I have a rare physical abnormality, an abnormality not recognized by the medical community, but instead by the fashion industry: I have giant feet. While most women in the united states wear a size 7 or 8, and some even hit 9 or 10, I wear a size 12 women’s shoe. And while my height, 5’11″, helps to offset the peculiar largeness of my feet, keep in mind that I’ve worn the same size shoe since I was 5’4″. I also have large hands. Large enough to quite easily palm a man’s basketball. Had I lived in a time when dainty gloves were a requirement, I would have been sent off to live in a community of others like me. Others who until recently had to face the constant despair of never being able to shoe shop “off the rack”.
While I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, I think my inability to find women’s shoes throughout and beyond my adolescence was a great contributor to why I always dressed more masculine than my peers. At 12 and 13, girls began obsessing over high heels, boots, wedges… I suppose I would have shared the obsession if any of those things were even available to me. At that point, there was no such thing as online shopping and all but a few hard-to-find stores didn’t carry women’s shoes above size 10. I did develop an addiction to men’s basketball sneakers, and I know that’s weird, so please just leave me alone.
One store that has almost always carried 11s and 12s for women is Payless. GOD BLESS PAYLESS SHOES! (I’d like that on my tombstone. No, I’m not kidding). The same pairs of black Payless heels took me through every school dance I ever attended, including the one I didn’t go to alone. When I was a teenager, I went to visit my cousin in New York and she found a specialty shop for women like me. I can’t remember the name… probably something like “Shoes for Freaks”. She tracked it down like it was some sort of footwear speakeasy. This was the first time I’d found myself solely amongst my people. Tall ladies with big feet (and also some dudes who wore girls’ shoes, but hey, we were all fighting the same fight).
By college, I’d figured out that besides Payless, Nordstrom had and continues to have occasional selections. The one problem is that my feet are also narrow, and there is an assumption is that if you’re wearing a size 12 shoe, your feet probably run wide. (Oh, and please keep in mind that given the state of the world, I’m very aware that this is possibly the least important subject I’ve ever written about, and that’s coming from someone who writes A LOT of d**k jokes.) The story was the same well into my 20s: Even after hours of picking through my limited options, I’d often come up empty-handed. I’d make do with shoes too small for me, or construct odd insoles to fill out gaps because I knew that part of my plight was the inevitability of settling. You can’t wear Pumas to a wedding, and you can’t wear Air Jordans to most funerals, so I found what I could and I made do.
In the past few years, however, options have increased. Thanks in part to the internet – and to the fact that there seems to be more of a demand – it’s becoming much easier to find shoes if you’re cursed with size 11, 12, even 13, 14 or 15 feet. Payless is still in the race, especially if you need something in a crunch. Just go to the last aisle and walk all the way back… that’s where the 11s & 12s are. Nobody will bother you there. The selection pales in comparison to what’s available for “normals” but in a bind, it’s absolutely fantastic and you can’t beat the price. Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack have served me well, and other department stores have stepped up their game. But you need the right technique going in.
At a department store, don’t browse the floor for what you love, but instead to walk right to a salesperson (DO NOT look at the display shoes, whatever you do! You’ll just fall in love with ones you can’t have and leave with a broken heart). Tell the salesperson that you are a genetic weirdo and you need to know which shoes come in your size. Often times they’ll know the largest sizes available from various brands and designers. Tell him or her to keep bringing you shoes in your size, and choose from those. If you pick up a cute wedge from a display pedestal and ask if they carry it in a 13, chances are you will get laughed because OF COURSE THEY DON’T. BUT, if you’re willing to try on anything they have that might fit you, you will probably find something you want to buy. The sales person might hate you at the end of it all, though I’ve found some who enjoy the mission of helping a stranger find a happiness that has alluded them for so long.