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The Difference Between Men’s And Women’s Shoes + A Helpful Conversion Chart

Before you can even begin narrowing down the selection of shoes to find the right pair for your needs, you have to decide if you will buy men’s or women’s shoes.

Is there a difference between men’s and women’s shoes? Can women wear men’s running shoes or other types of sneakers? What is the women’s to men’s shoe size conversion and the men’s to women’s shoe size conversion?

In this article, we will cover the difference between men’s and women’s shoes, along with a shoe size conversion chart that you can use to convert women’s to men’s shoe sizes or men’s to women’s shoe sizes so you can choose whichever shoes you like best!

More specifically, we will cover the following: 

  • Can Women Wear Men’s Running Shoes?
  • Is There a Difference Between Men’s and Women’s Shoes?
  • Primary Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Shoes
  • Men’s and Women’s Shoe Size Conversion Chart

Let’s dive in! 

A pair of women's and a pair of men's shoes.

Can Women Wear Men’s Running Shoes?

There are certain types of shoes that clearly seem to be designed with men or women in mind rather than being a unisex shoe style.

Of course, this point, along with everything discussed hereafter in this article, is based on the general category of two genders—men and women—with the understanding that some people identify as non-binary or another gender.

With that said, when looking at dress shoes, for example, styles like high heels and ballet slipper-like flats are almost exclusively designed for women, and men’s dress shoes similarly have a distinct appearance.

However, when it comes to athletic shoes, such as running shoes, the difference between men and women shoes for running or other sneakers are more nuanced.

Although certain running shoes or sneakers might be found in the men’s section of a shoe store or labeled as “men’s running shoes,“ some women may choose to wear men’s running shoes if the fit, feel, and appearance better meet their needs and preferences or vice-versa.

Thus, the short answer to both questions “Can men wear women’s running shoes?” and “Can women wear men’s running shoes?“ is yes.

Ultimately, you should get the shoes that feel most comfortable.

A person trying on shoes.

Is There a Difference Between Men’s and Women’s Shoes?

Within certain sectors of the footwear market, when women’s shoes first debuted, there were hardly any differences between women’s and men’s shoe models.

In fact, there was even a popular saying to describe the differences between women’s and men’s running shoes as “shrink ‘em and pink ‘em.”

This cutesy saying essentially just referred to the fact that women’s running shoes and men’s running shoes were virtually identical from a design and features standpoint, and the only real differences between women’s running shoes and men’s running shoes were the colorways and sizing.

In this way, you could just use a women’s to men’s size conversion chart or a men’s to women’s size conversion chart to get the same fit with a men’s or women’s running shoe in the color option of your choice.

However, as running shoe companies and other manufacturers of athletic shoes and footwear have spent more time investigating the differences between men’s and women’s foot shapes, biomechanics, and support needs, the differences between men and women shoes have expanded beyond just color options and a basic shoe size conversion.

A person trying on shoes.

Primary Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Shoes

Let’s examine some of the main differences between men’s and women’s shoes for running as well as other types of sneakers and athletic shoes.

Note that not all of these differences will necessarily apply to every single type of sneaker or footwear, but they are some of the common differences between men’s and women’s running shoes, walking shoes, and general cross-training shoes.

#1: Sizes

Despite the fact that advancements in R&D and technology have created more of a diversion in men’s and women’s shoes in general, still, the primary difference between men’s and women’s shoes of any type is the sizing.

We will provide a men’s to women’s shoe size conversion chart later in this article, but for now, noting the main difference in sizing with men’s shoes versus women’s shoes is that men’s shoes are typically about 1.5 sizes larger than women’s shoes when the shoe size number is the same.

A person trying on shoes.

In other words, when you compare a men’s shoe size 8 to a women’s shoe size 8, the men’s shoe size 8 actually corresponds to what the same brand would label as the women’s shoe size 9.5.

Therefore, if a woman wanted to wear a men’s running shoe, and she usually wears size 8.5 women’s shoes, she would need a men’s size 7.

#2: Fit

Although the primary difference in sizing between men’s and women’s shoe sizes is the length, men’s shoes also tend to be somewhat wider overall.

Even more nuanced than that, women’s shoes are typically narrower in the heel relative to men’s shoes but wider in the forefoot and toe area.

These differences in fit have been implemented due to research suggesting differences in both the anatomy or shape of the foot, as well as the biomechanics of the running stride.

A narrower heel is thought to help better control pronation upon landing, which has been demonstrated to be more of a need for women versus men due to the Q-angle of the hips.

A person on a track.

These differences in the overall fit and sizing of men’s running shoes vs women’s running shoes (or other athletic sneakers) tend to apply even once you convert sizes between men’s and women’s shoes.

For example, as mentioned, men’s shoes are typically 1.5 sizes larger than women’s shoes. 

Therefore, when you compare a men’s shoe size 8.5 and a women’s shoe size 10, the length of the shoes may be similar, but the shape of the shoe, and thus the fit, may still be somewhat different, as described above.

Note that the overall shape and fit of a shoe varies based on the brand. 

For example, with running shoes, Brooks running shoes tend to have a wider toebox than Nike or ASICS running shoes.

Still, the general trends that men’s running shoes will be slightly wider overall and women’s running shoes will have a snugger heel and roomier toebox tend to still apply across brands when comparing the men’s vs women’s running shoe models.

People in a corral waiting to start a race.

#3: Weight

Another key difference between men’s and women’s training shoes is the materials used and the weight of the shoe. 

These construction differences are based on the fact that the average woman is lighter and smaller than the average man. 

In general, particularly with running shoes, men’s running shoes are designed to support and cushion about 15% more body weight than women’s running shoes.

Accordingly, men’s running shoes and training shoes typically have materials used in the midsole and outsole that are more durable and designed to sustain greater impact forces due to the heavier body weight.

Women’s running shoes are lighter than men’s running shoes and have a softer midsole because lower impact forces will be applied.

Of course, not all women are lighter than men, even when you convert between women’s and men’s shoe sizes.

A variety of sneakers.

For this reason, if you are a larger woman, you may be better suited to wearing men’s running shoes or training shoes.

The men’s shoe will not only better support your body weight and provide the cushioning you need upon landing during high-impact activities like running, but the sole of the shoe will also be more durable, helping increase how long the shoe will last.

This does not necessarily mean that every woman should immediately switch to wearing men’s running shoes because they are inherently more durable; as mentioned, when comparing men’s vs women’s running shoes of the same size, men’s shoes will be heavier, which can impact running speed and performance.

Finally, one other difference between women’s and men’s shoes based on weight is the fact that women’s shoes often have deeper grooves in the forefoot (to be more flexible) to help make it easier to flex the forefoot at push-off.

This again goes back to the fact that women tend to be lighter, so it can be more difficult to flex a stiff shoe, and the weight distribution between women’s and men’s bodies change the force pattern throughout the foot strike.

A person tying their shoe.

Men’s and Women’s Shoe Size Conversion Chart

Here is a basic men’s to women’s shoe size conversion chart:

Women’s Shoe Size77.588.599.51010.51112
Men’s Shoe Size5.566.577.588.599.510

For more information about how shoes should fit, check out our guide here.

A pair of colorful running shoes.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

1 thought on “The Difference Between Men’s And Women’s Shoes + A Helpful Conversion Chart”

  1. Thank you for your article, as I have learned more from it than anything else I have been able to find in my search for information on the subject of the differences between women’s and men’s shoes. I’m not much into running or walking regularly but I have a lot of problems with my feet since I have gotten older and I’m looking for ways to help me with the pain in my feet when I wear shoes, especially for extended amounts of time. I’m curious to know whether or not I would have an issue with the heel area slipping and causing problems if I switched to a men’s shoes for everyday wear? My toes, and the sides of the toe areas are my biggest issue, it’s almost like the foot padding has slipped out from under the part of the foot below the toes, and is riding beside it and it’s painful to walk after awhile.

    Reply

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