Measuring Your Feet | Bespoke Shoes, Start To Finish (1)


As menswear fans know, a pair of bespoke shoes is hard to beat. After all, they’re handmade expressly for a single person, resulting in a fine, dependable pair. Today, we begin a multi-part series showing you how a custom pair of shoes is made by a shoemaker from start to finish. Part one is all about taking measurements of the foot, ensuring that the final result will be something that is comfortable and looks the part.

What Makes Bespoke Shoes Special

One of the most common questions about bespoke shoes is: why spend thousands of dollars on a pair of bespoke shoes when you can also get a high-end pair of men’s shoes from a factory?

First of all, you get a custom fit that is unrivaled. Secondly, you can choose the exact details and styling that you would likely not get in a factory shoe. Last but not least, you invest in longevity because a bespoke shoe can be resold over and over again, thus bringing the cost-per-wear down considerably.

Choosing to commission a pair of bespoke shoes can be a daunting idea. Even though you might know a lot about ready-to-wear shoes, the process of buying bespoke shoes is entirely different. It’s definitely not a “what you see is what you get” experience and, instead, you have to imagine what the final pair will look like at the beginning of the process based on a shared vision of you and your shoemaker. So, we decided to bring you along on my bespoke journey with me; showing you how a handmade shoe is made from start to finish.

So, you may wonder, “What’s so special about this? Other people have already done that.”

And yes, while it’s true that there are quite a few videos from bespoke shoemaking out there, we believe that oftentimes there are gaps – for example, in the upper making and, often, those are outsourced and so it’s not shown in the video. We work with a shoemaker who does every step from start to finish – last making, upper making, sewing, welting, heel building, everything. 

We worked with a shoemaker who did every step from start to finish.
We worked with a shoemaker who did every step from start to finish.

On top of that, we filmed over 100 hours of footage with three cameras, so we can get you nice details and very comprehensive coverage. Of course, we don’t want to bore you, so we cut it down into a format that we hope you enjoy.

In today’s episode, one of the bespoke shoe series, we’ll look at the very first step, which is taking the measurements of the feet.

Ready-to-Wear, Made-to-Measure & Bespoke – Terminology Explained

Amara Hark Weber: Our Commission Shoemaker

Before we deep dive into the shoemaking process, let’s talk about the shoemaker behind this commission: Amara Hark Weber, from St. Paul, Minnesota. Amara is not just a fabulous shoemaker, but also an artist and an educator. And I consider myself really lucky to have someone like her in my backyard because it’s anything but normal to have a bespoke shoemaker close by in the US.

Amara Hark Weber - A Shoemaker from St Paul, Minnesota
Amara Hark Weber – A Shoemaker from St. Paul, Minnesota

Amara began making shoes while completing her MFA at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. She continued her shoemaking journey by studying Western boot making with DW Frommer. She learned how to make fine, hand-sewn men’s shoes from Janne Melkersson in Sweden and the Hungarian master Marcell Mrsán. Amara also makes women’s shoes and learned the art of high heel making from Chris Francis. She was also a recipient of the Rare Craft Fellowship in 2017 from the American Craft Council.

Amara stands out because she makes every single part of her shoes herself in her St. Paul workshop, and that includes the last making. Everything is completely designed and built from scratch for the individual client, and you can truly see that level of individuality in the range of her work. In addition to making shoes, she also teaches others how to make them; either in one-on-one classes or in school courses.

Amara makes every single part of her shoes herself in her St. Paul workshop.
Amara makes every single part of her shoes herself in her St. Paul workshop.

It’s also important to note that Amara is not an orthopedic shoemaker and, just like many bespoke shoemakers, she doesn’t have a medical background. But, she definitely takes into consideration sensitivities that you have with your feet or sees things with someone who has a very good understanding of feet, in general.

Bespoke Shoe Fit

So, you may wonder, “Why do measurements matter if I know my shoe size and my shoes off-the-rack fit me perfectly well?”

Preston holding a shoe up
Why do measurements matter?

Chances are you’ve probably never felt the bespoke fit of a shoe before because, at the end of the day, we’re all humans and no two feet are a hundred percent identical. You may think they’re the same size but, if you look closer, they’re definitely not. Also, a standard size from one manufacturer will be very different from the standard size from another. And, sometimes, even within the same company, different lasts have vastly different sizes. Makes me wonder why it’s even called a “standard size” to begin with?

Also, I found that many men, especially with wider feet, tend to wear shoes that are too big for them; meaning too long. They want something that’s comfortable in the width. Therefore, they end up with a shoe that is much longer than what is ideally best for them, so the arch support is moved and everything else isn’t just quite right for them. On the other hand, many women choose shoes that are too small for their feet.

Men with wider feet tend to wear shoes that are too big for them.
Men with wider feet tend to wear shoes that are too big for them.

So, the big question is: why do we all choose shoes that don’t fit us?

First of all, we just select from what’s available and, secondly, we choose the size based on the perspective we have from above. A shoemaker can look at the foot and get the size exactly right, so you walk comfortably for the rest of your life.

All the bespoke shoemakes that Raphael has ever visited never had 3D measuring tools.
All the bespoke shoemakers that Raphael has ever visited never had 3D measuring tools.

That’s all fine and dandy, you might think, but wouldn’t the modern 3D scanner beat any measurements you take? Maybe they would, but they’re costly. I remember, a few years back, when higher-end department stores or haberdasheries started having these 3D measurement tools for suits but, meanwhile, they’ve all vanished and all the bespoke shoemakers I’ve ever visited never had any 3D measuring tools. Probably because the old school way works well, so what does getting measured exactly look like? Let’s get to the process!

Measuring for Bespoke Shoes – Step One: Sitting for the Fitting

Basically, there are five steps. Step number one is the “sitting for a fitting.” It’s called that because you actually have to sit and not stand. The first thing that’s very important, but most people don’t even think about when getting measured, is the time of day when the measurement takes place.

So, why would time matter? Well, actually the time itself doesn’t matter so much, but the volume of your foot does. And throughout the course of the day, it changes. Lots of things can impact the volume or size of your feet. It can be things that you eat the day before or what you’ve done before.

"Sitting for a fitting"
“Sitting for a fitting”

Let’s say, you sit on your office chair during a very hot day in the afternoon; your feet are gonna be a lot more swollen and bigger than in the morning when you get right out of bed. The same is true when you sit on a long plane ride. So, be careful not to take off your bespoke shoes mid-flight because they may not fit you at the end of it anymore.

This aspect is particularly relevant if you don’t live close to your shoemaker and you can’t just go there in the morning right after you come out of bed, but if you have to travel to get there. 

Keeping that in mind, Amara Hark Weber wanted to measure my feet earlier in the morning, definitely before noon, and that’s what we did. Different shoemakers will have different techniques and measure different things in different ways, but this is how Amara does it.

The hips, knees, and ankles should be at a 90-degree angle to ensure that you get the most accurate measurements of your foot.
The hips, knees, and ankles should be at a 90-degree angle to ensure that you get the most accurate measurements of your foot.

First, the client gets to sit down on a chair and is supposed to sit upright. The hips, knees, and ankles should be at a 90-degree angle. All this ensures that you get the most accurate measurements of your foot.

If the customer already has a pair of bespoke shoes, maybe from a different maker, the shoemaker may want to look at them or not. Amara typically does, but she’s more interested in areas that show a certain amount of wear. She’s not relying on the shoe to create her own. The measurements should help to create not just a reflection of your foot, but also an abstraction of it.

The measurement should help to create not just a reflection of the foot but also an abstraction of it that is why it's important that you wear the right pair of socks.
The measurement should help to create not just a reflection of the foot but also an abstraction of it that is why it’s important that you wear the right pair of socks.

Because of that, it is important that you wear the right pair of socks. I had a pair of dress shoes made, so I wore a pair of dress socks from Fort Belvedere. I could have also worn a pair of tennis socks, but the result would have been different in the measurements and it just would not be good. Ideally, you always want to wear the type of socks that you will wear with a finished shoe or boot.

12 Essential Tips to Get the Best Shoe Fit

Step Two: Time to Trace

In step two, we still don’t measure, but it’s time to trace. A standard Manila folder is placed under the first foot. Ideally, the foot is right at the edge of the folder’s crease, which helps not to shift during the measurement or tracing process.

Raphael sitting down with a manila folder under his foot for tracing
Amara placing Raphael’s foot over a Manila folder for tracing. [In Picture: Fort Belvedere Shadow Stripe Ribbed Socks Dark Brown and Beige Fil d’Ecosse Cotton]

Amara traces the foot twice with a pencil; first at a 90-degree angle and then at a 45-degree angle. Why is that? Wouldn’t just one trace be enough?

Well, people have very different types of feet – some have fleshy feet, others have bony feet, others have slim or narrow feet – and by using the two types of traces at different angles, these peculiarities are better reflected. The hardest way to do things is a combination of methods she learned from her three teachers. And every shoemaker will probably have their own take on it. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding and what matters is the result of the final shoe.

Step Three: Getting a Measure of Things

In step three, we finally get a measure of things. The heel is kept on the paper while the toes and the ball of the foot are raised. A tape measure goes underneath the foot, looking for the widest part of the foot at the joints.

Getting a Measure of Things
Getting a Measure of Things

Some bespoke makers measure from the pinky toe to the joint. Amara likes to measure from joint to joint. She does this so the knuckles of the toes have enough room to move and flex in a final shoe.

Amara prefers to take measurements in centimeters rather than inches. Why? The metric is a lot easier to work with when it comes to tiny measurements. I mean, can you imagine what that would look like? A little change would maybe be 3/64 of an inch or 7/128 of an inch. Crazy.

Amara prefers taking measurements in centimeters rather than inches.
Amara prefers taking measurements in centimeters rather than inches.

Interestingly, units of measurement are not required to measure your feet. For example, DW Frommer taught Amara how to do it without any numbers at all. He would simply employ strips of tape to measure the length of something. I can see the merit to that because you’re never tempted to round up or round down; you just take the exact measurement in the length as it is and then cut it or mark it.

The next measurement is a repeat of the previous one, but at the ball of the foot. None of these measurements are taken too tightly and, as Amara says it, she likes to fit what’s there.

Amara likes to understand if theres some sensitivity or discomfort when the shoe is laced.
Amara likes to understand if there’s some sensitivity or discomfort when the shoe is laced.

The high spot around the arch is what’s measured next. This is when Amara likes to understand if there’s typically some sensitivity or discomfort when the shoe is laced. Luckily, I only ever feel discomfort or sensitivity if I tighten my shoes too much. And over the course of a day, when I take off the shoes, I can definitely feel it.

At this stage of the measuring process, I also mentioned to Amara that I typically have issues with my very slim heels; especially on shoes like loafers or Chelsea boots, they don’t have any lacing system to keep the shoe on my heel.

Next up is what Amara likes to call the “magic spot.” No, it’s not that magic spot. Instead, it’s where the leg meets the foot, which is an important measurement for boots. And even though I may not want boots, she’s taking the measurement regardless in case I change my mind later on.

Amara takes all measurements into consideration like the circumference of the ankle.
Amara takes all measurements into consideration like the circumference of the ankle.

In a pair of bespoke boots, this measurement will help you to keep the boots on your feet at all times. Then, the ankle bone height is measured from the floor up. Again, it’s a boot measurement, but it never hurts to have it in the first place. For the same reason, Amara likes to record the circumference at the ankle as well.

The short heel comes next, which is the measurement from around the back of the heel to the magic spot. Then comes the long heel, which is the same style of measurement but taken closer to the instep.

All measurements that were taken with the foot down will have to be retaken with the foot raised.
All measurements that were taken with the foot down will have to be retaken with the foot raised.

Now, it’s time to raise the foot and take more measurements. All the measurements that were just taken have to be retaken with a foot raised. I sit there with one leg crossed over the other.

Why measure again?

By being in a different position, it shows how the measurements at the same spots change in different scenarios. Remember, your foot is a natural thing. That means it’s asymmetrical and it’s also not a fixed size, but varying sizes.

After measuring the first foot, it's time to repeat the procedure with the other foot.
After measuring the first foot, it’s time to repeat the procedure with the other foot.

Once the first foot is measured, standing, and raised, it’s time to repeat the procedure for the other foot. Finally, comparing the measurements of both feet can be very interesting. I always knew that my right foot felt a little bigger than my left foot, but at this point, I had specifics. For example, my right foot had a slightly less prominent bone on my instep.

Step Four: Searching for Sensitivities

Something a lot of people don’t realize is that your left foot and your right foot can have very different sensitivities. And, no, I’m not talking about you being a whiner, but about just natural things and the way they feel to you.

Searching for Sensitivities
Searching for Sensitivities

For example, for the longest time, Amara used to believe that her right foot was larger than her left foot. She thought that because she could always feel the leather against her toes with her right foot. But, when comparing the measurements, she actually realized that her right foot was, in fact, smaller than her left foot. It’s simply that her right foot is more sensitive to touch and feel than her left one and that’s why it felt bigger to her.

So, if you can, you might want to review the measurements with your shoemaker to discuss any abnormalities or issues you have with your feet.

Raphael usually get blisters on his right foot when wearing cap toe, ready-to-wear shoes.
Raphael usually gets blisters on his right foot when wearing cap toe, ready-to-wear shoes.

Let’s say you get a lot of blisters, for example, well, now is the time to raise that concern and point out where that’s happening. For example, in my ready-to-wear shoes, I had noticed that, sometimes, if there’s a cap toe and I walk in them all day, I get blisters on the top of my toes on my right foot.

Talking about all these details ensures that the final product won’t have these issues – at least, ideally.

Step Five: Using a Pedograph

In step five, we use a pedograph. Generally, there are devices that you can buy, but they’re rather pricey. And so, Amara’s partner, who’s very handy, just built one for her, which I thought was very cool. Not only do they make the shoes, but they also build the tools. Impressive!

First, an old-school roller is used to distribute ink evenly on the inside of the pad. A piece of paper is applied on top of it and then you stand on it. Amara uses a chopstick to trace or outline your foot and that works quite well. Although, other makers may use a different tool in a chopstick with a pedograph. Amara really likes it because it has the same benefit as a pencil and that she can recognize everything that she needs to see, but it doesn’t destroy or break the mesh layer of the pedograph. I guess we’ve all experienced stinky feet before, but no one wants inky feet either.

The foot is measured in the pedograph when you stand on it with your full weight.
The foot is measured in the pedograph when you stand on it with your full weight.

Your foot is measured in the pedograph when you stand on it with your full weight. It’s important it doesn’t happen when you sit because your foot spreads and shapes differently as you stand and apply weight. This is the function of the ink in the pedograph. Because the darker spots show the shoemaker how your shape shifts as you apply weight and move a little bit. It will also show any protrusions or calluses at the bottom of your feet.

Once the pedograph has been used on each foot, that concludes the measurements.

The pedograph will show any protrusions or calluses at the bottom of the feet.
The pedograph will show any protrusions or calluses at the bottom of the feet.

Conclusion

Again, different shoemakers may have different measurements; maybe they want to figure out the exact height of your toe-ball area so they can get it really close to your foot. And different makers just have different ways of doing things.

If you’re interested in even more detail and you want to see the full measurement process, become a patron and you can see the very special full video. Otherwise, episode two is all about bespeaking or designing a pair of bespoke shoes.



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