People who have never felt much foot pain (usually young people) seem to be able to stuff their feet into any shoes they happen to like. If they’re a bit tight, so what, they’ll break them in. Others can’t tolerate any discomfort on their feet whatsoever. These are the people for whom shoes purchased out of a box, no matter what the size, just don’t cut it. Purchasing shoes that are extra wide to accommodate wide forefeet generally don’t fit well around the mid-foot and the heel, and people with very narrow feet are simply not serviced well by shoe stores, because the economics of producing and inventorying extra sizes for a minority of customers doesn’t work out well for retail. Then there are the people with 2 different-sized feet, feet that are too tiny for adult styles, or feet too big to be fitted in anything but basketball shoes. These are the people who will require some customization of their footwear.
$ Self Help
Feet are not that sensitive but not a common size
Comfort shoe stores that specialize in carrying in carrying a large size inventory.
In San Francisco, we recommend On the Run on 9th Avenue and Shoes and Feet on Lombard Street.
There are also pedorthic centers that have extensive inventories of ready-made shoes in multiple widths.
$$ Self Help
Feet are very wide at the ball and toes, or you have bunions
Over the counter shoes that are made of elasticized materials, soft weave leather uppers, or very soft kidskin or deerskin.
For quick break-in, wet the uppers with alcohol and water, and then wear them until they are almost dry.
$$$ Pedorthist or Shoe Repair Shop
Feet that are too sensitive to break shoes in
Have them stretched professionally
Feet that hang over the side of the shoes after they were stretched
Cut and spread technique
Feet are misshapen to the degree that you can’t find comfort by the previous options
Be fitted with special therapeutic (not necessarily unfashionable) shoes that come in a wide variety of widths and also have extra depth designed into them.
Custom orthotic devices can inhibit feet from spreading and elongating so much on weight-bearing.
$$$$ Pedorthist and/or Custom Shoemaker
Feet are deformed to the degree that they are no longer shaped like ready-made footwear
You are unable to find an acceptable style in shoes that fit and are comfortable