'I had so many questions': A dad's no-fuss guide to first-time school shoe shopping.

Shoes & Sox
Thanks to our brand partner, Shoes & Sox

Feet are, in a quite literal sense, the foundation for our lives. They are the base on which our body is built, our touchstone with the world. So, particularly in our formative years, what we put them in matters.

Kids starti ng school is a tremendous milestone, and we want to get them off on the right… foot. Which means they need the right shoes.

They spend all day in them, and if they’re not the right fit, well, let’s face it, they’ll probably end up being failures at life. So let’s get this right, people.

I had so many questions when I went to get my son’s shoe fitted for his first year of school. Should I buy one size up to account for growth? Is his arch properly supported? How do I buy shoes that’ll actually last the year?

I consulted a children’s fitting specialist at Shoes & Sox and clued myself up on all the unknowns – here’s what I found out.

1. Humans are better than machines.

no-fuss guide to first-time school shoe shopping
If you want a good fit, go to the professionals to get it done right. Image supplied.

The first thing you have to do is measure the feet. This is the most important part of the process; so don’t use a machine or a general fitter. You need an expert. Someone who knows exactly what they’re doing. Because hoo boy, this is going to be complicated. You might know that one foot can be bigger than the other, but did you know that they can grow at different rates? Strap yourselves in, we’re going on a journey.

First they’ll measure the length, but what’s equally important is measuring the breadth. And here’s where you run into your first hurdle - because the breadth is measured with a tape over the foot – meaning if you’re dealing with a tall foot, it might read as a wide foot. See, this is why you need professionals.

In adults, bones are done growing. So if our shoes don’t fit properly, we’ll know about it, because it will hurt. But in kids, their bones aren’t fused yet. Which means that they won’t put pressure on the shoes, the shoes will put pressure on them. And as the ancient Chinese will tell you, that can have a serious impact. In a battle between bones and shoes, the shoes will win.

2. Size and style matter.

no-fuss guide to first-time school shoe shopping
Rebecca helping us get that perfect fit. Image supplied.

Once you’ve got your numbers (well, numbers for the length, letters for the breadth), you need to start trying them on. You want a good range of brands, as many of them make different sizes of... sizes. One brand’s 9 is another’s 9.5, while another doesn’t make them in halves. Some make different widths, others don’t. It's nuanced - a lot to mull over.

So the assistant (in our case, the very helpful Rebecca) will bring out a comforting, if slightly intimidating, array of different options. This brings up another question: What are the uniform requirements?

The style of school shoe you choose can depend on your school. Some schools prefer a traditional-look school shoe, while others are flexible and will allow a relaxed style of school shoe. You know, like Velcro (if you're at a school which doesn't allow Velcro, hopefully your butler can spend an extra two minutes in the morning making sure the laces are tied properly!).


Whether lace-up or Velcro, both usually have a number of styles available in a leather upper or a synthetic leather upper.  A full leather upper is nice because it can breathe and it lasts, while synthetic uppers are lighter in weight and normally will be at a cheaper price point.

3. Stability is ability.

no-fuss guide to first-time school shoe shopping
As you can see, we took testing the product out very seriously. Image supplied.

When you figure out what works, you need to find what fits best. The main thing you’re looking for here is stability – but that’s not to be confused with weight. You want it to hold the ankle nice and tight, to give the knees the right alignment. The top edge needs to clear the ankle bone so no there's extra pressure or irritation, and you want a nice firm heel counter. Is this bewildering? Don’t stress. They’ll look after you.


4. Sort out the sole.

Now, what about the in sole? Removable can be a plus, because not only can you let them dry out their stinkiness after a hard day in the school yard, but if you need orthotics they are a lot easier to fit if you can remove.

Lastly, we come to the actual sole, and you won’t be surprised to learn that technology has made its way down there too. Some have ‘stability bars’ built through them, others have extra density in the part of the midsole, great for kids that pronate (lean inwards), to try and hold them straighter and give them a better posture.

You want a nice bounce, so they get the ‘energy return’ through the mid sole. It’s also gentler on the joints, because the last thing you want is a kid with sore legs at the end of the day.

5. My big question: What about growth?

no-fuss guide to first-time school shoe shopping
No pinching toes here. Image supplied.

Now the eternal question – how much bigger should we go to allow for growth? This is probably the biggest mistake that parents make, getting a shoe which is too small. One which fits great on the day, but then in a month or two is too small because gosh aren’t they just growing up so fast. The best rule of thumb is… a thumb. Literally, you want about a thumb’s worth of space.

6. Make the experience count.

Remember, you’re not just buying shoes. You’re buying shoes. You want a positive retail experience, and service is everything. You and your kids want to feel welcome. And I’ve never felt better looked after in a shop than my experience at Shoes & Sox. Have you ever made a four year old sit down and try on multiple pairs of shoes? These people are masters.

So go and get fitted and send your kid off to school right. They’ll thank you later.

What's your tip you've learned over the years about buying school shoes? Tell us what you know below.

This content was created with thanks to our brand partner Shoes & Sox.