At last, small vindication for big-footed women everywhere. A recent Debenhams survey has revealed that female feet are growing, with the average size having upped from a UK 5 to a 6 in the past five years and increasing demand for 9s, 10s and even size 11s now too. At size 8 (and a little bit) myself, it's joyous news to see this "condition" being recognised. And condition it is. As other large-footed women will testify, having big feet is one of life's greatest trials. Not for us the Sex and the City-type dribbling over shoes or the thrill as we walk into a shoe store. Oh no. Rather, we face the humiliation of entering a shop, picking up a shoe and whispering to the assistant "What's the biggest size that you do in these?"
I have suffered for some time. I didn't emerge as a newborn with size 8 (and a little bit) whoppers. But the first inkling of the problems that I would later face came early in life, when aged 11 and shopping for new school shoes with my mother. "Oh love, I think you'll have to try to boys' section," sighed the kindly Scottish assistant. The end result was a sturdy pair of brown brogues. "Why didn't you bind them at birth?" I wanted to scream at my mother.
I have lied to ex-boyfriends about my shoe size, blistered and crippled my feet often by wearing shoes that are too small and, while living in London, often used to shop at the brutishly named Elephant Feet in London, which catered specifically for women of my kind. We're not alone either. Michelle Obama has size 9 feet, so do Paris Hilton, Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet. But with this recent news and recognition of the problem, will shoe designers and shops start helping us out? Plenty of shops say they offer a line up to size 9, but what this means is that they order just one pair in that size and the spoils go to whichever bigfoot clomps into the store first. Finding flat shoes is tricky enough; finding heels that fit is well nigh impossible. I often want to hack my own toes off.
So to Dubai Mall, where there are 50 shoe shops in total. Surely there would be something here to fit me? I started high, strolling along Fashion Avenue and heading for Dolce & Gabbana. "What sizes do you go up to?" I asked the assistant. Her eyes flitted quickly down to my flip-flopped feet and up again. "Sometimes we go up to a 41, but only sometimes," she said uninterestedly. "That's a UK 8?" I ventured. "I think so," she sniffed.
Nearby in Gina, there was a sale. Racks of shoes were laid out according to size. The biggest option was the 7-8.5 bracket. The assistant was helping another shopper. "They will expand with wear," she said. Ha, I thought: that old chestnut. The rack there was uninspiring. As always, the largest shoes left were revolting. I have worn bowling shoes that were less ugly. And there seemed to be few that were actually sized 8.5. Did they actually have any, I asked the assistant. "Normally just in flats," she said. Of course, because big-footed women never want to wear heels. I walked out. But it was even worse in Jimmy Choo, where they only stock up to a size 7. "In Europe it's different," I was told.
Lower down the price scale, things become less dispiriting. I asked to try on a pair of brown, suede boots in Aldo. The assistant disappeared for several minutes to find them, worrying that they didn't have any size 8 left, which is the largest they offer. (It always takes longer to find bigger sizes, I suspect, because they order so few of them and stuff the boxes right at the back). They felt reasonably comfortable, but not quite comfortable enough. The assistant made that hollow smile they always do when you tell them you'll "think about it and maybe come back later". But at least there, much as in Steve Madden nearby, there were options that I could just about squeeze into.
It's worth remembering that shoe sizes in different shops vary greatly. A size 40 in one place could be radically different to a 40 elsewhere. One of the worst offenders is Zara, which makes inexpensive, pretty shoes but in sizes that come up horribly small. Do all the women in Spain have miniature feet? The place I have had most success previously in finding heels (or party shoes as my mother would call them) is Kurt Geiger - both its own label and Carvela, which is carried by the chain. In Dubai Mall's Kurt Geiger outlet, I grabbed a couple of pairs to try on - in a 41, which was, again, the largest size the store carries. Sadly, the manager, Dilip Solanki, confirmed my earlier suspicions, explaining that the chain only orders one pair of each style in a 41 and two in a 40. People with big feet most often wear flats, he told me, because they don't want to be too tall. Perhaps partly true, but not all women with large feet are giants. More often we're forced into flats simply because we can't find heels - it's a shoe catch-22.
Of the three pairs of heels I tried on in Kurt Geiger, I could only shoehorn my feet into one of them. But I couldn't walk in them because they were too sore on my toes. I sighed, and pulled my flip-flops back on. I would say I was disappointed, but walking out of these shops empty-handed is a familiar feeling. And until designers, manufacturers and shops buck up their ideas, my fellow sufferers, that feeling will continue to dog us.
* Sophia Money-Coutts