One of the most frustrating parts of shopping for sneakers is that your size in one brand does not automatically carry over into other brands.
As e-commerce only continues to grow in popularity, knowing what to expect in shoe sizing can help you make a successful online purchase. Most major brands and retailers allow for returns, but who wants to deal with that hassle? Get sizing right from the start.
It does not matter the size of the brand you’re looking at, either. Some smaller, “independent” brands could be inconsistent, and you might expect it. But even athletic giants like Nike and Adidas vary.
How Does Nike vs Adidas Sizing Compare?
Nike shoes consistently run a half size small, meaning you should order half a size larger than your usual shoe size. Adidas shoes run true to size, so you can likely order whatever size you most commonly order. Adidas shoes also tend to be wider than Nike, making for a more accommodating fit.
In that answer, we’re speaking in terms of the American sizes that we are used to. There are actually seven different size systems including British, European, Australian, and Japanese shoe sizes. “Sizing up” will look different according to the size system you’re using.
A woman’s shoe will size differently than a men’s shoe across these different systems, even though the foot length is the same. For example, a foot that measures 26.2 cm should be a British size 8 shoe, a US Men’s size 8.5, a US Woman’s size 10, and an EU size 41.5.
Even if we accept the crazy fact that sizes vary according to geography, this still should mean that we can measure our foot, know our gender, and calculate our shoe size in all seven systems. But anyone who has ever gone shoe shopping knows this is not the case, and you practically always have to go into a brick-and-mortar store to try your shoes on. Why is this the case?
Why Do Sneaker Sizes Vary So Much?
First off, the design of a shoe for men, women, or kids will each vary somewhat to reflect overall patterns in foot shape. But even within those three categories, there is variability.
Specifically, different shoe brands tend to have different shoe sizes, regardless of their geography. This tends to vary most directly with the materials used in making the shoes. The reason for this wide variability starts in the design and construction of the sneakers themselves.
An important term to learn here is the “last.” No, we are not talking about the last sneaker before you give up and just go barefoot; we’re talking about the model that is used to shape every sneaker. During the construction of a sneaker, materials are stretched over this last as part of assembly, so that they mold to the shape of the foot. Effectively, lasts drive the silhouette of the sneaker.
Lasts may be specialized according to sports category. The core shape for a running shoe should differ from that used for a basketball shoe—and it does. Computers now assist with this design, and can actually help make the silhouettes more enhanced to better suit their application’s needs.
But depending on the specific materials used, the resulting sneaker will differ in fit based on how much give there is in different parts of the shoe. The way this shoe wears over time, taking impact and bending to match the foot’s motions, will determine how much parts of it stretch—and, again, how it fits. As more sophisticated materials are used, and more intricate combinations of materials to introduce functionalities like air vents and moisture-wicking, the wear of a shoe has begun to differ significantly from shoe to shoe—even within the same brand.
Another layer of complication stems from the fact that some sports will require a tighter fitting shoe, while others will call for a slightly looser fit. The way the sneaker wears over time must help it maintain the fit that is appropriate for its application. And if a sport calls for things like thicker socks or feet that tend to wear bandages, that can affect the internal spacing of the shoe’s fit—and its long-term wear.
Help! What Do I Do If I’ve Got Wide Feet?
Spoiler alert: Adidas is more welcoming to wider feet than Nike, at least according to typical customer reviews.
Adidas tries to leave a bit of space in the width of its shoes to help accommodate wider feet. The idea here is to let feet breathe, which not only helps with fit but can also prevent conditions like the extremely common Athlete’s foot. Tinea pedis is known to thrive on sweaty feet, which tend to occur in ill-fitting shoes; and so tight-fitting shoes tend to be a bit of a haven for them. Adidas helps everyone avoid this foot fungus by creating slightly roomier shoes.
Nike, on the other hand, is all about a sleek profile with form-fitting shoes. Some people prefer the way this looks; some athletes prefer the way this feels. Most Nike shoes are made with this relatively narrow width, and so Nike does not tend to be a top pick for people with wide feet. That said, Nike does release some models with sizing that accommodates wide feet. This is a perfect real-life application of using a different last. Such different shoe models have different structural designs, and so their sizing will be a bit different. Particularly in these wider shoes, you can expect to see not just sizing different from what you are used to ordering across shoe brands, but also sizing different from what you usually tend to purchase from Nike.
This is likely exciting news for anyone with wide feet, who may have otherwise had to order up a size. This could create other fit problems, even if it makes for an accommodating width.
It’s Not Just Nike Vs Adidas Sizing That’s Weird
The whole “Nike vs Adidas Sizing” debacle that pits two athletic giants against each other, but it’s not just these brands that have inconsistent sizing. Sneaker sizing is becoming more complex as footwear becomes more sophisticated in both design and construction. Everyone wears sneakers these days in everyday life, too, so it’s not just athletes who care about the way their shoes look and feel. People care about how their sneakers look, and so they tend to shop around more—and designers need to step up with cooler designs and materials, which only further contributes to weird sizing inconsistencies.