One of my earliest memories is of my first day of school. I clearly remember putting on my uniform, a blue-checked dress with a little belt, the excitement as Mum did my hair in pigtails; packing my school case and putting on my Clarks sandals.
I strapped them on myself, fumbling with the little silver clasp. I loved those sandals. Of course, I didn’t know back then how important those shoes were. Now as a parent, I’m having my own kids fitted for school shoes and I know why it’s important.
First day of school
I remember the moment I walked into my first classroom, the feeling of thrilled anticipation. I can clearly see the desks, grouped together in pods of four and being shown where to put my school case (not a bag or a port, but a hard case with buckles). I remember meeting Mrs O’Loughlin, my Year 1 teacher, a kindly grey-haired lady who I got along with very well. And I remember sitting next to a little blond-haired girl called Page, who became my best friend. I can also remember playing in the playground and screwing up the courage to go on the flying fox. Remembering all this is amazing, I think, when I only attended that school for a year. It was Camden Primary School in the suburbs of Adelaide and by the end of that year my family had relocated to Townsville, in north Queensland, where I resumed my education at Belgian Gardens State School. I remember wearing the same school sandals to school and wishing I could wear sneakers like the other kids.
“Young feet need to breathe in this hot climate,” Mum would say, pointing out that my sandals had been properly fitted and were the best for growing feet. I remember being fitted for the sandals. Sitting on the seats in the shoe shop while the lady would place my feet in the fitting gauge, taking measurments of the width of my foot, the length and the height of the arch. “Clarks,” she would suggest to Mum. Mum would nod. It was always Clarks.
Years later, Mum revealed how, in our leanest times, she would make big sacrifices to ensure her kids were wearing Clarks shoes for school. “They are properly fitted to your feet and are made to allow young feet to grow properly,” she would say. Mum was big on the Clarks shoes.
Fast-forward 20 years and I’m now ‘shoeing my’ own children for school. I’ve learned now how important correctly fitted shoes are. And like my mum all those years go I’m keenly focused on balancing what’s best for growing feet and what’s affordable.
Tips about kids and shoes
There are some things that every parent should know when getting their kids’ hoofs shod. Here are a few things I’ve learned about kids and shoes, since having my own three children.
Firstly, for very young children learning to walk it is particularly important they not wear badly fitting shoes. Their feet are still very flexible and made up of cartilege that will become bone as they get older. It’s very easy to squeeze their tiny feet into badly fitting shoes and because most toddlers have adorably chubby little feet and toes (don’t you just want to play with those fat little toes all day?) they may not even feel their feet being squashed up. Also, because of the way toddlers walk when they are taking their first steps (which is different to the way they walk a little later) you need soft, flexible soles. It’s super important that parents take proper care when buying shoes for this age group.
Secondly, for school aged children, it’s easy to mis-fit them with shoes yourself. Unless you’re trained, it can be hard to feel the end of their toes in cheaper shoes with hard coverings. Soft, natural materials such as leather are best for young feet. Parents need to understand how much room they need between the end of their big toe and the shoe. Parents also need to know how much wiggle room they need in the ‘toe box’ (that’s the section of the shoe that houses the toes). If it’s too small and their toes rub up on the top of the shoe they’ll get blisters, corns or callouses. All are completely avoidable and it’s best if you do. Avoid them, that is. And most important, kids at this age are doing lots of running and jumping so you need shoes that can take some tough treatment. (In my experience, the cheaper shoes really fall down in this area, leading to a false economy. Sure, they’re cheaper to buy than leather shoes but if you have to buy three pairs during the year are you really saving any money?).
Thirdly, growing feet need correct support. As your child’s feet grow, they change shape as the arch rises and the feet lengthen. It is really important that growth not be hindered to avoid trouble later in life. And parents, please, you need to have both feet correctly measured when getting shoes fitted. It’s very unusual that two feet are both the same. When you’re getting shoes fitted, for example, Clarks will take measurements across the width, the length and the height of the foot – of both feet. And Clarks shoes don’t come in standard sizes, they have a range that increase in half size increments. They have shoes for broad feet, shoes for narrow feet and shoes for low arches.
Finally, I’ve learned, that I’m not a trained fitter. Back when the boys were in kindy, just a couple of years ago, I didn’t see the value in buying expensive shoes when the kids would outgrow them so quickly. So I would drag the kids into Kmart and shoehorn their feet into a pair of shoes, press my thumb down on the toe of the shoe to feel for the big toe and, satisfied that the toe was not pressing up against the end of the shoe, would traipse off to the cash register with them. After one such visit, we got home and a couple of weeks later I noticed Fin favouring his foot when he walked. I called him over and asked what the problem was. Turned out his shoes were hurting. I pressed my thumb down to feel for his toe and it was hard up against the end of the shoe. Somehow I’d buggered up the fitting and now we had to go and buy another pair of shoes! So in the end I’d shelled out $40 for the $20 pair of shoes on his feet.
Which shoes are best?
Let’s not varnish the truth, Clarks are expensive. It’s usually around $70 for a pair. Or $50 if you can get them on sale, or with a discount voucher. Compare that with, say, Lynx, (which, along with Clarks , offers a leather upper), which retails around $50 a pair, and you can see a hefty $20 difference. If you’re buying for more than one child, say, for three, like I do, that can add up to $60 difference. Then there are cheaper non-leather shoes that you can get. These shoes, usually around $20 a pair, are all sythentic, with no leather components at all. Additionally, the soles tend to be a stiffer, cheaper plastic compound that doesn’t offer the give that the more expensive brands do.
I’ve trialled the Clarks school shoes (with the velcro straps) on my two very active sons and I’ve also trialled the Lynx school shoes (with the velcro straps). Last year they were in Lynx and this year they’re in Clarks. I wanted to see for myself how well the two pairs of shoes “wore” over time.
While soft leather uppers are a strength for foot development and comfort, it can be a negative because active young boys can quickly scuff and wear down the outer lining. One of my best friends had this issue with her Clarks last year. Her five-year-old son wore a hole in the upper lining, right where the big toe is. She’s opted for the Lynx this year and is very happy. I had the Lynx last year and found the stitching wore away where the reinforced strip goes around the toe. I also found the velcro straps got very shredded by the end of the year and were tough to thread through the holes. Although, I’m having the same problem with the velcro straps in the Clarks. The velcro is not gripping at all, resulting in their shoes coming undone several times a day.
The boys have played in them for their AFL Auskick program, plus sports day, cross country day and regular ‘footy friday’ in the park after school with a regular group of school friends. And one of my favourite things about the Clarks shoes that beats the Lynx is the removable sole. When their feet grow, the first sole comes out to give them another six months’ growth! It’s sensational.
Why trained fitters are worth their money
Both Fin and DJ have very different shaped feet – DJ has a very broad foot with a low arch while Fin has a narrow foot with higher arches that need supporting during this stage of his development. And while I’m very clever at lots of things, correctly fitting shoes for my children in the small range at Kmart is not within my range of skills. Having their feet correctly fitted by a trained specialist (we go to Tammy’s in Chermside) gives me the confidence and peace of mind to know that these shoes are the best for my kids, and that these shoes are 100% worth the cost (especially when using the Tammy’s frequent shopper discount card).
And while we were at Tammy’s getting the boys’ school shoes, Tammy herself fitted Matilda for a pair of shoes. (Tammy comes from a family of shoe fitters, revealing to me her father started Fulchers shoe store, also in Chermside Westfield, and as such they are the only family who have continuously occupied Chermside shopping centre since it opened).
And here’s why I will always go to a specialist. Tammy pointed out that Matilda has a slight over-pronation, which means her ankles are rolling in a little. This in itself is no big deal, most kids outgrow a pronation. But sometimes they don’t. Tammy explained about the problems that can occur as a result of pronation, and in Matilda’s case her posture is affected by the pronation (common) giving her a ‘swayed back’ appearance. In her case, it’s very important she have a shoe that supports her ankle and foot and helps correct her gait a little. This is the kind of information you need when you’re buying shoes for your children.
As children grow their shoes affect their development and growth. Their gait can be permanently affected by badly fitting shoes in early stages of walking. Even if you don’t go for Clarks, make sure you get your children’s shoes correctly fitted.
So that’s why a second generation of my family will grow up with Clarks shoes. I’m brand loyal, but not blindly so. I’m loyal because these shoes are best for my kids’ feet.