thank you,

Jon DeM.


Dear Dad and Abby-

I have a LOT of thoughts on this!!!  First.  Shoe manufacturers are not very bright.  Second, they depend solely on shoe retailers who are even less bright to make their decisions about the real market size for shoes.  I have written extensively about the size issue.  If the AVERAGE size for women’s shoes is now size 9, then 50% of all women wear size 9 or above.  The likelihood that only 1.2% of American women wear size 12+ shoes is slim to none.  That’s only 3 sizes above 9.  Go 3 sizes below 9 and you are at size 6.  Yet you will hardly find a store that carries shoes above size 10.  And fewer than 1% of all the shoe manufacturers selling into the USA make shoes above size 10, and then, only to size 11.  If you are defining the shoe market as what is manufactured, you are correct with your numbers.  But the need for these larger sizes is substantial and unmet.

Making shoes is an incredibly complicated business.  Not sure where you live but, if you are serious, I suggest Abby first take a course in shoe manufacturing.  Look into the course offerings carefully.  Here is a list of places. You also need to understand:

  1. the steps to make a shoe
  2. the 28 different “fit points” on a shoe
  3. how to measure and control for those fit points
  4. how to use different materials and manufacturing processes
  5. how to size for shoes above women’s size 12 (honest!  Manufacturers neither know nor care, which is one reason why Abby’s shoes don’t always fit.)

You are not talking about a 3D laser printer.  I believe you are talking about a 3D printer.  These are available and designers are just beginning to do interesting footwear with them.  But the resulting shoes are a very clearly 3D printed.  They are not (yet) very versatile in shoe looks.  I would suggest a course first.

When I founded and ran, we had up to 1500 styles in size 12.  I chased down and had made shoes up to size 15 so I know how to do it, know how complicated it is and know that the market is small.  But the market is small not because the women aren’t there but rather because they have given up looking for shoes that fit.  You are only likely to find them on line.  And, then, only from the largest companies that can aggregate customers.  I just checked Zappos’ listing for size 15 M women’s shoes.  They sell only three brands:  several Birkenstock sandals, one style of Bloch, and one style of Arcopedico.  Barefoot Tess was acquired two years ago by Long Tall Sally.  They mostly rely on individual vendors to know how to make a size 15 shoe…  very risky.  But they are beginning to make their own brand.  They, today, offer 76 styles (excluding slippers and inserts) and 28 of these are “house branded”.

Abby, you are the woman of the future.  At the rate of growth of women’s feet, you are likely to be on the large side for your lifetime, but 20 years ago size 7 was the average size.  When Title XIX passed in the USA, women’s feet really started growing.  In 20 more years, maybe the average size will be size 11.  And MAYBE by then the shoe industry will start paying attention to the numbers.

In the meantime, you’ll need to live with the challenge of shoe shopping all your life.  I suggest you invest in a course where you can learn how shoes are made and what is important about how they fit.  Even if you were a size 9, having long toes means that you should be looking for a certain style of shoes and avoiding others.  There is much to learn!  If you want to go forward and manufacture shoes for this badly under served market, make the decision after you take the shoemaking course and after you’ve done some “due diligence” talking to people in the shoe industry… and The Shoe Lady!

Best to you both,
The Shoe Lady




What Size Shoes Should I Order?


Dear Shoe Lady,

What size should I order? My width is 4.6 and length is 11.2?



Dear B.H.,

An excellent, practical question.  I assume that you have read how to measure your feet correctly and understand that if you make a little slip and don’t keep the pencil straight up and down, and tight to the edge of your foot, you could end up with a very wrong size.
You should be shopping for a women’s 14M, 14 medium.  A size 13 is only 1/5th of an inch shorter, 11 inches.  If a shoe has an open toe, like a sandal, you may find that 13’s work for you too.  After you have asked such a nice simple question, I am loathe to make it more complicated.  But much depends on whether you have extra short or extra long toes.  A shoe’s size is really determined by the length between the heel and the ball of the foot.  So if your toes are disproportionately long, you’ll be buying a shoe that doesn’t quite hit in the right places around the ball of your foot.   Ah.  TMI.  Too much information.
Take a look at these styles.  Size 14 shoes that look like women’s shoes are infernally hard to find.  There are 154 styles today from 13 different brands.
Walk in peace,
The Shoe Lady

Top 10 Reasons Women Can’t Find Shoes that Fit

The Inside Scoop:
Top 10 Reasons Women Can’t Find Shoes that Fit

The Shoe Lady has just returned from a major shoe show in New York City. These shows are all about choices and options and yet as she wandered the streets of Manhattan she was reminded how hard it was for her and other taller and not perfectly average women (of the 1950s) to find clothes that fit. She was even wondering where she could, at a reasonable cost, buy the fabric and have the styles of her choice made just a couple of inches longer in the backwaist and a couple of inches longer in the leg and, oh maybe an inch longer in the arm. Somehow in the age of individual medicine, individual media and made to order cars, it was still so hard to find anything modern and fashionable that really fits us. Nearly 20 years after the Show Lady started to help women find shows that fit she wondered why things had not progressed faster and what we could do about it for ourselves and our daughters.. Here she has more insight into why her 11.5 M feet can’t find the range of style choices she’d like. While the world awaits a solution to her clothing problems, she tackles the Shoe Question.
1. Customers do not understand the width system in shoe sizing, or even that widths other than medium are available. So they do not ask for what they don’t see. This is where the problem begins. A woman who needs a 7WW will buy a 10M. Really.
2. Shoe companies complain about the cost of producing additional “lasts” (the frame a shoe is built on) for additional sizes and widths, beyond the basic whole sizes from 5 to 10. So they save money by making fewer lasts. Six different sized lasts for 8,000 pairs compared to 85 different lasts for 8,000 pairs saves a lot of money.
3. Factories that shoe companies hire to make the shoes would much prefer to do longer production runs of fewer sizes and widths than shorter runs with more sizes and widths because there is an additional “set up” time every time they have to change a size/ width. This is distracting for the factory worker, offers opportunities for error and the price for this extra “set up” time is not routinely built into the production price. So the factories make less money than they would with fewer last changes.
4. Shoe companies are reluctant to push factories to do the extra sizes and widths because a good factory is hard to find and they don’t want to strain the relationship with good factories.
5. Shoe companies believe the more sizes and widths (or “categories”) that a shoe style is separated into, the more likely there will be unsold inventory at the end of season. Some of these categories may not sell out, leaving the shoe company with leftover shoes in odd sizes.
6. Shoe companies plan based on prior year sales, for what they will order in each size/width category based on what they sold the prior year in that size/width category. And they’ve been looking backward for years.
7. Shoe companies do not factor in the substantial change in women’s average shoe size, from size 7 in 1990 to size 9 in 2013. Since they don’t track real size trends in the population, they are at the mercy of what they think the sales might be based on prior year selling history.
8. Shoe companies do not track the sales lost because the sizes were not available. Vendor analysis show turns per style, per color, per heel height, re-orders and other data related to the style of the shoe and the retailer. But they do not track the number of shoes sold per size, the change over time in that size profile and the estimate of the sales they lost because sizes were not available.
9. “Brick and mortar” shoe store pre-season orders skew production plans for shoes. Due to space and financial constraints, brick and mortar stores have rarely been interested in carrying a wide variety of sizes and widths. Their sales are primarily based on visual cues to attract the customer, such as the styles shown in the window and on the salon shelves. Six sizes and only one width suits this business model perfectly. It is up to the customer to squeeze into the shoe or go without. So companies are not inclined to argue with factories for sizes and widths that their core brick and mortar retailers don’t want. So shoe companies are not inclined to argue with factories for sizes and widths that their core brick & mortar retailers don’t want.
10. At the end of the season, shoe companies only remember the odd sized leftover inventory, the over and under sizes (over size 10, under size 7 and extra narrows, wides and extra wides they have. They take this bad memory into the production planning for the next season, bringing an additional bias against over and under sizes, narrower and wider widths.  

Need Size 14 Dress Flat

Dear Shoe Lady

Hope you can help me in my search of
a good looking flat dress shoe please

Barbara Joe


Dear Barbara Joe-

OF COURSE!  That’s my job!
I am assuming by “dress flat” that you mean dressy enough to go to the corporate board meeting at 8 AM, but not quite dressy enough for that black satin pants suit with rhinestone piping on the collar?
If we are on the same page, here are some styles I recommend in size 14.
Barefoot Tess Mckenzie Red
Barefoot Tess Murano :
Barefoot Tess Tuscany Barefoot Tess Murano Coral
Barefoot Tess Tuscany Blue
And, of course, there are more where these came from.  Search by size and heel height.
Happy Shopping!
The Shoe Lady

Women’s C Width Shoes Disappeared

Dear Shoe Lady,

What happened to women’s C width shoes? I can’t find them anywhere these days, just “W”. Problem is W’s are often too wide because W can be C or D. Should I give up looking for C widths and either squeeze them into B’s (as one sales person suggested) or settle for a sloppy fit with D’s?


Dear Marie,

I wish the world were so simple.  The reason more people refer to “W” rather than “C” or “D” to denote wide size women’s shoes is because the “C” vs. “D” width implied a precision in shoe manufacturing that wasn’t really there!  As shoe manufacturers moved to more different factories, it became harder to assure that dimension.  And the other change that happened, more shoe manufacturers decided to make extra wide (WW) widths so to control their costs, the cut out at least one of the widths, the “C”.  Narrower footed ladies will also tell you that they cut the AAAAA, the AAAA, many AAA’s, and the “combination last” (one width in the heel, another in the forefoot).
Read more about the REAL truth of wide size shoes, how they are made and how to think about your best size here:
Don’t assume that you should buy medium widths and they’ll be too tight or wide widths and they’ll be too loose.  I recommend that you try on your favorite brands in your size medium and your size wide AND in half a size smaller in wide.  Do this for a few brands and styles until you can determine a pattern for what is the best fit in each brand.
Then, remember that the fit will also vary according to the style (high heel, ballet flat, sandal) of the shoe!
Happy Hunting!
The Shoe Lady

Forgotten Soles Styles Run Larger Than Other Styles

Dear Shoe Lady,

I have recently bought size 12  W in Forgotten Soles Maui & Waikiki they are a little longer than the Australian size 12 but they will be Ok  the width is good,  I might add they look great and I have had lots of comments.

I am now going to look at buying 1 or 2 of the following:
Lava Nikki in Gold
Colorful Creations Debra in
Taupe satin
Touch Ups Abbey in gold
Dyeables Fiesta in Chocolate satin
Should I get size 12W or 11 W my shoe measures on your size chart 11.5″ long &  4.25″ wide. I have bunions (no problems) that accounts for the width.



Forgotten Soles Caprie Black

Caprie by Forgotten Soles is a Low Heel Dressy Sandal









Dear Rose,

I’m so happy that the Forgotten Soles styles worked for you!  But please keep in mind that the sizes in that brand do run generously.  The size charts reflect the common “best practices” sizing.  But some brands tend to run large or small.  Forgotten Soles runs large.  So if  they were a little long, you should still stick with the size 12W for the other styles.

The other three brands you mention, Colorful Creations, Touch Ups and Dyeables, are all brands that specialize in wedding and dressy evening styles.   These more “formal” shoes tend to be cut less generously and do not have such an open sandal type of design as the two Forgotten Soles styles.  I suggest you look for a 12WW in these brands.

Australia is a long way from the USA so I want to make sure you ask all the questions you need answered before ordering.  I notice that you say in your note that your feet measure 11.5 inches  (‘) long.  That means you should be wearing a size 15 or 16 in women’s shoes.  Since the Forgotten Soles ran only a bit long, I must have misunderstood your measurements.  Can you please remeasure and resend?


The Shoe Lady

Dress Shoes for a Wedding for Feet with Bunions

Dear Shoe Lady,

Need a pair of comfortable dressy shoes, pumps, sandals, 2 1/2 ” heel to go with a raspberry lace sheath dress. Very bad bunions and big toe that crosses over. Help.
Size 8 1/2.  I try to get the widest width I can to go over my very prominent bunions , but sometimes the heel slips then and it doesn’t work.   Sling backs are the best option for me when I can find a wide width shoe.



Dear Janice,

What you want is a deep toe box, that is deep from top to sole, and a soft material on top.  I suggest you take a look in the “Bridal-Dyeable” Collection   and look for slingbacks with this configuration.  Do not buy them too wide if your foot is not really wide.  I’ve included a photo of a shoe with a rhinestone oval ornament.   It is stretchable (wider only) and dyeable.
Then… get or  find a good shoe repair place.   You will need to have them both dyed to the color you want AND spot stretched to accommodate the “issues” around your forefeet.  Only spot stretch where necessary but do it enough that you will be comfortable.
You should find a much wider range of the heel height and silouette you want in the bridal – dyeable styles. They are all white but can be dyed to match your dress, or maybe a soft grey or paler pink.
Have a wonderful time!
The Shoe Lady

Need Size 11 SLIM Shoes

Shoe Lady-

Do u carry extra extra Narrow size 11?




Dear Hazel-

Do you know that size 11N’s and 11 slims are famous in the shoe industry for being the feet typical of wealthy southern ladies.  I’m assuming you are writing from the expansive porch overlooking your estate while daintily sipping a mint julep?
Of course if the shoe industry really believed that, they wouldn’t have come so close to stopping production on size 11N and 11 AAA (Slim, S).  As of today has 49 styles in size 11S:   I hope they will have more by later this summer when the new Fall styles come out.
Best Wishes,
The Shoe Lady

Translating from Men’s Shoe Size to Women’s Shoe Size

Dear Shoe Lady,

I wear a 9 1/2 wide shoe in men’s  but I don’t know what I wear in a women’s shoe.  I tried on some 12’s but they feel tight.  Help please.



Dear S.W.

Men’s shoes are designed to be comfortable and fit a normal human foot.  This is NOT true for women’s shoes.  A men’s 9.5 shoe is 10.5 inches long.  That is the same length as a women’s size 11 (or a UK 9 or a Euro 43).  But length is only part of the fit equation.  Men’s shoes are made wider and a bit deeper (top to sole) than a women’s shoe of the same length.  And you wear a men’s wide.  So you need to be looking for a women’s 11WW.  You said a 12 didn’t fit.  I’m assuming it was a 12M (medium).  You may be expecting that little extra toe room that men’s shoes have.  I suggest you try a 12WW and then a 12W and then an 11WW until you find the size, width and shoe shape that suits your feet the best.

Happy Hunting!

The Shoe Lady

Long Toes? Short Toes? It Makes a Difference in Picking Shoes

Dear Shoe Lady,
I’m a male, and I have an arch length that is much longer than my foot length. I’ve heard two schools of thought on this:
1. Take the higher of the two measures.2. Split the difference of the two measures.

My foot length corresponds to a size 14.5, but my arch length corresponds to about a 17 (I’m not exactly sure on that, because my arch length is off the chart on the Brannock Device, which tops off at 16. My arch length is 9″). Because of the major difference, would it be better to split the difference or go with the higher number? Thanks 🙂

The Shoe Lady <>
May 15

to Heath

Dear Heath –

So sorry.  But I can not even find an “arch length” reference on Google!  I use a Brannock device and have never heard of anyone measuring the arch length.  I suggest you not worry about arch length, worry about foot length and width.  Then pick your style of footwear, shape, vamp design, etc., based on whether you have a high or flat arch.  Also consider using orthodics for a better fit.
Best of luck.
May 15

to Shoe
 Thanks for the response. 
I had done some more research since I contacted you and pretty much answered my question.
Shoes are actually made for your arch length; Manufacturers simply count on everybody having regular sized toes. The arch length (heel to ball length) doesn’t concern most people (hence why I and almost everyone else hasn’t heard of it), because most people have arch lengths that correspond to their foot lengths (in other words, they have “normal” sized toes). There are some people, however, who have extra long or extra short toes. This makes the arch length and foot length very disproportionate (short toes correspond to a long arch length and long toes correspond to a short arch length).
I have short toes in proportion to the size of my foot, so the length of my foot will fit well into a size 15 shoe, but the break of my foot is much higher up than the break of the shoe. This makes the shoe too tight on the ball and presses the toes together. The widest part of your foot us supposed to match up with the widest part of the shoe. This can cause big problems in the future and could be part of the reason why I have mild bunions on both feet.
On the Brannock Device, the heel-to-ball measurement is on the opposite side of the width bar. The numbers correspond to the shoe size. When I measure the length of my arch on the Brannock Device, it goes off the chart. My arch length corresponds to between sizes 16.5 and 17. This is the size I’m supposed to wear, even though I will have extra room in the toe box.
People with extra long toes have a special problem: If one’s arch length corresponds to a size 11 but their foot length corresponds to a size 13.5, they can’t simply go with a size 11. Their toes would be squished. These people either have to buy a pair of shoes that are too wide for the rest of their foot to accommodate for the ball, or they have to find a shoe that has a extra longer toe box.
Hopefully that made sense lol.

The Shoe Lady <>
12:49 PM (2 minutes ago)

to H
 Dear Heath-

Thank you for the clarification.  And the detailed description.  I’d never heard this referred to as “arch length” before.  But I am painfully familiar with the “ball to heel” length.  You are absolutely right, this is the dimension that shoemanufacturers use.  And they assume an average toe length.  So people with short toes and people with long toes have to take that into consideration when they buy shoes on line.  I tend to suggest that they think of the shape of their foot in relation to the shape of the shoe.  But non-average toe length alone is often the culprit.
Best to you,
The Shoe Lady