Some Thoughts on the American Fashion Industry’s Definition of “Specialty Sizing”

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While I usually talk about books, writing, food, beverages, and places/events or reviews of books, writing, food, beverages, and places/events; it’s time we had a serious chat about clothes/shoes and the fact that they don’t fit right.  This topic is right out of left field for me, I know, but let me give you a little background.  I like to run.  A lot!  And because of various health issues and injuries that have taken a long time to recover from, I haven’t been able to do this thing that I love doing much in recent years.  However, while my husband was deployed for 7 months to the Middle East, I took it upon myself to start intermittent fasting and using the Couch 2 5K app.  I lost 30 pounds, and when my husband got home, he had caught the running bug too.

Now, my husband is already physically fit.  He rides his bike to and from base every day going anywhere from 18 to 20-plus miles a day depending on the route he chooses to take.  Which is around 90 to 100 miles a week.  He can do all the pushups and sit-ups and whatever else he is required to do for his physical training tests (or whatever it is are actually called).  So, I was a little surprised when he got on this fitness kick since he’s in great shape already.  For Christmas he bought us both new fitness trackers, and new running shoes (which thank goodness because mine were falling apart).  And this is where my topic comes into play. 

My husband never has trouble finding clothes.  Everything he owns is off the rack stuff he can find at a local store.  I, on the other hand, am not an average fit in anything.  Even when I was thin, I wasn’t “average” sizes.  Not in clothing, undergarments, or shoes and I was frequently forced to “special order” clothing (from other countries) or alter off the rack clothing just to have stuff which would fit me properly and never mind trying to find something flattering.  Now that I’m overweight, finding clothing which fit the way it is supposed to is even more difficult.  But the one thing which hasn’t changed in the last 20 years is my shoe size.

Because my husband doesn’t do anything by half measures, we went to a store that specializes in running shoes.  It was a cute shop in an older building with newish looking insides.  The walls were lined with rows of chic running shoes in flashy colors and most of them featured breathable mesh.  I was dreading the shopping experience already. 


Since moving to Washington, every pair of shoes I own have fallen apart within two days after getting wet while running though my neighborhood.  Last winter was an epic struggle.  My first pair of shoes I bought were “winter boots” I got at my local Fred Meyer.  The most expensive pair of shoes I had ever purchased for myself at around $80 after tax (They were by far not the most expensive shoes I had ever bought since my son ran cross country for a few years and I got used to keeping him in multiple pairs of running shoes per season with the insoles he prefers.  Holy cow, running shoes are expensive.). 

My eighty dollar “waterproof” “winter boots” turned out to leak at the seams between the top part of the shoe that covers the foot and the sole.  The (also supposedly waterproof) insoles of this particular pair of shoes that were not designed to come out of the shoe, came out in multiple soggy chunks after my first run.  After losing three pairs of much cheaper Wal-Mart shoes in the same way, I switched to using water walking shoes.  They survived my runs, but eventually melted after being placed too near the heating vent to dry one day (which was odd because the heating vent was only set to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. 

By then I decided that the running Gods were testing my resolve and finished out the freezing Winter and rainy Spring months using the least sturdy rainboots I had ever seen but seemed to be the only brand I could still find (What the heck Washington State retailers?) on the shelves at local stores.  Once Summer and dry weather arrived, I bought myself a nice pair of shoes for running in, that lasted me about six months until the first time they got wet this winter.  At which point, those beautiful shoes promptly fell apart.

So, my husband and I walk into this specialty running shoe store and I haven’t brushed my hair, I’m in my falling apart shoes with mismatched socks and my least flattering pair of running pants, oddly colored grey capris that reflect yellow light in such a way as to appear to be see-through and revealing my flesh.  No, no, I was not anticipating going anywhere in public that day where people would be seeing me up-close.  Yet there I was.  Why?  My husband is not a “planner”.  He’s a “let’s just go DO this”, kind of person and I have to just get up and go otherwise it might not happen if we wait for later.  This fact leaves me in an almost constant state of low-grade panic because I. Plan. Everything.  Even my spontaneity is planned.  I budget for “impulse buying” just to be prepared in case someone in my family wants or needs something that I haven’t anticipated. 


Can you picture it?  Chubby out of shape thirty-something chick with unbrushed hair making a halo of frizz around her head in neon-blue-and-grey (very unflattering) capris accentuating her cellulite, shoes so broken that they are flopping off her feet.  There were other customers and we had to wait a bit before the clerks were ready to assist us with our shopping.  While we waited, we browsed the shoes and running clothes the shop sold.  I immediately noticed that the store didn’t seem to carry my clothing size (neither my over-weight size nor any sizes or styles that would have fit me when I was my super-curvy skinny-size and shape). 

Whatever.  In my experience, most athletic stores don’t carry plus sizes for women or sizes that accommodate really curvy women.  Maybe it’s just the athletic stores I’ve been in thus far?

But why is that?

Depending on what source you cite, anywhere between 36.5% (Healthline) and 42.4% (CDC) of Americans are obese.  Another 32.5 percent are considered overweight according to Healthline.  That means that (36.5% + 32.5% equals…) SIXTY-NINE percent of Americans are overweight.  When most people in a country are overweight, why, oh, why are athletic clothing and shoe companies and stores not catering to the majority of the population who need to get fit and loose weight? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for self-love and loving the body you have.  But I want to have back, the body I lost, and I can’t do that naked.  I need clothes that fit until I can get back to the shape and size I prefer to be.  Why is plus-sized clothing, considered a specialty commodity when the majority of Americans are over-weight?

I didn’t mind the lack of clothing my size in the store.  I wasn’t there for clothes.  I was there for waterproof running shoes.  Now, I’ve been a runner my whole life.  Waterproof shoes in my size have never been difficult for me to find.  Before they closed, I bought all of MY shoes from Payless Shoes.  My local shops always knew what I liked to wear and always had what I needed in stock.  The shoes also lasted in excess of a year during the years I couldn’t run much but as much as six months or at least an entire season of the year during the times when I was running a lot.  Though the brands I used to buy are available elsewhere, they aren’t readily available in the same sizes or styles I prefer anymore.


When the clerk at this specialty shoe store was finally able to assist us, my husband had me get fitted first.  I got my feet measured digitally.  My ankles were scanned while I stood on this weird scale looking device and I hoped it didn’t actually tell them my weight.  Then I had to walk across a mat that measured the impressions of my feet, my stride length, how high my arch is, how tall my foot is, and whether or not my feet twist to either side when I put weight on them.  All this data was used to recommend a shoe size, and the brands and styles that came in that size. My foot is wide.  I already knew this. It’s not the first time I’ve been fitted for running shoes.


But apparently shoe manufacturers don’t make waterproof shoes in “wide” for women according to the sales person assisting us.  (This is untrue. ) I was a little surprised at that, since I have been buying waterproof shoes in wide for women since I was ten years old and reached my current shoe size.  I just hadn’t been able to find them carried anywhere in brick-and-mortar stores once my favorite shoe store closed.  The clerk seemed to get frustrated that I was insisting on getting waterproof shoes.  She kept pushing sizes that wouldn’t fit or wide shoes that were not waterproof. Trying to get me to just settle for a bad fit (which I knew would hurt my feet and aggravate my injuries to the point that I would lose the ability to run again) so she could make a sale, she stated that manufacturers didn’t make such specialty shoe sizes in waterproof.


It was the way she said it though…  “Specialty”.  Like it was unusual to have wide feet.  It was undesirable to have wide feet.  It was derogative to have wide feet.  Wide feet had suddenly become the “plus sized women’s clothing” or “curvy girl clothing” of shoe shopping.  None of the shoes I tried on that day were wide enough and waterproof.  Finally, the clerk said that men’s shoes are wider than women’s and I could get a waterproof shoe in a regular men’s size that would fit me.  But…they didn’t carry my size in stock since my shoe size would be a “specialty size” in men’s because my feet are so much smaller than the average man’s, so I wouldn’t get to try it on before I bought it.  And the coloring was ugly as sin.  My husband said fine.  I said fine. 


In retrospect, I wonder if the salesclerk was just saying that with the expectation that I would just accept the shoe once it arrived whether it fit or not.  I don’t have small feet.  It would be unusual for a running shoe store to not carry that size shoe for men.  Or I could just be so disgusted with the shopping experience that I mistrust the store and its employees now.

The shoes arrived Monday.  I’m giving them a week to see if I like them.  Planning on running a virtual 5K in them tomorrow.  However, they aren’t much wider than the women’s shoes I tried on at the store and are an uncomfortable fit without any arch support.  So far, they are waterproof.  We’ll see if that holds true once I step in a puddle that comes over the laces on a trail run.  Hopefully the insoles won’t dissolve.  All that bother and money for shoes that still don’t fit right or comfortably.


Was I just getting the “fat-girl” treatment?  Where store sales people don’t really expect you to purchase or use a product because of your size and so try to humiliate you into abandoning your exercise goals and their need to assist you in them?  Why was it easier for me to consistently find the right style, fit, and type of shoe at the cheapest place to buy shoes, than it is for me to find what I need from stores that supposedly “specialize” in that type of shoe?  Running shoes are not a “specialty” shoe.  High heels and dress shoes are specialty shoes.  Running shoes are a common everyday type of necessity if the 30 minutes of physical activity per day requirements recommended by health professionals are to be adhered to.  And running is one of the most recommended cardio activities for health and weight loss.  Men’s Journal says that running for cardio is better than a workout at the gym. Everyone needs shoes to be active in.  And in winter, everyone needs shoes that will be waterproof and stay dry, not just people with narrow feet.  Especially during this time of gym closures and the shutdowns of indoor exercise spaces.


Why does this double standard exist? Why are better products only readily available in many stores to men or women who are not over weight? Why are people who are already in good shape rewarded with easy access to higher quality clothing and shoes, while people who need to get into shape are discouraged due to a lack of off-the-rack product in their size? Why are wide feet considered a “Specialty” size by the people who decide what will be on the shelves and racks off stores? According to a scientific report, “Analysis of 1.2 million foot scans from North America, Europe and Asia”, at lease three width sizes are necessary for every length size to allow as few as 90% of the population access to properly fitted footwear.

Over the last few centuries, human beings have grown taller on average, and along with that, our feet have grown not just in length but in width to support our added height and weight (WalkEzStore Blog).  It’s time that manufacturers and, more importantly, the stores that supply us consumers start acknowledging that bigger is what we are.  This isn’t a campaign for acceptance of something that is abnormal and requires “specialty sizing”, this is what human beings are right now.  We have longer wider feet and bigger and taller bodies, and all styles should be available in all sizes without discrimination for genetics or any other influencing factors.  Women shouldn’t have to buy men’s shoes to keep their feet dry, and no one should have to endure any part of their bodies derogatively referred to as a “specialty” size while on a quest for better health.

When 69% of Americans are overweight, why are plus sizes and wide shoes considered “specialty” sizing? #fashion #running #plussize #shoes

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