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What Does True to Size Mean? Footwear Guide

There is nothing like a new pair of shoes to add swag to your step. Whether it is heels, boots, or even a pair of cool new sports shoes, you are bound to feel fabulous wearing the new addition to your shoe closet.

However, a common query that goes hand in hand with shoe shopping is whether certain brands are ‘true to size’ or not, which can lead to some confusion around the meaning of ‘true to size’.

What Does True To Size Mean

A shoe that is true to size has two criteria; it matches the manufacturer’s size chart and an international standard. The Brannock system provides the most accurate measurement. The US and UK use the Barleycorn system. Europe uses the Paris Point. Both systems correlate to Brannock’s measurements.

Wondering is a shoe brand is ‘true to size’ is a tricky topic, particularly with shopping online. Size can be a guessing game unless you’ve worn the shoe brand before. Many online sites list shoe sizes but don’t correspond with true size measurements, making shoe shopping frustrating.

If you are looking for some specific shoe brand size guides, I have many resources here to help you:

Brand Size Guide
Air Force 1s
Doc Martens
Jordan 1s

So, let’s take a more in-depth look into what true to size means and how it is quantified…

True to Size is a Linked to Foot Measurements

True to size is a term used to compare foot measurement to shoe size and then to the dimensions of a particular shoe or brand.

A shoe that is true to size is understood to be the same measurement the manufacturer claims. For example, if a shoe brand claims that an 8 ½ “length is a US size 4.5, the measurement and shoe size must match. Furthermore, the measurement and size must align with an accurate international size measurement. 

Size is Measured Against Various Shoe Size Charts

True to size is gauged against an international shoe size standard. The challenge is that three different international size charts state measurements and shoe sizes. A shoe true to size will measure up to one of these sizing methods:

• Brannock measurement 

• Paris Point sizing system

• Barleycorn imperial system

Sizes are either measured in inches or centimeters. Width is either quoted in measurements or alphabetical letters.

Determine Your True Size

The only way to find your exact shoe size is to measure your feet accurately. Most people have one foot that is bigger than the other. The golden rule is to measure both feet and set your measurement to the size of your largest foot. Measure your feet when they are slightly larger at the end of the day. 

If you are measuring for sports shoes or sneakers, wear the same socks you plan on wearing with your shoes. 

There are various ways to measure your feet, but the most accurate method is to use a mechanical measuring device. If that isn’t possible, follow these instructions:

  • Place your foot on a large piece of paper or cardboard.
  • Press down firmly so that your foot completely spreads out. 
  • Plant your other foot firmly on the ground to ensure you have the same stance you would normally have. 
  • Enlist a friend to draw around the entire area of your foot.
  • Draw a firm line, so the measurement is not vague and open to error.
  • Measure the distance between the longest toe to the furthermost part of your heel to give you the length of your foot.
  • Measure across the breadth of your foot where your metatarsal joint runs below your toes to determine the width.
A photo demonstrating how to measure your foot at home.

The Brannock System Uses a Foot Measurement Device

The Brannock system was designed by Charles F. Brannock and is a device that measures length, width, and arch length. Many shoe stores have this device available to customers.

The challenge with this device is that although you measure the exact size of your foot, shoes from different brands only sometimes measure up to size calibrations. 

Brannock is considered the gold standard for shoe measurement and scored 96% for accuracy. The great thing about Brannock is that it supplies devices for US, UK, and EU sizing. It is safe to use the actual Brannock measurements across all size charts. 

This device has different settings for men, women, and children, which makes readings even more precise. Shoe width is related to length, and shoes are manufactured using these different proportions.

The Brannock measuring system determines the length of the foot, the width of the foot, and the distance from the ball of a foot to the arch. It is made from metal and has heel cups that rotate 180 degrees to accommodate both left and right heels. 

To use the device, you need to:

• Remove your footwear.

• Place one foot on the device.

• Fit your heel firmly into the heel cup.

• Stand firmly on the device and place the other foot on the ground.

• Press your toes down with your hand to get your foot’s full length and width.

Read the Measurements on the Brannock Device as follows:

• Measure from your heel to your first metatarsal joint just below your big toe. This gives you the length of your arch.

• Read the measurement from end to end of your foot.

• Set the width slider to fit against the broadest part of your foot to determine breadth. 

If you measure your feet with socks, ensure that your toes are not curled up inside the sock or alter the shape of your foot. Any difference in your real foot size will skew the measurements. When it comes to shoes, even the slightest difference impacts comfort. 

Brannock measurements are numerically correct and provide guidelines to determine shoe sizes in the United States, European, and the UK sizes. 

The Paris Point is Used to Determine European Sizes

The Paris Point measure was created in the 19th century in France. Paris Point sizing is used throughout continental Europe as the standard for foot measurements.

The sizing scale works around 2/3 of a centimeter. The thinking is that 2/3 of a centimeter is similar to a ¼ of an inch. A French inch is 27mm. Two-thirds of 27mm are between 6.6mm to 6.7mm. Though this sizing appears complicated, sizes increase by 1 Paris point, which is 3.33mm, and half sizes go up 0.13mm. 

The Barleycorn System Measures in Inches

Barleycorn shoe measurement is an old English measurement established by using the length of barleycorns as a standard measurement. One Barleycorn is 1/3 of an inch, equivalent to 8.47 mm.

The Barleycorn system is commonly used in North America and the United Kingdom. This differs from other size measurements in that it works backward from the largest size, which is size 12″. Sizes decrease in units of one Barleycorn. So, an 11” shoe would measure 11.67” (29.6cm.)

Interestingly, although North America and the United Kingdom use Barleycorn as measurement sizes, they differ because size 0 starts as a different size. 

Size 0, also known as zero point, is considered the shortest feasible length for a particular size shoe. Size 0 is different for children, teenagers, women, and men. 

Determine the True-to-Size Standard

In an ideal world, shoe sizes would use the Brannock device to determine exact measurements and align these with either the Paris Point and Barleycorn size chart.  

An example of true to size is for women is shown in the table below.

InchesCentimetersUS SizeUK SizeEU Size
8 1/4214234
8 1/
8 5/821.95335
8 3/422.25.53.535.5
9 1/823.26.54.536.6
9 1/
9 3/424.88.56.538.5
Women’s shoe size chart

True to size for men is indicated in the chart below.

InchesCentimetersUS SizeUK Size EU Size
9.7524.87.5740 – 41
10.12525.78.5841 – 42
10.437526.79.5942 – 43
10.7527.310.51043 – 44
11.12528.311.51144 – 45
Men’s shoes size chart

Width is Measured Differently

Shoe width is more complicated than length, and there are several ways in which width can be measured:

  • The Brannock system measures width in alphabetical letters; AAA – AA – A – B – C – D – EE – EEE. Each of these widths varies by 3/16 inches and is adjusted according to shoe size and gender.
  • North American interpretation of the Brannock system classifies B as narrow, C as regular, D as a medium, E as wide, and EE as extra wide. 

As with length sizing, width measurements also impact true size. Manufacturers may measure the width using the inside of the shoe. Others use the outside circumference to indicate the width. The shoe mold, the last, is also used to measure the width. 

Each of the measurements differs slightly, but when it comes to shoes, even the slightest difference in width means the difference between easy wearing and constricted feet.  

Shoes Do Not Run True to Size for Various Reasons

Many brands need to be more true to size, which is very frustrating to shoe shoppers, particularly online shoppers relying on manufacturer sizes and measurements. There are several reasons that shoes do not run true to size:

  • Manufacturers use different size molds. Shoes are produced worldwide, and sizes vary from country to country. 
  • Measurements differ depending on how the shoe is measured. Certain shoe brands measure length and width inside the cavity, whereas others measure outside.
  • Manufacturers use different size molds. This is known as the last of the shoe. It is far easier for manufacturers to use this as a measurement guide than to take exact size measurements.
  • The length of the shoe is often altered by manufacturers depending on how much wiggle room is allowed. 
  • Certain shoes, particularly sports shoes, must have a tighter fit to stabilize the foot. These impact size as well. 
  • In some instances, manufacturers make shoes longer to account for width. In most cases, this results in shoes running big.
  • Some brands consider foot growth in children’s shoes and allow space for this. 
  • Centimeters measure truer in size than inches as they have smaller denominations. Depending on which measurement shoes are made may cause a slight variance in size. 

True to Size is Important When Buying Shoes

Aside from the frustration of buying shoes that aren’t true to size, there are serious concerns related to incorrect sizing. Too loose shoes affect your balance and make you prone to ankle and knee injuries. Shoes that are too tight can lead to bunions, callouses, corns, and foot deformities. 

Podiatrists are vocal that wearing shoes that don’t fit properly can have medical consequences down the line. Should you buy a pair of shoes, whether too tight or too big, your best bet is to exchange them. Failing that, take measures to either stretch your shoes or find ways to help your feet fill your shoes better. 

If you find a brand that is true to size, stick with it and change styles within it. Measuring your feet every few years is also advisable because feet change size over time.


Shoes that run true to size align with a manufacturer’s size guides and comply with an international size standard. The Brannock device is the most accurate way of measuring shoe size. The Barleycorn system is used in the United States as a size guide, and the Paris Pointe is used in Europe. Width is commonly stated in alphabetical order, from A being narrow to EEE being extra wide.

For more sizing guides, check out:

What Does PS Mean In Shoes? (Size Chart & Guide)

What Is B Width In Shoes? (Size Chart & Guide)

What Is D Width In Shoes? (Size Chart & Guide)

What Is 2E Width? (Shoe Size Chart & Guide)

What Does Y Mean In Shoe Size? (Shoe Size Chart & FAQs)

What Does SE Mean In Shoes? ULTIMATE Guide

What Does GS Mean In Shoes? GS Shoe Size Chart

What Does H Mean In Shoe Size? (Size Chart)