Anthropometric studies are used to assess the size, shape and composition of the human body. Major studies are expensive and only carried out sporadically. Often sample populations are taken from low economic urban dwellers, with the majority of subjects non-indigenous, poor and malnourished. This skewed data more than likely mirrored previous studies which allowed designers and manufacturers free range to maintain a status quo of standard sizes.
From the end of the 20th century, new developments in science and technology have given anthropomotrists better opportunity to study body morphology. Data from these studies and from across the globe, suggest our body shape and size is changing and Western feet are getting bigger. However, since anthropometric studies are conducted independently, there is no obligation on manufacturers to change their stock policy to cater for bigger people. Consequently, to the consumer on the fringe there always appears to be a shortage of sizes. In the case of shoes, independent shoe makers (designers) take up the slack and these are traditionally, zealously guarded by their loyal customers.
Research data, from the UK, supports men’s feet are growing bigger. In 2004, the average man's shoe was a UK size eight but now it is size nine. By comparison, forty years ago standard sizes for the male population ranged between seven to size 12. In the US, where army records have been maintained since the War of Independence, recruits then were significantly smaller and weighed much less than today’s recruits. Shoe sizes have almost doubled in 150 years. The rate of change has accelerated from the time of the Second World War to the present and recruits are now 2” taller, 23 pounds heavier, and take shoes two sizes up. Currently there is no Australian data available.
Experts generally agree the change in our size and shape has been due to better nutrition and health care. Research findings suggest eating high-density foods such as pizza and processed foods during puberty can stimulate the growth hormone. This not only makes waists larger, but also other parts of the body including the hands and feet get bigger. Medical experts are concerned recent changes in body morphology, mirror the obesity epidemic many Western Countries are facing.
Our modern preoccupation with small feet has been promulgated by the likes of “Carrie” Bradshaw, "Manolo" Blahnik and celebrity culture, in general. However, this did not start in the 20th century but has a longer linage which takes us back to the Middle Ages and the fear of being possessed by demons. In the days before Enlightenment, disease was thought to be due to evil possession, and if proof for a witch was called for, a common physical deformity to be avoided was a flat foot or evil foot. Anything the shoe maker could do to make sure ladies feet appeared small and dainty, then the more custom they could count upon. Foot binding in Chinese Culture represented and extreme form of the same thing. The fashionable ladies of the 17th and 18th century Europe emulated the style by wearing shoe corsets.
Most people assume standards in foot measurement have been with us since earliest civilization. However, an accurate and reliable measurement has only been available less than 200 years and an organized shoe sizing system, stemming from general measurements, less than one hundred years. When a standard shoe system was introduced in the seventeenth century, fierce competition between shoe makers and the need to ensure customer loyalty meant many ignored it and continued with their own methods. Even today, no agreed International standard size system exists. Depending on the origins of the shoes determines the size and manufacturing system used. The bespoke shoe designer/shoemaker benefits here by offering made to measure footwear on request.
Most shoes today are bought on the net. This has the benefit over the high street retailer of not having a restricted stock. The traditional high street shoe retail outlet is curtailed because of storage space available to them to carry a complete range of fittings. Customers out with average sizes are disadvantaged, and this anecdotally gives the false impression there are no larger shoes available.