College of Podiatry says we are getting it wrong when it comes to shoe size thanks to our ever-expanding feet

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You know the dilemma: you’ve found the perfect pair of shoes, they’re the last ones left and they’re in the sale - only problem? They’re one size too small. You know what you should do, but research has now revealed that up to nine out of ten of us will squeeze ourselves into shoes that are too small rather than face the stigma of having to buy a bigger size.

The study, by the College of Podiatry, found that British feet have grown on average two sizes since the 1970s, and that people are increasingly wearing the wrong size shoes because of a lack of knowledge or social stigma associated with having bigger feet.

Researchers found the average shoe size for women has gone from the four of 40 years ago to a six, and that up to 90 per cent of women are now wearing the wrong size, believing themselves to be smaller than they actually are.

Podiatrist Emma Supple said: ‘It should be nothing to be embarrassed about but there is a perception that small, slender feet are dainty and feminine. We believe this can be a barrier to some women buying larger-sized and wider-fitting shoes.’

‘More retailers are stocking larger and wider fitting shoes to accommodate changes in foot size. However, there is still work to be done to offer a good range of shoes which are seen as ‘fashionable’ but are also comfortable to wear and well fitting.’

When asking people their reasons for buying shoes in the wrong size, experts found the most popular answers were: I thought they fit but they hurt when I got home (35%), I liked them but they didn't have my size (27%), I bought them online and didn't realise they wouldn't fit (26%), they were on sale (19%) and I didn't have time to try them on (15%).

Experts believe the increase in shoe size is due largely to weight gain in later life. Research based on 2,000 adults found 41 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men say their feet have grown as they’ve got older, with nearly 50 per cent of them citing putting on weight as the reason.

The Podiatry College’s Lorraine Jones said: ‘Feet are getting bigger because as a nation we are becoming taller and we're increasing in weight. Increased weight gain places more pressure on the feet and means ligaments and joints need to work harder to maintain the foot's structure and keep you mobile.’

‘Over time if someone is gaining weight, the feet splay to try and accommodate the increased pressure.’

She added: ‘Whatever your shoe size, the most important thing is to wear a comfortable, well-fitting shoe.’

We asked celebrity of the podiatry world Margaret Dabbs what damage can be done by wearing the wrong size shoe. She told us: 'Wearing footwear that is too small can lead to all sorts of secondary disturbances to the skin including corns, calluses, rubbing and blisters. It also causes friction around the bunion joint and will accelerate the wear and tear, ultimately speeding up further degeneration and progressing the condition.'

'And it is not only unsuitable footwear that plays a part - a short fit sensible sandal can also cause rubbing on the back of the heel and can result in callus and cracks to this area, for men as well as women.'

If you’re unsure which shoe size you should be wearing it’s a good idea to go and get your feet measured or have your shoes fitted professionally. And as for the pair of amazing sale shoes you’re struggling to stuff your tootsies into? Probably best to leave them for some other lucky bargain hunter.