In my last blog entry I mentioned that I had accompanied Andrea on a shoe shopping expedition after our visit to Crumlin Road Gaol last week. Well as I stood there waiting for her to make up her mind and offering my expert style advice, my own train of thought was hurtling down an express track from the starting point of shopping for shoes. So with apologies to Mark Kermode, in the same way that “Jaws” isn’t really about a shark and “Whiplash” isn’t really about drumming, this post isn’t really about shoes. Except when it is.
It has become something of a cliché to say that women are obsessed with shoes. A cliché with some basis in reality, but a cliché nonetheless. Having said that, “obsession” is a relative term in this case and requires people who are not particularly interested in footwear. Most men, for example. Or Mrs K. Mrs Kirsty is not remotely interested in shoes, never wears heels and is completely bemused by how anyone can own more than five pairs at a time. At last count I had 15, plus a handful (footful?) of shoes for Bob, although I’d rather not think about those ones. She therefore accuses me of being obsessed with shoes in a way that she can’t comprehend. She sees shoes as a purely functional item. I see them as beautiful pieces of sculpture, wearable art. Not that my own shoes are particularly outlandish, but I love them anyway. And 15 pairs isn’t that much anyway, I know women with many many times more.
OK then, we have established that, like many women, I love my shoes and I may even be a teensy bit obsessed. So what could be better than feeding that obsession with a few hours spent going round some shoe shops checking out all the styles on offer, trying on lots of different styles and seeing how I look in them, and maybe even splashing out with a purchase or two? Not much, it would seem. But the idea that I could ever actually do what I have just described is, to pardon the pun, cobblers. And the reason for that is because I have big feet and that ain’t ever going to change. This means that, rather than the scenario that I have just set out, my shoe shopping experience frequently goes like this:
Short version: If the shop has a pair of shoes that even come close to fitting and aren’t completely hideous, buy them.
On that Sunday afternoon as I stood there while Andrea chopped and changed between several different styles, trying one size up and one size down, gradually working towards the ideal look and the ideal fit, I felt a rising sadness within me that this was something that I could never experience. No matter how much I am out in the world, even if I end up going full time, taking hormones and having surgery, I will never in my life be able to experience going into a women’s shoe shop and having my pick of all the styles on display. Something that the majority of women take for granted, and many actively enjoy, is forever closed off to me.
My feet are UK size 9. For a man of my height, this is not particularly large. In fact, my feet are quite small in proportion to the rest of me. However, it still puts them out of the range of the majority of women’s shoe shops, which generally tend to stop at UK size 8. UK and European sizes do not overlap precisely, so some shops equate a UK 9 to an EU 42, and some to an EU 43. Similarly, UK 8 can be either EU 41 or EU 42. Based on my 30 seconds of internet research, in US sizing my feet are 11 in women’s sizes or 9.5 in men’s (jeez, Americans, can’t you just have one system for both?) Bet you thought shoe shopping was simple, didn’t you? Anyway, what I have learned is that in very general terms, EU 43 shoes will almost always fit me, EU 42 labelled UK 9 will fit me around 50% of the time, and EU 42 labelled UK 8 will rarely fit me unless they are also wide fitting, which pushes the success rate back up to 50%. I also have a pair of UK7/EU41 sandals, but I can get away with those because being sandals my toes stick out the front of them anyway. Still with me? Thought not.
The point of that rambling previous paragraph is to illustrate that for me, finding my size is the biggest challenge I have to overcome in shopping for shoes. Finding a style I actually like is almost a minor issue, although for some reason many manufacturers of larger sized women’s shoes seem to think that we are all either frumps or prostitutes, mostly the former. I am neither. I want chic, stylish footwear. It’s a struggle. So this obsession with knowing where to go means I have become something of an authority on how far up the size charts various shoe retailers in my city go. If you’re interested (and even if you’re not) these are the ones I have found which are of any use to me. These are not exhaustive by any means, just what I personally have found while shopping. Other people’s experiences may be different.
Evans: Specialist outsize store, sell clothing up to size 28 and shoes up to UK10/EU44 in a wide fitting, which is too big even for me. A lot of frumpiness on display, but chic styles are there if you look although not in huge numbers. Decent quality too.
Primark: Some (but by no means all) shoe styles up to UK9/EU43 wide fitting. My most recent shoe purchase was from here, a pair of suede wedges in 9/43 wide. Not brilliant quality, but my shoes only cost £10 so I can’t complain too much. However far too many of their styles are far too “low rent hooker”-ish for my tastes.
Asda: Yes, Asda. The supermarket. I haven’t yet bought any shoes from them, but a reasonable proportion of their styles are available in UK9/EU42 and UK9/EU43. Again, quality not brilliant although better than Primark, and reasonably stylish.
Next: I have looked many times, but only once have I ever seen a UK9/EU43 in a Next store, although a reasonable selection of styles are available in that size online. The problem with that is of course that you can’t try them on there and then. However, they do have 8/42 in a wide fitting which seems to fit me very nicely, and I came very close to buying a pair of leather ankle boots in that size from Next recently. It was only the fact that I didn’t have a spare £40 to pay for them that stopped me.
New Look: Very similar to Next in that they nominally do shoes up to 9/43, but actually finding anything that size in one of their stores is a thankless task. Plenty of larger sized shoes online, so if you see a style you like and they don’t have it instore, all my not be lost. I have a couple of pairs of New Look shoes, both bought off eBay rather than direct from New Look, and even at 9/43 they are still a wee bit on the tight side.
Shoe Zone: The budget shoe store piles ’em high and sells ’em cheap. Obviously at their prices quality isn’t brilliant, but the fact that they support the larger footed lady is a big bonus in my book. I bought my knee boots here in size 9/42 and while the fit is quite snug, I have worn them a lot and been on my feet in them for many hours at a time. Even though they aren’t flat, having around a 2.5 inch wedge, they are super comfortable and I love them to bits. Only £25, which is brilliant for knee boots.
Pavers: Only seem to exist in outlet centres – Junction One in Antrim and The Outlet in Banbridge. They are quite expensive, have quite a limited selection up at 9/42 and those shoes that they do have in larger sizes are uniformly hideous and styleless. Avoid.
Brantano: Although to the best of my knowledge, they don’t have any retail outlets at home in Northern Ireland, I have bought shoes from Brantano both online and in a bricks-and-mortar store in Wales. A decent range of shoes in various styles up to 9/43. I have a pair of 9/43 mid heeled Mary Janes with an oversize buckle (that I actually wore last night for the first time in ages) which I bought from them online, and then 9/42 heeled Oxford brogues which I bought out of the store in Holyhead at the end of my little holiday with Andrea and Ruth last October. Both are right up my street in terms of style, fit me very well indeed and at around £25 each are a good blend of price and quality. I wish they would open a store in Northern Ireland.
When I start to feel a little bit sorry for myself over my restricted shoe shopping opportunities, perhaps I should re-read that list. At least I do have some opportunity to buy shoes from some mainstream High Street retailers. Thank goodness I’m not like my nephew who is a good couple of inches taller than me and has UK size 13 feet! I always ask him if his shoes were made in the Harland and Wolff dry dock beside the Titanic. But seriously, I do know that there are plenty of trans women with bigger feet than me, and it seems to me that if my feet were just a very small amount bigger than they are, I would suddenly lose what choice I do have and all that I would be left with are specialist websites with specialist prices. That, and fetish wear. And I do not want to go there.
But to go back to my original point, in this aspect at least, I will always be an outsider looking in, never quite fitting in. I search here there and everywhere for an approximation of choice in shoes, but I will never be able to have the experience of going and having my pick of a shop’s full range. For those of you who do have this luxury, I envy you. Don’t take it for granted. And for those who look at me and think “You lucky b*tch, I have size 15 feet”, I’m sorry for being such a self-obsessed cow. I know my problems aren’t the biggest in the world, but they’re all mine.
And as for a bigger picture, I can’t help but feel like my occasionally quixotic pursuit of suitably sized and suitably styled footwear is somehow a representation in miniature of my pursuit of the feminine in other aspects of my life. I have this all inside me and a burning need to externalise it so I can be perceived to be the woman I feel I am, but thanks to nature’s manly bounty I end up a with hodge-podge of various traits of both genders and neither. Yet still I persist in trying to attain what most biological women have without trying, while I must reluctantly make do with the very limited options available to me. Tilting at pink windmills, if you like.
One last thing – that odd title? As I’m sure you have realised by now, they are my range of acceptable shoe sizes and the first thing I look for upon entering a shoe shop.
More overextended metaphors next time (probably)