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.

77 thoughts on “Finding School Shoes

  1. Your mistake is going to shoe shops! Sports shops is where it’s at, we buy all our children’s shoes there now. Nice sturdy pair of shoe looking trainers with velcro, job’s a goodun!

    • (psst it’s Sports Direct we go to, I don’t work there honest! They have hilarious things behind the tills like giant calculators and mugs, which makes the trip more fun too)

  2. Genius 🙂 move a few pairs from the “boy” side to the “Girls” Its so simple and would help those fashion obsessed mums. I am smiling at a dinosaur with a bow and false eyelashes 🙂 I really hope you can change perceptions with this.

  3. Totally understand! we have gone gender-mad! I have 2 boys who sometimes want a bit of glitter… but at least they get to have dry feet.

  4. Last night I also visited the shoe shop with my 9yr old daughter, the one that climbs trees, hangs off the monkey bars and jumps in puddles, we too struggled to find any shoes that covered her whole foot. She was not impressed when I suggested she look in the boys section, she didn’t want to wear shoes that where not marketed at her. It was really quite silly, the offerings we found. We did find the shoes you mentioned, the ones with the lace up front and the small heal. I’m not happy about the heal but at least her shoes will stop the wet and the damp of our English autumn. I did do the passive aggressive tutting and muttering in earshot of the young sales assistant but I fear it wasn’t her idea to push such ridiculous choices in front of my daughter. After leaving the shop we carried on with our lives but perhaps now that I see I am not alone in my thinking I may write to the shoe shop wizards and ask them to sort this out. My daughter doesn’t want any more soggy socks!

  5. this is so true. i have a daughter who likes to play football, climb trees ect. and we go through no end of shoes because she puts the toes through, as there is no extra protection on them and have found this has got worst as shes got older.

  6. Wow love this and I don’t even have a little girl! My 7 year old son certainly does have a lot more choice when it comes to school shoes and I completely agree that boys and girls at school are usually doing similar activities so why should their shoes look so different. There’s plenty of time for uncomfortable shoes when they’re adults so why not let kids be kids and give them the right tools for the job!

  7. I don’t have a child, and I live in Ireland not England (arguably worse weather here!) but I do remember being dragged shoe shopping for school shoes very vividly. My mum always insisted we got shoes exactly like you want, and they often came from the “boys side”, I used to haaate them (while I remembered but then school would start and I’d be too busy being enveloped in the busy buzz I’d forget I was wearing boys shoes).

    There was one shoe shop (It’s shut down now) that was a couple of towns over but after my sister started school she would drive a fair distance out of her way to get our shoes there because it didn’t have a boys or girls side, it had bright primary coloured blocks and shoes scattered all across the walls and tables and there was no boys/girls division, so I didn’t notice what kind of shoes I was getting.

    I totally agree with you, legs and feet are so important and children regardless of gender should have comfortable and waterproof shoes.

    Maybe some shops will take note and change, even just for a while!

  8. Well said!

    It’s been a problem for years too.

    I remember trying to find shoes for secondary school. I’m tall. I have big feet. I won’t wear anything that I can’t be comfortable in all day. Oh, and we didn’t own a car. So I needed warm, and waterproof, and comfortable for walking distances in. And it took the whole summer holidays every year to find them.

    Same with coats, actually- the school said they had to be black. And they had to fit over my school blazer, and be warm and waterproof. Because I walked to bus stop, and waited for the bus, and back again at the end of the day, whatever the weather. Snow, wind, rain…

    School clothes need to be practical. End of.

  9. So glad I had boys (one of whom is now an adult). It’s not what girls want, it’s what advertisers tell them they want. Hot foot it to the Doc Martens store. They’re having a sale this weekend. I’m right with you on this, even though I was one of those girls who nagged at my mum to let me wear heals for school. Ok so that was secondary school in the mid 1970s but even so. She was right and I was a victim to the advertisers.

    I remember having a conversation with my mother in law in what’s now Mothercare World from the other direction, about boys’ clothes versus girls’ clothes. She was waxing lyrical about how all the clothes were Conor’s colours; olive green, orange, sand or navy blue. So I got her to look around and what she saw horrified her. Because while there were plenty of practical girls’ clothes in all sorts of fabulous colours, those four were the only choice for boys. So imagine me, taking my son over to the girls’ section to buy him a purple jumper. I certainly got some “old fashioned” looks.

  10. I agree so much! When I got my two girls their new school shoes last week, I actually said to the shop assistant that I wanted them to try some from the boys’ section. She looked at me like I was mad and said they were too trainer-like for girls. Say what?? Drives me mad that my girls get wet feet, unsupported feet, cold feet, gender-specific shoe styles… then today I get a kids cookbook from the library called “mummy and me” with a girl on the front. JUST STOP IT!

  11. Couldn’t agree more Hollie!! I have a girl who has 2 brothers. When she was little, she ( and her mum) had so many dramas buying clothes and shoes. Good, strong, practical clothes that let you do amazing things without showing your knickers. And a son who was sooo sad when we went shopping for shoes ’cause ” all the nice colours are for the girls” and “why can’t I have some with sparkles too?” I live in Australia and the kids wear trainers to school, but try and find a pair for girls that weren’t pink or lilac – aargh! So we bought the boys ones … She had no problem (blue is still her fav colour!), but the other girls have her a hard time 😦 Why do we have to put our wonderful, strong, amazing, adventurous girls in a pink ribboned box???

  12. Absolutely. And it doesn’t get easier the older they get. My daughter (youngest of three so shopping of any kind hasn’t been like Disneyland for a very very long time) is going into her third year at secondary school. The last couple of years were easy because she, and all her friends, were into the flat, lace up, leather (so vaguely splash proof) sensible practical shoes that my shop of choice (Clark’s for value, actual leather shoes and a good customer policy) provided a few styles of. But this year she wanted a change, which is ok, she’s old enough to choose. Except there was no choice. It was the old style (practical etc) but she just wanted a change – and the alternative, the only alternative, was slipper style ballet pumps! And she rejected the ones that had wide black elastic to hold them (too baby looking) on so I might even be messing around with flesh coloured elastic otherwise her feet are going to be killing her by gripping to hold them on. So that’s what we’ve got because she’s old enough to choose (and not have me foist my choice on her) and now she’s old enough to start to understand the compromising price you pay when you choose style over substance.

  13. So true. As a teacher I hate to see girls in elementary school (to age 11) come in in strappy little high heels. It means they can’t play at recess. They stand at the side looking forlorn while their friends run and jump and climb and slide. Girly shoes are lovely, for some occasions. Not school.

  14. Ah brilliant Hollie. I love that you write about your direct experience of being a mother with a daughter. I have two, both grown-up now and I wish I’d written about each new experience of social conditioning we faced. I too remember that first trip for new shoes with my eldest daughter. It ended badly but had started out with the hope of it being a treat, a nice thing to do together. It wasn’t. I recently went with her to get my grandsons first pair if shoes, his choices ticked all the boxes you mention but I was dismayed when I liked at the girls selection!! Even worse than in my time. Well observed. Thank you x

  15. And a word for those little boys who want red shoes, as mine did 32 years ( yes, 32) ago only to be told that they were girls shoes..we bought them anyway but he never asked for them again the next year.
    I guess the peer pressure did the job for the manufacturers.

  16. I have never read your blog before, but will you marry me? I’ve been doing this shoe (and uniform) thing for a lot of years now and it doesn’t get any better. And can we talk about coats?

  17. A friend sent me here after I had a similar, but less eloquent, rant on Facebook about this very thing. I’m not new to this, my daughter is 13 – let me tell you, nothing has changed. Nuh. Thing. I tricked her into wearing “boy’s” shoes last year, because M&S don’t segregate their school shoes with quite as much gusto as certain shoe shops, but she wasn’t having it this year. It’s like you can have nice-but-useless shoes, or useful-but-clumpy shoes. She cringes when we go into a shoe shop now, with an ‘oh god mum’s off on one about the grippy soles again’ look, but she is just as tired as I am with the way she has to pick her way around in icy weather for fear of falling on her tush, when the boys can just stomp about as normal with their massive hiking shoes. The ultra-control-freakery of her particular school means we can’t even find her some decent adult shoes (not that they’re exactly abundant). It makes me so damn cross, every time. I want to start a shoe revolution, but I’m not sure how. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone though – good luck x

  18. I am on a phone so going to make the basic points on my brain. Simples :o)
    1) As a classroom teacher, I see girls wearing ‘proper’ boots or wellies to school – they then change into ‘school’ shoes on arrival. Then at playtime, they change back into the ‘outdoor’ shoes and change back for lessons. Yes, it’s worse than a Britney Spears concert for the number of costume changes by the end of the day. It’s obviously a problem not just you are facing hols.
    2) Not all girls have this option so on wet days, we can often have wet socks on the radiator in the classroom because shoes are inadequate – girls slip on PE pumps whilst shoes dry out. Not all children have parents who can or will buy extra shoes – some not making the logical connections you have made, distracted by the pretty bows and gems mounted on the sides.
    3) Some girls have really sensible parents who search high and low for sensible shoes (yay) and some happily buy what some would consider ‘boy’ options. They are never involved in the fashion show malarkly which takes a good chunk of time out of my day and well, a good bit of my patience.

    it’s not always a problem – in fine weather, it’s all good! The other 350 days of the year is the problem ;o)

    I too love cute fun shoes for dressing up or looking smart but ultimately, it has to be fit for purpose. Shops and designers need to consider this! Please, soon!

  19. I largely agree with this though I will say:

    Waterproof shoes are a bad idea for boys and girls. This is because by nature of stopping water getting into the shoe they also stop the feet from “breathing”. Having had waterproof shoes for one of my sons I learned that his socks were literally wringing wet from his sweat. We would have been better taking our chances with puddles and rules for when not wearing wellies. I wont be buying waterproof shoes again.

    I also wanted to point out that the “range” of boys shoes is awful. Startrite hired Clarks designer meaning that the offerings from these two leading brands were almost identical. Every boys shoe is either almost I seperable from a trainer (not smart enough for school in my opinion and if I want my children to wear trainers then this is what I will buy) or is so incredibly heavy the sole does not bend and their feet are almost glued to the floor.

    Yes, some boys like to spend all their time playing football. But not all. And I would like to have colours available beyond brown or black. Girls can get party shoes. Where is the equivalent for boys to wear outside of school? What’s wrong with blue, red or white shoes, or even pastel colours?

    In clothes and shoes it is clear that buyers for childrens wear think boys clothes need to be less special and less varied to the girls offerings.

    Take a look in any shop. Choice for girls is always at least twice as varied as it is for boys.

    This needs to be addressed. Men can buy almost any colour and many designs of shoes. Women can. Girls can. Why can’t boys? Do they matter any less?

  20. Having two boys, and being male, I have no idea what kind of struggle you have had – however, some observations I can make from what I have noticed in the past:

    Patent shoes. Nearly all girls shoes are patent shoes. I have a pair of patent dress shoes to wear with a dinner suit, and that alone – I know I would scuff them if I used them for any other occasion, and I’m almost 40. How on earth do makers think they will survive more than a couple of hours with school-age girls?

    Pink. Is it compulsory for girls shoes to have pink somewhere? either stitching or lining or somewhere else?

    Holes. Do young girls feet really need continuous airflow round them to account for the holey shoes that appear to be the norm? Teenage boys shoes (and I can say this from experience!) really should have continual airflow round them! I can’t see the same applying to 4 y/o schoolgirls (I could be wrong of course!). As you say, why do they make them full of holes? – especially for in the UK!

    Sides: Why do we have sides in shoe shops for school shoes? Why not have them all on one wall, starting with really girly ones, ending with really boyish ones – those in the middle being unisex – no discrimination, just comfortable, hard-wearing sensible school shoes. Pretty similar thought to what you say.

    Good luck with finding some sensible footwear for your daughter!

  21. THIS is why BOTH my kids (girl and boy) spend most of the winter wearing BOOTS! 😉
    And I’m SO done with the whole “girl stuff” “boy stuff” game. Seriously. Why can’t we just have KIDS STUFF! x

  22. I hear you!

    I have a little girl who loves pink and sparkles… but who also loves playing in the mud. She is a little girl who enjoys playing.

    We also have the added problem of extra wide feet. And she has the choice of 3 pairs in one well known shoe shop… we ended up going to a competitor and thankfully while they are pretty and sparkly they are also pretty practical.

  23. I couldn’t agree more. We discovered something similar with sandals. My elder daughter has wide, difficult to fit feet and prefers “boy” colours, so she had chosen “boy” sandals one year aged about 6. Her younger sister was wearing standard “girl” sandals that summer. One day in the park we discovered DD1 could climb a piece of equipment that DD2 simply couldn’t. Nothing to do with relative age, height or strength – DD2 is actually better at that kind of thing – only that her sandals didn’t give her enough grip to climb. I was infuriated too.

  24. Try Ecco.
    They have what you are looking for – for girls.
    They are out there, you just have to dig deep and look much harder than should be necessary!

  25. Brilliant! I have been buying my own shoes from ‘the boy’s side’ since forever, and for the same reasons. Shoe design has litle o do wirh practicality and comfort, at least not for girls or women. I have been relieved here in the US to see a few tennis shoes recently in pretty colors and design. Perhaps they are learning? Because THOSE shoes fly off the shelves.

  26. Thank you.
    My daughter is starting school and we have had the same problem. She wore out 8 pairs of shoes in nursery and I didn’t understand why. The I reaslused it’s because she wears trainer type shoes when we do all the fun things kids should do. I resulted to black trainers.


  27. As always, you speak the glaringly obvious truth. Thanks. Hope your little girl lives school. My eldest son starts on Monday. Gulp.

  28. Hi I perfectly see what you mean I have the same problem except I was born on a Swiss mountain and I grew with sturdy shoes and I still buy sturdy shoes for my kids – a boy and a girl and the truly sturdy ones pass from boy to girl, she adds socks with frills or hears whatever even strawberry printed stockings… feet must be kept dry! and warm! I find Kickers and Bisgard ankle boots they are pretty cool and efinitely unisex – why not a boy with red boots? although pretty expensive 😉

  29. Yes yes yes! This is how I feel. My 7year old and I have this same problem. I cry when I go and buy her shoes. She hates all the girly flouncy pink and unpractical shit she gets shown in the shop. I hate it too. Wtf is wrong with marketing and companies dictating what genders should like or not like.

  30. We check out both girls and boys section of clothing and shoe departments. My daughter (9) is more comfortable in a lot of the boys clothing. Sadly when looking at school shoes recently she would only look at the boys shoes and unfortunately none of them fitted her properly, so we came away with nothing and she is still using the pair we bought before summer. But she won’t have long in them before she grows out of them 😏 the girls shoes tend to be totally ridiculous, just as you say …. 😕

  31. I wrote to Clarks twice about their range of girls shoes. They basically said understandably they have great girl shoes. My 2yo daughter has had a pair of boys dinosaur shoes, which she totally wore the front off in 3 months. I’ve just bought some girls boots, I give them 2 weeks tops before they have holes in. They’re not fit for purpose, and I’ve been acused of shoe abuse by Clarks. She’s 2 it’s her job. Rant over.

  32. Have been saying that for years, my daughter is 9yrs old. This year I found something better than usual from an independent seller who stock European brands.

  33. I don’t know if you are allowed them at your school, but my 5 year old wears black New Balance velcro trainers, which meet all the above requirements. We bought them from a New Balance outlet store, which only sells trainers so no ‘boys section/girls section’ just a kids section. She also has a pair of Clarks Mary Janes which have sturdy velcro but do have that problematic gap between the velcro and the toe coverage area, but are otherwise sturdy and grippy.
    I feel your pain though, just like how difficult it is to buy girls anything that isn’t pink or purple or pastel….

  34. The “girls” vs “boys” side is so powerful. My 9yo daughter, ever since she could express an opinion (from a frighteningly young age) has shunned girls’ clothes and shoes and we cannot put even a toe in the “wrong” department. We recently had a discussion about jeans and how she might have to start looking at the girls’ ones, even though I pointed out the absolute plainness of some pairs the fact that they are “for girls” is so deeply entrenched.

  35. Really important article. Thanks, Hollie.

    I’m grateful that my daughters are now teenagers and choose to wear black Kickers to school. Most people wear Kickers to their school and Kickers are EXACTLY the same for boys and girls. Heavy, strong, waterproof, grippy and non-gendered. Result!

  36. Hi Hollie,

    I have no children but can see exactly what you mean. When you go into a shoe shop and I know your little girl can see which are the girls shoes and which are the boys but I wonder if you tried subtly to say that the girls side are the summer shoes and say the boys are the winter ones. I just wondered if that would work, start from when they are young. As long as they don’t actually put labels on them, which they’re probably not allowed to do.

  37. Yes it’s madness hollie. My 5yr old boy got so excited by the glitter and shiny ‘girls’ shoe that I bought it for him, totally impractical and the comments I had from total strangers upon seeing a boy wearing a girls shoe made me feel as if the world has gone mad and we are robots or droids with one dimensional views and will explode if challenged. Don’t get me started on my younger sons love of wearing a dress!!! X

  38. As a dad who buys his daughters’ school shoes every year I often wondered why shoes for girls seem so unsuitable for use. This year one of my daughters decided she wanted some brouges which is a much more sensible shoe choice.

  39. Love your diatribe. However, it doesn’t get better as they get older. I hate buying school shoes for my “heavy on shoes” 12 year old. We can agree on brogues – fits in with your weatherproof and warm criteria. But she wants the thin soiled flimsy ones that cost £40.00 and will be lucky to last a term, whilst I want her to have the clumpy ones at £55.00, but at least I can polish them and have them re heeled and re soiled in the hope that they will last more than 2 terms.

    Please, please shoe manufacturers come up with modern designs that will appeal to both parents and kids, and that will be warm and hard wearing for little ones who play out a lot and for big ones, who have to walk miles around secondary schools from lesson to lesson.

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