Making Do in Standard-Width Shoes

a guide for men with narrow feet

When you can’t find shoes sized for your narrow feet, you may get stuck making do in wider shoes. There are two basic approaches you can try, socks and insoles, alone and in combination.

A shoe that’s too wide may also be too tall over your arches. You can take up that space with tongue pads and false tongues.

Filling Width


Principle: Take up differences between narrow feet and wider shoes by making the feet wider.

Small gaps can be filled with cushioned socks. With the right material, such as merino wool, thicker socks won’t necessarily sweat your feet, even in temperate weather.

Increasing the whole volume of your feet to address a width problem may cause crowding in the other dimensions: length and height. Shoes that are already tight over your insteps, such as well fitting Wellington boots or Western boots, might become too tight. Shoes that are just long enough for your toes in thin socks may crowd you toes in thicker ones.

Some sock makers, like Darn Tough, offer cushioned socks in a variety of patterns with different thicknesses of cushion and cushion on different parts of the foot. If fully cushioned socks cause tightness in a particular area, you might try a sock with less cushioning there.


Principle: Take up differences in width by propping the feet higher in the shoes, where they’re narrower.

Seen straight on, looking toe to heel, shoes are nearly all dome shaped, narrowing toward the tops of the vamps and the throats of the quarters. Adding foam (Spenco, Dr. Scholl’s) or leather (Nicks) inserts beneath the feet, or replacing any factory insoles with thicker ones, raises the feet to a narrower level in the shoes.

Much as with socks, and depending on the shape of the shoes, raising the feet may create issues in length and height. Especially in dressier shoes with narrow, short toe. You might be able to work around this using “¾ inserts” only as long as the heel and arch (Spenco, Dr. Scholl’s), or by cutting full-length inserts off under the toes.

Filling Height

Tongue Pads

Principle: Take up empty space above the instep by putting felt or foam under the tongue or vamp.

Commercial tongue pads often come with an adhesive backing for sticking in the shoe. Tongue pads can often also be sewn on with little effect on the shoe’s overall appearance. Simple stitching along the top of the tongue in a matching color can be almost invisible from eye level.

Pedag and others sell fancy, leather-lined, memory-foam ones in two sizes. Multipacks of less expensive, felt ones are also available in various sizes.

False Tongues

Principle: Take up empty space above the instep in laced shoes by putting more leather between the tongue and the eyelet runs.

This also spreads apart eyelets that may have been touching, enabling the laces to pull snug on the top of the foot again.

False tongues are also known as “kilties”. Nicks and other makers sell them as separates.