Shoe sizes can often be confusing for non-experts. There are several shoe size systems that are used in different regions and have developed over time. Whereas the Paris point is used as the standard in mainland Europe, UK and US shoe sizes can often cause confusion. You can find out everything you need to know about the topic here.

The Paris point – it all started with a sewing machine.

In the mid-19th century, the so-called “Paris point” was established in France as a standard for a measuring shoe sizes, and this system gradually spread across Europe. The measuring system is still the same as it was back then. The Paris point is now considered the standard shoe size system in Europe and is therefore also referred to as “French size”, “European size”, “EU shoe size” or “German size”. It uses centimetres, making it a metric system. Britain is the only country is Europe that uses its own measurement system (based on inches). You can find out more about the English method for measuring length in the following chapter.

The Paris point (or European size system) probably originates from the original stitch length of the double seams of a sewing machine. The stitch equates to two thirds of a centimetre (6.67 mm).

The size system starts with a child’s size of 15 which corresponds to an inner length of the shoe of 10 centimetres, and usually goes up to men’s size 50 (33.3 centimetres). The European shoe size system includes both child and adult sizes and features a uniform system (different from the UK and US systems).

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It is rare for shoes featuring the Paris point as their unit of measure to be produced in intermediate sizes (half sizes). This means that the difference between shoe sizes is always 6.67 mm.

Shoe sizes in the EU are calculated as follows:Last length in cm (= foot length plus 1.5 cm) / 0.667.

The last is therefore always slightly longer than the wearer’s foot due to the fact that the foot moves up to 1.5 cm in the shoe when walking, meaning that this extra space is necessary. When measuring your feet, you should add 1.5 cm to the length so that you get the required space inside the shoe.

You can recognise the French shoe size when several shoe sizes have been written on the label usually, under the abbreviation “EU”, short for “European Union”. It differs from the English and American shoe length measurement.

English – it all started with barleycorn

The English system for measuring length is the oldest official shoe size system in the world. Unlike the continental European metric system for measuring, the English method for measuring length is not based on centimetres, but, as typical in Anglo-American countries, on inches.

Throughout the Middle Ages, it was customary to orient oneself based on natural dimensions (e.g. fingers, feet, cubits) because measuring instruments (e.g. rulers, tape measures) were expensive and unavailable in everyday life. In the year 1324, the King of England Edward II introduced a standard for measuring length. He opted to use barleycorn as the smallest unit of measure in Britain. He stated that three barleycorns placed lengthways next to each other equalled one inch. One inch is equal to 2.54 cm in metric terms. If the person carrying out the measurement did not have any barleycorns available, they were also able to use their thumb width. Men from Northern Europe generally have a thumb width of three barleycorns, i.e. 2.5 cm (measured over the fingernail).

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Even today, 1/3 of an inch (8.46 mm) in English is named a “barleycorn”, in line with its origins. This is how the English system for measuring shoes came about. Each full shoe size was one barleycorn larger than the previous one (8.46 mm). Half shoe sizes (4.23 mm) were introduced around 1880 to provide better fits.

In contrast to the Paris point, a system where all shoe sizes are numbered uniformly, the English method of measuring length distinguishes between adult and child sizes (making it more complicated):

Child sizes start at the smallest practicable size of 12 barcleycorns. It corresponds to an interior shoe size of 10.16 cm and is classified as the UK child size 0. The child size 13 ½ (approx. 22 cm interior length) is, followed by the adult size 0, with the largest men’s size being 14 (=33 cm).

English shoe sizes (adult sizes) are calculated as follows:Last length in cm (= foot length plus 1.5 cm) divided by 2.54 x 3 – 25.

Or:Last length in inches x 3 – 25