What to do when your sneakers don’t fit (and you can’t return them)

A couple of years ago, I bought two pairs of sneakers because I fell in love with their design and they were on sale. The problem was I was unfamiliar with the sizing of the sneakers. They came in some strange numbered sizes that I had not seen before. No problem. Just try them on for size, right? And here is where I learnt an important lesson. Just because you can get your feet into the shoes at the shoe shop, it doesn’t mean that you can actually wear them in real life.

After trying on the sneakers, I bought two pairs. Even though these sneakers seemed to fit me in the shop, in reality they were much too small. When you try shoes on in a shop, you don’t wear them for very long or walk very far in them. In real life, when I wore my sneakers to work, they pinched my toes and hurt my feet and I could barely hobble about in them. I had to go home from work at lunchtime just to change my shoes. In the end, I had to give away those sneakers, even though I love them so much.

Recently, I bought these Mickey Mouse sneakers. The problem was, they didn’t have any in my size. I had the choice of buying them either 1 size too small or 1 size too big. Remembering the pain of what had happened to me with too-small shoes, I chose to buy a pair that was too big.

Shih Yen's pair of Mickey Mouse shoes

Shih Yen’s too-big Mickey Mouse sneakers, made of canvas and rubber.

I suppose at this point, any logical and sane person would ask why don’t you just buy shoes that actually fit? Why do they have to be too big or too small? Are you trying to impersonate Goldilocks or something? My answer to that is: sometimes you love the shoe design so much AND it is on sale, how could you NOT buy them, even if they are not quite the right size.

So now, faced with a pair of sneakers that are a size too big, I investigated ways to make them fit. First, I tried them on with a pair of thick woollen socks and it was great. The thick wool made my feet one size larger and the sneakers fit me well. However, the thick wool socks solution only works in winter or in cold weather. So I looked at another option for making big shoes fit better.

The second thing I tried was insoles. I bought a pair of Australian-made insoles. My insoles are made of foam latex, but this company also makes insoles in lamb’s wool, though these cost almost double the price of the foam latex one. The main purpose of insoles are to provide added support and cushioning for your feet. The insoles I bought also come with an anti-bacterial ultra-fresh formula that kills odour-causing bacteria (well, that’s what it says on the box). The insoles come with a handy shoe size template, which you use to trim the insoles to size. Ideally, trim the insoles to one size larger than shoe size and insert into shoes with fabric side up. With insoles in my too-big sneakers, the shoes fit well with regular socks instead of thick wool socks.

Foam latex insoles and the shoe size template to trim the insoles to size.

Foam latex insoles and the shoe size template that is used to trim the insoles to size.

I have learnt that when faced with shoes that are either too big or too small, it is better to go with shoes that are too big, because you can’t do anything about too-small shoes. With shoes that are too big, you can try wearing them with thick woollen socks; inserting insoles into the shoes and tying the shoelaces tight to make them fit better.