My foray into the world of kids’ shoes began in earnest during my freshman year of college. After setting out to shop for some winter gear at a Nordstrom in California, my mom and I quickly realized our search would be more successful in a place where winter actually occurs, and we wound up looking through the store’s stock of Hunter boots instead. But the tall women’s rain boots were too tall for my five-foot-two frame, and I didn’t love the way the truncated short boots looked, either. I was ready to call it quits, but on our way out, my even more petite mother suggested we “just look” at the kids’-size boots. Thank goodness for a mother’s intuition: That quick look wound up being anything but when, like Cinderella and those glass slippers, we discovered that the kids’ sizes seemed tailor-made for our (small) adult feet.
A short while later, we each walked out with our own pairs of perfect-fitting kids Hunters — which cost half as much as the women’s sizes but looked better (on my mom and me, at least) because they fit us better. I should note that I am certainly not the first petite person to discover that children’s-size anything works for smaller bodies and feet, nor will I be the last. But since that fateful day, I’ve returned to many a kids’ shoe aisle and found other popular styles that — like the Hunters — fit my slightly smaller than average size 7.5-ish feet, look just as good (or better) than their adult-size counterparts, and cost a lot less. I’ve also found other shoes in fun prints and colors that designers apparently think are too fun for adults. And with conventional wisdom (or at least Nordstrom’s sizing chart) suggesting that U.S. women’s shoe sizes are two sizes bigger than children’s and that kids’ shoe sizes can go all the way up to a women’s 9, my hack isn’t just for the smallest-footed among us. Read on for all the shoes I’ve bought from the kids’ section and a few more I’m planning to make a return visit to get.
The shoe that started it all is pretty much an exact dupe of the $150 Women’s Original Tall Rain Boots but at a fraction of the cost. I say “pretty much” because it’s actually two-and-a-half inches shorter, making it even better if you have shorter legs like me. I wear a kids’ U.S. 6 and still have room for a pair of fuzzy socks on a cold day.
Hiking-boot fit is no joke, and these Merrell kids’ boots — which cost half of their $130 adult counterparts — have taken me up mountains, across deserts, through forests, and from my apartment to JFK, all with adequate ankle and arch support. I’m a size 7.5, and as with the Hunters, there’s still room for a thick pair of hiking socks.
After years of wear, the strap on my $90 adult Steve Madden heels broke, so I bought this actually walkable kids’ version for $35 less and proudly wore them for my college-graduation pictures. (I should note that, yes, I found it a bit odd that Steve Madden makes a heeled shoe like this for kids, but that’s a topic for another story.) I wear a size 5.5 in kids, and the Steve Madden sizing chart conveniently compares kids’ and women’s sizes side by side, making it easy for any adult to find her corresponding children’s size.
When my beloved $105 Chacos were stolen while I was traveling, I replaced them with a size-6 kids’ pair (in the same print) for roughly half the original price. That exact print is no longer sold, but a bunch of others in the brand’s quintessential patterned straps are available in kids’ sizes of all sorts.
Before finding a pair of vintage Adidas sneakers at a thrift store, I was a total stan for these youth-size Adidas Stan Smiths, which fit me perfectly in a size 5.5. They’re generally $30 cheaper than the $80 adult size (on Amazon, at least), meaning a consistent discount.
Years ago, when I spent a summer working as a camp counselor, I was prohibited from wearing backless shoes, so I bought a pair of (size 6) glittery ankle-strap sandals — that look a lot like the pair currently in stock shown here — from the girls’ sandals section at Target. They earned me big style points with my 12-year-old campers, and I learned that shopping in Target’s kids’ shoe section is an inexpensive way to experiment with prints and styles you can’t find in women’s shoe sizes. That same summer, gladiator sandals were all the rage, so I went back to Target and picked up a kids’ pair that was a less-expensive dupe of its adult version.
It’s been hard to justify buying the “shoe of the summer” when I already own a dozen sandals and live in a city where I can wear them for only half the year. But these crunchy classics turned fashion footwear are calling to me, so I might cave for a kid-size pair in a bold print not available in adult sizes (which also cost about $30 more). Based on the fit of my Chacos, I’d probably get a size 6.
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