Finding School Shoes

School Shoes

Before you read this, please note: If you are happy with girls school shoes, that’s cool. I’m not having a go at anyone for buying their daughter strappy or slip on girls school shoes. I don’t care. There are wars going on. It’s not taken over my life. But I think it needs addressing. It’s the odd difference in what shoe designers seem to think girls and boys do at school. Anyway, it shocked me, so I wrote about it…

My daughter is starting school soon. I thought buying school shoes would be cool. Exciting. Easy. Go to the shop, get measured and get some shoes. I remember getting my feet measured when I was a kid. It was like a trip to Disneyland. Almost.

It’s my first kid, so everything’s pretty new in this school malarkey.

So, I’m thinking:

What do school shoes need to be?
Black. Fine

What else? Well, it’s September. In England.

Comfortable – for kids growing feet, for feet that are constantly on the move, playing, running round the playground, climbing, skipping, chasing. And sitting in a classroom.

Waterproof – cos we live in England and it rains. Grass gets wet, dewy, pavements have little puddles, rain falls from the sky and drops land on the shoes. Yes, waterproof.

Warm – cos we live in England and it’s gonna get colder and colder from now till Spring.

Strong – cos kids move a lot more than us lazy older sods

Durable – cos they’re expensive!

So I walk in and look at the shoes. Girls on one side. Boys on the other. I see it with toys and fashion and I know it gets talked about a lot. But the difference in school shoes was amazing.

And before the bloody insults start. No, I’m not against everything ‘stylish’, glitzy, glittery. I know every word to Frozen and my kid can prance round the house as much as she wants in my high heels and sequined dresses. I’ve spent the last 2 months jumping around Summer festivals in glittered face and tutus. But this is not a party. Or a fashion show. I’m buying her shoes for school. It’s school. School. School.

Where kids learn
Where kids have lunch breaks and run outside on dewy grass. Wet dewy grass
Where they climb climbing frames and trees outside the front of classrooms

Jump in puddles
Play chase
Where it rains and drizzles and sometimes pours
And kids go outdoors
Get wet and get cold and play outside.
Boys and girls, both ‘sides’.

And the fact that every shoe shop seems to think that only boys do this sort of activity is a little odd. Or that girls who do are ‘tomboys’ rather than simply, girls who move about.Girls really do move about.

Looking around, I notice a few things. The girls shoes are not waterproof. They are not warm. And most of them have no grip. And no thick velcro straps, just little straps and buckles, if that. They are open. They are more flimsy, less material in them and still often more bloody expensive.

Perhaps I’m getting it wrong. Maybe, just maybe, and I might be clutching for straws here, the shoe companies actually think that little girls are tough. Really tough. Tough enough to do all this, to climb and play and run and skip in the rain and cold and get soggy cold feet and slip over more often. Or that little girls are much better at climbing trees so don’t actually need the grip that little boys need. Maybe? Perhaps not.

The next thing I’ve been told in all the shops.

‘But girls like these shoes’. Yes. I get it. You are a business and are catering for the market. But if you walk into a shoe shop with a little girl (as I have done many times as a mother) you realise kids aren’t stupid. They know which side is meant for them. And in the last four shops I went into, the ‘girls’ side had not one pair of shoes that was waterproof, warm, grippy and fitted tightly to her foot. Not one. When she asked the shop assistant if she had any outdoor girls shoes ‘without holes in’, the assistant didn’t dare point to the boys side, but pointed to a pair on the girls side. One pair. With laces. And a heel. She’s four. She can’t do bows yet, sorry. I’m not a genius mother. She would not recommend shoes from the boys side.

If you want to get these girls shoes then fine. If you – as people have told me to do – want to give your girl an extra bag for school each day with wellies in in case it rains or she wants to go outside, fine. If you want your kid to be stylish for school, fine. If you can’t be arsed with the hassle when your little girl wants girl shoes and not the boys shoes fine. But I don’t. I want a pair of practical shoes for my daughter starting school, without making her feel like an oddity.

So here’s an idea for the shops. Totally free.

Take a few pairs of ‘boys’ school shoes. You know, the ones with tightfitting easy to do up Velcro, the ones that cover the kids whole foot so the rain can’t get in, the ones that cover the whole foot so they stay warmer, the ones that are less ‘stylish’ and more practical ‘for active little boys’, the ones that have enough grip on the soles of them for a four year old to climb fucking mount Vesuvius. Get another pair of these from the stock room and put a few of those pairs on the ‘girls’ side. The ones with dinosaurs perhaps (cos there were female dinosaurs). Whatever. Just any boys school shoe. No need for a redesign. No need to add ‘style’ or glitter or flowers or fairies. Because these are just school shoes to wear to school. No need to spend any money on a new product you don’t think will sell because little girls (or mums) ‘just want style’. Just take a few pairs of boys shoes and stick them on the girls side and re-label them ‘girls dinosaur school shoes’ or ‘girls outdoor school shoes’. Put a flower on the label if you have to. Or a picture of a dinosaur with a bow in her hair and longer eye lashes in case we all get too confused.

So that when a little girl walks into a shoe shop to get measured for school shoes, she at least has an option to not feel like she is being dragged to the ‘boys area’, or doing something weird by getting bought a pair of practical shoes for school days in a cold, rainy country. Because although some little girls feel fine to do that, others don’t. Some parents don’t. And tantrums in shoe shops are embarrassing. And sometimes really not worth the hassle. And while the marketing companies say ‘it’s just what they want’, if there’s no other option, it’s hard to see where the chicken and egg begins in all this.

As for party shoes. Do what the fuck you want with them. I don’t care. Make them as glittery and bright and colourful as you can. (and maybe some bright ones for the boys, rather than boring beige or brown). Give them bells and flashing lights and cover them in stardust and treacle. But for school shoes? In a cold, rainy, grassy, muddy, slippy country for kids who play? Please, get a grip.

Ps. If you have no kids and want to see what I’m on about. Google – Girls school shoes. Boys school shoes.


Published by Hollie Poetry

Hollie is a UK poet who loves writing. @holliepoetry

77 thoughts on “Finding School Shoes

  1. THANK YOU! I’ve been saying this for the past 3 years. what happened to all covering girl shoes? why is EVERYTHING mary jane style with gaping fronts for wet socks in my future.
    my daughter also has sensory issues and does not do well with straps across her feet. I really resent having to go out of my way to search out a suitable shoe for her aside from the 18 pairs of mary jane style that clarks stock.
    And, although i could buy ‘boy’ shoes she is well aware that they are ‘boy’ shoes, sticking a heart on the side of a similar style shoe would be all it takes for goodness sake. give us choice!

  2. Totally agree, in one sense.
    But, I’m afraid to say that from experience, boys’ school shoes are actually no better in the rain than girls’, the girls’ shoes amazingly are actually fairly robust despite their girly appearance (well the clarks and start rite ones). *And* more significantly, school s don’t tend to let the children play outside if it’s wet, nor do they allow them on the grass if it has rained at any point in the previous week – health and safety of course!
    They don’t run around outside anything like as much as they used to, and the vast majority of children are *driven* to school, the schools are heated to a ridiculous level and so actually, the amount of time they spend in a cold and wet environment when at school is significantly less than you’d think.

    But yes, whilst I do buy the girl shoes – partially because the girls’ prefer them but also because they tend to fit them better – I do wish shops would stop gender stereotyping *everything* and go for practcality!!

    1. Maybe things have changed, but my daughter started reception last September. They have adopted a lot of Montessori-type methods into the EYFS and in actual fact, they go out in weather that would make Icelandic whalers consider returning to shore. They climb trees, dig up mud with their bare hands, play exciting games of adventure and imagination and my daughter regularly comes home caked head to toe in mud, despite the fact they have waterproofs and wellies to play in. I think it’s absolutely brilliant!

      There is not a single pair of suitable school shoes anyway on planet earth for my daughter, so instead we buy cheap ones, knowing full well they’ll last a few weeks (3-4) at most: more expensive ones fair no better but are more expensive. I wish the school would either let them wear trainers, or the shoes manufacturers would design something akin to trainers – a covered shoe with decent grips, with a scuff-guard at the front to stop them getting scuffed to the point of toes pointing through. Like boys shoes have. There’s no way on earth she’d wear boys shoes, despite the fact she is not a fragile, delicate “girly girl”, quite the opposite. and quite frankly, why should she wear boy’s shoes?

  3. Yes, yes, yes!!
    My daughter starts school this week too and I have had exactly the same problem. We found the perfect boot/shoe but it didn’t go up to her size and all the ones that were her size had laces.
    My daughter would probably love girl dinosaur school shoes just as her older brother, who used to look crest fallen when, after looking at all the ‘beautiful’ (his word, not mine) and colourful shoes on one side of the shop, would be presented with his choice of brown or grey shoes, would have appreciated a more interesting choice of boys’ shoe.

  4. With you on that – for party shoes my 4 year old had silver Kickers boots, then little docs. Now in NZ and school shoes are very practical and boys and girls shoes look exactly the same.

  5. I have 4 boys so have never had this issue or even ever looked at girls shoes – but I did as you suggested and googled and “damn”!

    I’m so glad I was a girl at school when shoes were proper comfy shoes and not ballet rejects with laces and shiny bits 😦

  6. It must be getting worse because as a kid I never liked the sparkles and my mum wouldn’t let me have patent, etc. but I definitely had school shoes and they weren’t from the boys’ side. They had laces too because I have crazy narrow feet and have always needed laces. Oh, and like you, my parents found school shoes expensive so I needed to have a pair that would last until I outgrew them. These aren’t new things – why are the shops getting it so wrong!?!

  7. Over the summer I saw a very young girl trying to climb a huge wooden fort playground thing in a pair of “there’s no place like home”, Dorothy, sequined, HEELED shoes. I know it’s hard to steer girls away from this stereotype but that’s our job as parents! Well said and well done to all those who are helping our girls to be and do anything they want.

  8. Lots of girls in my neighbourhood wear Kickers brand shoes that are waterproof, with grip etc., and come in black or blue. Can’t get them where you are? Admittedly, these girls I am talking about are young teenagers, not five-year olds, maybe that’s part of the issue.

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  10. A light in the darkness – we got some Ricosta school shoes from an independent shoe shop. They are definitely for girls (they have a flower on one side and everything!) but they cover her whole foot, are waterproof, and fasten with two velcro straps. And have a solid, grippy sole.
    Incidentally, my daughter’s sandals this summer were the same brand – purple & silver, butterfly on the strap, and a huge ROBOT on the sole 🙂

  11. yes yes yes!

    Love this blog, you sum up my feelings eloquently. I have a 4 year old boy who loves sparkly stuff and so have the opposite issue but I am with you all the way.

    And yes, I also realise that there are wars on and Ebola is a major threat to humanity but I’m allowed to care about more than one thing and this happens to be something I care about.

  12. Spot on, with the added difficulty of a girl with very narrow feet, so most “boys” shoes just don’t work. She currently has a pair of Clarks mary-janes for school as they were all we could find that fit but wears boots or wellies most of the time. Anyone got recommendations for brands available here?

  13. I made my y9 class do a project on this and shared with them a picture of my daughter in a pair of lace-up Kickers boots. They first had to show they understood what an audience was by designing shoes for little girls (all pink and purple.) then someone said “yebbut Miss that’s stereotyping!” So they read a blog by a mum ranting about Lelli Kelly shoes aimed at 4-year-olds and had to design a pair to sell to such people. I would be happy to share these with unimaginative sales execs whenever.

  14. Hate the girls section for ‘school shoes’ & wish our school allowed them to wear boots in winter as that’s what both mine wear all winter out of school. Elder daughter actually managed to rip the sole off the bottom of a Clarks pair. So annoying that they are just supposed to sit around or get wet feet.
    Found one design (Lina by Ricosta) has velcro straps & grippy soles but has a diamante flower and is available in leather or patent! Purchased them in 3 different sizes off Amazon. Wishing there’ll be some more choices by the time my daughter grows out of them all but not hopeful. Tis a sad & (more importantly) impractical state of affairs.

  15. Very well said. 8 year-old needs sturdy shoes as she has some foot problems. Not a single girls’ pair in Clarks with adequate support around arch and heel. Luckily she didn’t mind buying a pair from the boys’ section.

  16. I don’t understand why shoe companies think girls’ feet don’t deserve to have as much protection as boys feet. If something falls on the girl’s foot, or she’s stepped on, it’s going to hurt the poor kid- a lot more than the same happening to a fully enclosed shoe. And that’s aside from issues of getting cold, wet feet in winter.
    If I was a principal I’d strongly encourage parents to dress male and female students in fully covered footwear for the safety aspect alone. Manufactures may think open tops are feminine and dainty but there’s nothing dainty about having a busted up foot from having a heavy book drop on it.

  17. Have you seen the sketchers range. I get these for my Graddaughter, (and myself!). Some of them they don’t specify boy or girl – just kids. I don’t seem to be able to post the link but they’re on Amazon and called urban tracks.

  18. Spot on. No kids of my own, but I remember all the nonsense and frustration over finding suitable shoes when I was I was a schoolkid.

  19. Someone has just pointed me to this blog after a conversation in my writing group. It’s 2020 and this situation is no better. My child is 12, at secondary school and came home on Friday with cold wet feet because she had had to go to school in the snow in skimpy school shoes. Not just that she is wearing a “girls” style – but she is wearing that style because nothing else fit her when were buying shoes! For older kids in the middle – where secondary schools have strict dress codes, something needs done. I don’t want to be *that* parent, but I also don’t want my kid punished for going to school in footwear appropriate to the season.

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