Nathan Brown has seen a lot of feet. He has worked at Nike, Adidas and Puma, and now has his own formal-shoe shop, Lodger, just off Savile Row.
But my feet still surprised him.
I recently tried out the Lodger measuring system, which features a 3D laser scan to build up a virtual model of your foot. You insert your foot into a machine about twice the size of a shoebox, and several little cameras map its contours. That electronic picture is then used by a CAD (computer-aided design) system that suggests lasts, sizes and widths.
Fitting shoes is as much an art as a science, though. The CAD fit that Nathan showed me was perfect across the ball of the foot (the widest part of the foot – from the joint where the little toe joins the foot to the equivalent with the big toe on the other side). But it left too much room behind the heel.
Part of shoe fitting is also psychology. Men with wide feet tend to wear shoes that are a little too narrow for them. Initially, this is because they can’t find shoes that are wide enough. But over time, they become used to that fit – so anything that is the correct width will feel too big. The same goes for men with narrow feet: they feel most comfortable in shoes that are a little wide.
With me, the laser scanner showed that the right foot was a centimetre shorter than the left – almost half a size difference. Lodger can provide men with two shoes that are different sizes through its custom ordering service – which is what makes it unique. But as with narrow or wide feet, men with differently sized feet have got used to wearing shoes the same size. Put them in differently sized shoes and it feels very odd.
Nathan is discovering all of this over time. He set-up Lodger, and started applying this new technology from the world of sportswear, just over a year ago. One customer did order shoes that were different sizes, but it felt too strange after years of shoes that were either slightly big or slightly small on one foot. So Nathan no longer recommends that.
What surprised him about my feet was another measurement the scanner made. It showed that I was very wide across the ball of my foot (indeed, the smaller foot was slightly broader here) but I was also very high across the top of the foot. As regular readers will know, historically this has led me to buy shoes that are slightly too big, as nothing else would accommodate the width across the ball.
However, when we tried some shoes on, it quickly became apparent that my feet weren’t quite as high across the top as we’d thought. The lacing on each shoe was tight all the way up on the size I required to fit my width. It turned out that the arch was rather low, so even though the foot as a whole was tall, it was lowered by the shallow arch.
I understand if this level of detail is dull. But for me it was great. I’d discovered why I normally buy big shoes and why in-soles don’t normally help (they lift the whole foot up, restricting the width across the ball where I need it most).
Nathan quickly reached the same conclusion as I have (though it took me a lot longer and a lot more money). Tongue pads. By filling out the tongue of the shoe, these allow me to push down the back of the foot while keeping the ball free to use the full width.
As regular readers of this blog will also know, tongue pads are not easy to find. Most cobblers in London (and cordwainers for that matter) don’t stock them. But just like the self-professed shoe dork he is, Nathan wanted to find a solution. So he cut the heel off the in-sole we had been using, trimmed it down and tried wedging that underneath the tongue of my shoe.
It worked perfectly. Nathan gave me the cut-up insole and instructed me to stick it underneath the tongue of another pair of shoes with rubber cement (available at your local DIY shop). Any excess should dry and be able to be rubbed off, and if it didn’t work there would be no damage to the shoe itself.
I plan to try it on a pair this weekend. Nathan is keen to hear the results and I will report back here as well.
It is worth pointing out that at Lodger I experienced the best customer service I have ever had in a shop, as well. As I reported here, Berluti treated my problem with derision and John Lobb (Jermyn Street), though very interested and keen to help, did not know anywhere I could buy a pair of tongue pads.