Tuesday Tips: Buying Children's Shoes

It never fails. Every time I take my 4-year-old daughter shoe shopping, she always makes a beeline for the sandals covered in pictures of Disney princesses or Dora the Explorer. I don't have anything against Cinderella and her crew but those shoes never look very durable to me. I guess it's too many tiaras on a leather strap for my taste. So I tapped the expertise of Jackie (she wanted her last name withheld), who owns Bradshaw's Children's Shoes, an Arlington establishment that's been around since 1834. She had a few tips for buying shoes for children:

Tip #1: Don't even think about buying your child a pair of shoes until they've taken some steps on their own. Yes, it's so tempting to buy that teeny tiny pair of Mary Janes for your infant but they'll only serve as decoration. They're not even necessary for babies who are attempting to walk. Wait until they've taken a few steps on their own.

Tip #2: The first pair of shoes should be flexible, stable and fit perfectly, Jackie says. And that first pair of shoes doesn't have to be the classic white baby shoe that eventually gets turned into a brass bookend in the family library. Just try to stay away from sneakers with thick soles. They won't be flexible enough for new walking feet. And the popular soft-soled shoes that look like leather socks lack the stability that new walkers need. "Good shoes have nice bottoms that help them balance," Jackie says.

Tip #3: Expect your child to go up a half-size every three months for the first two and a half years of their life. After that they'll be going up a half size every four to six months. That pace may not even slow down until they're about age 6.

Tip #4: Getting the right shoe for your child is based on both a professional shoe measurement that can be done at a shoe store and a lot of parental intuition. "Not every shoe goes well with every child," Jackie says. Have the child do a few laps around the store. You'll be able to gauge in a few minutes whether the shoe will work for your child's foot. The child's big toe should be an adult's thumb-width away from the front of the shoe.

Tip #5: Consider shelling out the money for a pair of nice kid's shoes if you know your child will be wearing them nearly everyday. They'll last longer and may even hold up enough for younger siblings. You can turn to cheaper sources for secondary shoes that they're not going to wear as much.

Tip #5: Even if you buy all of your child's shoes from Target, visit a shoe store every few months to get the child's foot measured. That way you at least know the correct size to buy.

Tip #7: If you find a pair or brand of shoes that has worked well for your child, stick with it and buy larger sizes as your child grows. But shop around, even on the Internet, to find the best deals.

Where do you buy your kid's shoes? Have you ever bought them online? What are some other tips for buying children's shoes? Post a comment below.

Also, I'm looking for some stories about renting unusual items. We all know you can rent movies and cars but some companies are offering handbags and jewelry for rent as well. Have you done this? If so, please e-mail me about your experience at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  May 13, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Kid Stuff , Tuesday Tips
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Try the Stride Rite Outlet at Arundel Mills Mall or at other outlet centers. They will measure your child's foot and you can get the nice stride rite shoes for about $10 -$15 less than at the regular stores in the mall. Each season my girls get 1 very sturdy, more expensive pair of shoes and then a couple of pairs from Target/Sears/The Shoe Dept. So they end up with sneakers, sandals, flip flops. . .

Posted by: LBH219 | May 13, 2008 7:44 AM

Stride Rite has been very useful. They have some quality shoes and are more in tune with what children need than the fancy boutiques. Some toddlers need extra wide shoes; the pad of fat on the top of the foot requires a wider shoe so that the foot isn't being squeezed uncomfortably. Stride Rite is the ONLY store that carries extra wide. THere is only one or two choices of shoe, unfortunately, but its available and its quality and its less expensive than other places. Oh, and know this: Kids shoes are a racket and you are being ripped off. You will spend $40-60 on toddlers shoes. Around the same price you pay for adult shoes, even though the kids shoes only use 10% of the material. Know when you're being ripped off and refuse it. Too many snobs say "oh my husband is a lawyer and I have a Lexus SUV. I can afford it. Money is no object." Money is an object. Just ask the hundreds of millions of people around the world living in poverty and starvation. If consumers reject manufacturers' attempts to rob them, prices will go down. America needs to get its collective head out of its ass. $50 for kids shoes that fit for 3 months is a good place to start.

Posted by: oo7 | May 13, 2008 11:04 AM

I used to go to Stride Rite but found them to be extremely expensive. I found Olly Shoes and they have quality namebrands for a great price. The other day I bought my girls New Balance sneakers for the same price that I pay for cheap Target sneakers (that fall apart in a month).

BTW, Payless carries Wide shoes as well for children.

Posted by: Shoe Fan | May 13, 2008 11:20 AM

My son worn extra wide shoes for his first year and now he's in regular wide. This means that we have to go to Stride Rite (Leesburg outlet), but they are so expensive. I wish other children's stores would sell wide fitting shoes. It feels like Stride Rite has a monopoly on good quality children's shoes, in a variety of sizes.

Posted by: Karen | May 13, 2008 12:16 PM

www.kidsurplus.com is a great, discount resource for kids' shoes.

Posted by: ep | May 13, 2008 12:58 PM

Where do you go to get shoes for girls who have outgrown child sizes? My 10 year old is in a size 6.5 and has classmates who are in size 8! Kids shoes stop at size 6 for girls. It is so hard to find any shoes that match her maturity level, especially for nice occasions.

Posted by: SKR | May 13, 2008 2:44 PM

I buy toddler shoes used at Once Upon a Child in Crofton. There's apparently one in Manassas too. Stride Rites are $10/pair and everything else is $4-5. When they go up a size every three months, the shoes are still practically new when you're done with them anyway.

Posted by: Katherine | May 13, 2008 3:44 PM

I have bought Stride Rite shoes off of ebay with great success. Also, last week I bought a pair from shoebuy.com, which offers free shipping on the purchase as well as the return, if the shoes didn't work out. Amazon.com also sells Stride Rite shoes supplied from a variety of online shoe stores, and that provides a great way to price-compare.

Posted by: Jennifer | May 13, 2008 4:46 PM

Many shoe stores won't sell children's shoes nowadays because kids shoes have an extremely high return level. And many parents refuse to believe their shoe salesperson (me for example...) when we say that junior is now a size so and so....

Posted by: Chuck | May 14, 2008 2:22 AM

My 4 y.o. boy is one of those kids with wide feet, too. Land's End now carries wides in many of its kids' shoes, at about $10 less than the Stride Rite toll for about the same quality. I refuse to pay more than $40 even for shoes DS wears day in and day out. Maybe it's a boy thing, but I'll go that high since we get out money's worth from those shoes--he picks a favorite pair for weeks on end, won't wear anything else, and thus wears them out most of the time.
I get him measured twice a year at StrideRite to make sure his feet aren't growing faster than I think they are, and he gets a pair from SR then. Otherwise, it's Land's End for me. I even scored some wide sandals from last year's overstock for $5!!

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