The Evolution of Shoe Sizing: From Barleycorns to Modern Measurement Systems

2 minute read

Shoe sizes have a history as old as shoes themselves, dating back thousands of years. However, the organised system of sizing that we know today is relatively new, spanning just over a century. This blog post delves into the fascinating history of shoe sizing, from the ancient practices of using body parts as standard measurements to the development of modern measuring devices and international sizing standards.

Ancient Measurement Practices

In ancient times, measurements were often based on body parts, leading to variations and inconsistencies. For instance, an inch was defined as the width of a thumb, and a foot was the length of a man's foot. However, this system lacked precision, causing confusion among tradesmen, scholars, and more. To address this issue, King Edward I introduced standards such as defining an inch using barleycorns and establishing a precise foot measurement.

The Emergence of Shoe Sizes

Shoemakers started using the barleycorn standard for measuring feet to craft shoes. Each barleycorn, roughly 1/3 of an inch, was considered one full shoe size. This marked a step towards a standardised shoe sizing system, although it was not widely adopted and varied between countries.

Evolution of Sizing Systems

Over time, different approaches to sizing emerged. In 1688, a Guild of Shoemakers in England agreed on a quarter-inch scale for shoe sizes. In 1856, Robert Gardiner introduced the 1/3-inch scale, which gained traction among shoemakers in England. These developments set the stage for the evolution of the sizing systems we have today.

The Importance of Measuring Devices

To ensure a proper fit, accurate measurement is crucial. In the past, shoemakers relied on their hands and size sticks for measurements. Today, various measuring devices are used, including foot gauges, measuring tapes, and tracing outlines of the foot. These tools aid in determining shoe length, width, and volume, accounting for the complexities of foot dimensions.

Modern Sizing Standards

The English sizing system begins at infant size 0, with each size increment adding 1/3 inch for full sizes or 1/6 inch for half sizes. The continental sizes, popular in the UK, eliminate the need for many half sizes but demand more precise fitting. Mondopoint, based on millimetres, was introduced as a global sizing standard, reflecting foot length and width as percentages of the foot's length.

Cross-Country Variations

French, US and other sizing systems add another layer of complexity. French sizes, based on the Paris Point system, can be converted using a formula. US sizes slightly differ from UK sizes, with variations between women's, men's, and children's shoes.


The journey of shoe sizing from barleycorns to modern measurement systems is a testament to human ingenuity and the pursuit of accuracy. As footwear technology advances, the art of finding the perfect fit remains rooted in historical practices while adapting to meet the demands of a global market. Embracing standardised sizing and utilising advanced measuring tools ensures that customers find the right shoe for their unique feet, combining tradition and innovation in the world of footwear.

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