How to Buy Fabulous Shoes for Large Feet

Like Tuscan villas and Hugh Jackman, beautiful shoes were things I'd salivated over in magazines and admired from afar but could never have. Finding cute pumps to match an outfit? Forget it. With size 11AA feet, I had to make do with a severely limited selection of boring, if not downright ugly, shoes in black or brown -- when I could find anything at all. But I'm happy to report that those days of footwear deprivation are over. With a great variety of manufacturers, stores and Websites catering to extended sizes worn by increasing numbers of bigger, taller women, today's size 10+ shoe fanatic can be fashionable from head to toe.

Eleven and 12 are not oddball sizes anymore," says Bob Lewis, whose Prevata line of Italian-made leather shoes is sold in those sizes at Nordstrom's and independent retailers. "I think it's a huge market, and in my own retail stores we take advantage of that tremendously," concurs Donald J. Pliner, who offers sizes 11 and 12 in his four eponymous outlets.

Stuart Weitzman, whose exquisite shoes adorn the soles of Hollywood's red carpet regulars, has earned the love and loyalty of women with hard-to-fit feet by offering a wide range of sizes in his 15 U.S. stores. "We do 3 1/2 to 12, AAAA to W, says Weitzman, who'll add outposts in San Francisco, Atlantic City and San Antonio this fall. Weitzman does a booming extended-size business via his Website and twice-yearly trunk shows in May and November, when customers can pre-order any style in their size. "It's custom made, and we don't charge any extra for it," notes Weitzman. Actress Kate Winslet, who wears a size 11M, wore Weitzman's T-strap Nighty to the Academy Awards.

Élevé by Forgotten Soles, the new custom line from DesignerShoes.com, goes a step further. "We have a virtual trunk show where women have the chance to see styles before they're actually made. We work with customers who have shopped with us before, so we can show them shoes and they can tell us what style and color they like," says company president Barbara Thornton, whose Boston store and Website cater exclusively to hard-to-find sizes. "We start at 10 1/2 medium and 9 on the narrow side and 8 on the wide side and go up to 15. We don't even carry a shoe unless it goes to size 12," notes Thornton, who can fit both the tall teenager who wants flats and the confident career woman who likes heels. "It's all about choice."

Nordstrom, with its 95 department stores nationwide and thousands of shoe styles available on its Website, maintains a commitment to extended sizes that reflects its beginnings 100 years ago as a Seattle shoe store catering to large-footed Swedes. "We try to carry sizes four to fourteen, and widths AAA to WW," says spokesperson Pamela Perret. You can get on the mailing list to be notified of special oversize shoe events and benefit from the huge national inventory. If your store is out of your size, chances are it can be ordered and shipped to you.

For fall, Perret promises a continuation of the bohemian and embellished trends, now in boots, "and what we're calling Baroque '- very decorated, rich fabrics like velvet and brocades. Skirts are huge for fall and whatever style skirt you have, we'll have lots of options."

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