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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Children's shoe sizes: What's that all about?

The first description of a shoe sizing system was made and recorded by British genealogist, Randle Holme in the Academy of Armory and Blazon in 1688. The UK System starts from zero, at 102 mm with 8.4mm (1/4 ") between whole sizes (4.2mm between half sizes). Adults sizes range from size 1 to size 15 (equivalent to 12"). The UK Shoe Size System for children is divided into 13 parts. Sizes start at five inches long and every fourth part of an inch thereafter until, size 12. Size 13 or short 13 and consists of length of 8 inches and a quarter. This also starts the Adult size 1. Until the time of Queen Victoria, children's shoes were made as miniature adult shoes, with no special feature for growing feet. The children of the Middle Class in Victorian times wore shoe styles more akin to fancy dress which may account for why the design of today's shoes contain motifs which refer to previous ages and classic periods of history. Going barefoot is still within living memory and many children went without footwear as a normal practice and not through poverty. Work shoes were often handed down with the better off wearing them before passing them to siblings. It is not clear why a unit of 13 was used to judge a critical point between child sizes and adults. The origins of this remain clouded but there are several theories. It is understood early English shoemakers started with the smallest size (0 or 1) at four inches. Four inches was an easy measure to record because it was the width across the knuckles which happened to correspond to the size of a child’s foot need their first pair of shoes. By coincidence 4.22 " measured 13 barleycorns. The next easy measure was the span of the hand or 9". Measure across the knuckles (4") plus the span of the hand (9") gave 13". This measured the average length of a child's foot at puberty. Adult sizes would logically start at the end of the child's size. Another belief is based on a foot measuring practice at the time. Some historians believe shoemakers accepted 13 as the base unit for measuring feet. The shoemaker's size stick was twelve inches long with the units measured from zero. This meant twelve became thirteen. There have been several attempts to standardise measurements of shoes and adopt the quarter inch unit, however arguments have always failed due to costs and problems of changing to a new system. As early as the seventeenth century, according to Holme, a "guild of shoemakers" had agreed on a common size scale based on a quarter inch rather than the third of inch. However little had changed by the nineteenth century when Gardener described in 1856 a shoe sizing system based on one-third inch, scale. The barleycorn, for all its metrological shortcomings, continues to be used in both American and English sizing systems.

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