Go Head Over Heels for the Perfect Fit

Curious why your feet and shoes can’t seem to get along? Crystal Lake’s Jim Heisler offers a few tricks to getting it right the first time. Hint: It starts with walking into the right store.

Shoes are supposed to be comfortable and functional. Feet aren’t supposed to hurt with every step. If there is some discomfort, it’s possible you’ve missed a vital part of the shoe selection process: a proper fit.

This often-overlooked step is about finding the footwear that will suit your needs and feel comfortable – while looking great, of course. And the best way to find that right fit is to seek out an expert in footwear.

“You really have to pay attention to what you put on your feet,” says Jim Heisler, third-generation owner of Heisler’s Bootery, 50 N. Williams St., in Crystal Lake. “Most people don’t know that they’re uncomfortable because they haven’t experienced comfort. They just put up with whatever shoes they chose off the shelf at a big-box store or online.”

Before you buy your next pair of shoes, consider these six insights from the pros.

Know When to Go

Before you head out shopping, consider the time of day. It matters more than you might think. “Feet swell throughout the day,” Heisler says. “If you come by in the morning, your feet are going to be a little different in size than during late afternoon.” For that reason, he recommends getting measured and trying on shoes later in the day.

Choose Function over Form

“Before we even look at style and brand, even before measuring feet, we want to know where you are going – work, play, special occasion – and what you’re going to be doing with those feet,” Heisler says. “Shoes are different from other clothing. Your feet are so different. They’re functioning. They’re not just hanging out there.”

An experienced professional understands that each brand and style fits differently. Some brands are designed for narrow feet, for example, without actually stating it on the label. Each shoe manufacturer also sizes their products differently.

“You might be a size 7½ in one brand and an 8 or 8½ in the same style by another brand,” Heisler says. “Whoever makes the shoe determines how it’s measured. You really have to go after the measuring idea and let an experienced person direct you.”

Details Matter

As they’re narrowing down the choices, a professional will want to know what type of socks, if any, you will wear with these shoes – thick, thin, nylon, hunting – because wearing socks or going barefoot will change the fit. A good shoe store will have a variety of socks to lend you, but it’s also wise to bring the type of socks you plan to wear with these shoes.

Heisler’s Bootery goes well beyond the reliable old Brannock Device when it comes to sizing. While that trusty foot-measuring tool is still handy, Heisler also invites customers to stand on the platform of an Aetrex machine that projects a three-dimensional image of both your feet.

These high-tech readings offer insight into some of the Aetrex brand’s insoles that can improve both fit and comfort for the wearer.

“It measures the pressure as you’re standing there,” Heisler says. “You actually see how you feel.”

Customer Service is Everything

Adults over the age of 65 tend to have individual needs when picking out shoes – but so do the rest of us. Swollen or achy feet, conditions like peripheral neuropathy and plantar fasciitis, or problems such as bunions, hammer toes and braces add another dimension to shoe shopping. A salesperson with deep experience knows how to find solutions.

“Certain shoes are built to help those situations and they’re still nice-looking shoes,” says Heisler, who grew up in the 115-year-old family-owned business. “In some cases, I have to do a little custom stretch for them. We still have my grandfather’s old tools here.”

Those timeless shoe-stretching tools can adjust a shoe’s fit in many ways, for example adjusting the shoe on the unaffected foot to make it level with the one that’s compromised by a brace or orthopedic problem.

Working with older adults requires patience, good listening skills, and the ability to read body language, particularly because the customer’s speech, hearing or cognition may be compromised. A facial expression, smile, frown or look of agitation is all Heisler needs to determine if it’s the right fit. If a caregiver is present, he might ask them some additional detailed questions. These might include things like: Do they walk or shuffle their feet? Are they able to tie shoelaces or is Velcro best? Do they require assistance putting on shoes?

As a bonus, Heisler’s team can seek additional help from the shoe repair store next door. A man recently came to his store in stocking feet that were swollen and wouldn’t fit inside any of his shoes.
“You could hardly see his toes,” Jim recalls. “But, guess what? I found him a nice pair of men’s sandals with Velcro straps. The straps were much too short because of the swelling. So, Alex the shoe repairman put an extension on those straps with a Velcro closer, and that man walked out of here with sandals on his feet. He was crying because he was so happy.”

Solve the Wedding Party Woe

Dressing for the occasion doesn’t have to be painful. Heisler sees members of bridal parties forced to buy a look that feels OK at first, but after two or three hours is downright painful. He refers to these as “sit down” shoes because they’re not ideal for walking. They’re uncomfortable. In such situations, he recommends buying a secondary pair: expertly fitted shoes that go on after the big moment, when the focus has moved elsewhere.

Keep Feet Warm in Winter

Consider weather conditions and function before selecting boots for the season. Are you walking or hiking, or are you simply going for fashion? Certain styles and brands are better insulated to suit certain temperatures and remain waterproof to keep feet dry on the snowiest days.
“If you can stay dry, you’ll stay a little bit warmer. That’s a given,” Heisler says.
As with any shoe, he stresses trying on boots with the socks you intend to wear inside. There’s one exception, though. With the holiday season approaching, slippers make a nice gift, he adds. Here, too, your search begins with the perfect fit, and brands that are furry inside are actually best worn barefooted and indoors only. However, the soles of fluffy Minnetonka slippers are built so you can run down the driveway with ease.