Shoe Sizes Across The World

As online shoe retailers we know that the various shoe sizing systems found across the globe can cause problems. Why not simply have a global shoe sizing system? It’d make life easier for everyone. But, as with many things, the reasons for different regional systems are historical and it’s unlikely that a unified international shoe sizing system will be adopted any time soon.


The ancient Romans, being masters of organisation and categorisation, used the length of a barleycorn as a measurement, with three equalling an inch. This unit was later adopted by England, one of the states that arose from the aftermath of the Roman Empire’s fall, with the English also considering three barleycorns to equal one inch following Edward II’s royal decree in 1324 that barleycorns were to be used as measurements of shoe size. It is for this reason that, to this day, UK shoe sizes increment by 1/3 of an inch.


By the 1600s a system had evolved whereby children’s shoe sizes were considered to be 13 barleycorns or less, and anything above that being adults’ sizes. Even now, the children’s shoe size scale goes from 1-13, then “adults’” sizes start again at 1 (however, “adult” sizes 1-2 are now considered children’s sizes – people’s feet have, on average, grown larger over the centuries due to better nutrition and overall health).


Although the USA, with its origins as an offshoot of Britain, uses the English “barleycorn” system, the modern American system is slightly different in that its starting point is 1 rather than 0, as in the UK. However, there are different systems in use in the USA, some more common than others, and this lack of standardisation can result in confusion.


More different is the European system, which uses the “Paris Points” system, with 2/3rd of a centimetre increments. This is used in Continental Europe and parts of the Middle East, Hong Kong, as well as Brazil (in a slightly different form).


Within the European system there are also national differences, for example a French size may differ from a German size despite both countries using the Continental European shoe sizing system.


In most of Asia, a metric system is used, with 5mm increments in size and width measured designated by letters A to G.


Another system is the “Mondopoint System”. This is based on the mean foot length and also width. This inclusion of the width directly into the shoe sizing system makes this system the best overall, and for this reason it’s used by militaries, including the NATO Western military alliance.