August 9, 1999 Footwear News p40

17 Common Foot and Footwear Myths

by William A. Rossi

COPYRIGHT 1999 Fairchild Publications Inc.

The footwear industry lives by more mythology than did the ancient Greeks. Every culture needs myths and legends. But when the myths persist long enough to become accepted as realities, we have a skewed view of reality.

And that's what has happened in the footwear industry. Its myths have perpetuated so long that we assume them to be realities. Fiction has become fact.

Let's look at the myths that warp our view of our products.

  1. The foot's arch needs "support." Far more fantasy than fact. Except for a small minority (about 5 percent) of persons afflicted with severe arch breakdown or deep trauma from injury, the arch needs no artificial support. Such "support" may, over a prolonged period, further weaken the arch by interfering with its natural exercise. The arch-support bamboozle costs Americans about $2 billion a year.

  2. People suffer from "fallen" arches. A collapsed or "fallen" arch is rare. This condition usually occurs in less than 1 percent of the population. The term should be expunged from the language.

  3. Hard pavements and floors cause foot strain and breakdown. There's no evidence to prove this. Shoeless natives stand, walk and work for long hours on hard ground or floor surfaces yet have strong, healthy, trouble-free feet.

  4. "Sensible" shoes are best. Not true. So-called sensible shoes have most of the same built-in faults as dress shoes: poor lasts, faults of fit or sizing, pressures and frictions. Plus, some of their own: unnecessary weight, lack of flexibility, plus ugly aesthetics.

  5. The metatarsal arch "falls" and needs support. This is not a "true" arch. It normally flattens on weight bearing. Most metatarsal "arch" problems stem from shoe design and construction problems that deny the metatarsal heads their normal flat planes.

  6. There is a "normal" foot and also a "normal" arch. Both untrue. There is no anatomical "normalcy" for either. Feet come in an enormous range of shapes and proportions.

  7. The big toe is the longest. Untrue. In 20 percent of people, the second toe is longest; in 3 percent, the third toe; and in 2 percent, the first three toes are of equal length. Toe lengths are genetic. Differences in toe lengths are often overlooked in shoe fitting.

  8. The foot's instep and waist need "support." Such as from the hug fit of an oxford or tie shoe. Untrue. Corset-like support here weakens the foot by denying its natural elastic action. Evidence again: those hundreds of millions of shoeless people who have strong, healthy feet.

  9. The foot needs "pronation control" from the shoe. Pronation is the normal mild outward rotation of the heel accompanied by mild lowering of the arch on weight bearing. The foot's natural shock-absorbing action. To prevent or control this denies the foot its needed exercising.

  10. Snug fit is best. Wrong. The foot normally expands about 5 percent over the course of the day so that snug fit becomes tight fit. Most shoes are fitted too snugly—again, for "support" reasons.

  11. Leather "breathes" because it has "pores." Breathing means the capacity of a material to absorb and pass off moisture. Ordinarily, leather does this well, because of its pores, fibers and air spaces. But the tanning and finishing processes clog the pores and spaces with chemical substances and prevent most of leather's natural breathability.

  12. Pointed-toe shoes cause many foot ills. Mostly untrue. The fault isn't mainly in toe shape, but in last design, shoe construction and use of "tricks of the trade." Examples: short-coupled lasts, or shortened forepart compensated by added rear part length to make the foot look smaller; or crooked lasts (most lasts). These, rather than the pointed toe, cause toe pressures.

  13. Foot stretch on weight bearing is all forward. Wrong. One-third is rearward stretch. On a 3/8-inch foot stretch, 1/8 of an inch will be rearward at the heel. Rarely considered. This causes most runover counters.

  14. Bunions, hammertoes and crooked toes are caused by wearing high heels. Men wear low heels and acquire these conditions. So do people who wear "sensible" shoes. The cause is mainly faulty shoe design.

  15. Babies' feet need "support" in their first shoes. Or later, as with tots (waist or ankle corseting, or "firm" soles). This is why most of us start life on the wrong foot, often with later penalties. The less a shoe does to an infant or growing foot, the more it does for the foot. It's a law.

  16. Lack of foot hygiene causes foot odors. Untrue. Most so-called "foot odors" are shoe odors. This results from a combination of heat, perspiration, bacteria and shoe chemicals. Shoeless people rarely have foot odors.

  17. Shoe comfort is mainly a matter of the right size and fit. It's a combination of mechanical, thermal and chemical engineering: proper last design, shoe construction (flexibility, weight, etc.) and inside-shoe climate conditions (heat, moisture, bacteria, hundreds of shoe chemicals, etc.). Yet ironically, the industry has never made a serious study of foot/shoe comfort. Lots of assumptions, few facts.

I could cite a dozen others, but I've run out of space.

It's amazing, but true: The U.S. Patent Office contains more footwear-related patents than for all other apparel-related items combined. And for good reason. More myths and traditions involve footwear than for all other apparel combined. Throughout history, the foot and shoe have held a captive "mystique" for us. From this, countless fables and legends have emerged—and most of our present-day myths.

Some years ago, a mischievous economist devised an ingenious plan to permanently eliminate unemployment. Half of the labor force would be occupied in making and blowing up balloons, the other half sticking pins into them. Perennial employment for all.

Much the same with the footwear industry. We spend half our time creating or perpetuating foot and shoe myths, the other half offering up promises and nostrums to resolve the problems. We've long conditioned consumers to believe that our myths are realities, and we, as the divine rulers of the Holy Grail, have the answers.

How long will it continue? Forever. After all, who would kill the goose who lays the golden eggs?

Myths have more romance than facts. Don't we constantly preach the importance of "romancing" the customer?

So what better way of doing this than keeping the myths alive, so that we believe the myths as facts as much as we've trained consumers to do.