Kyle Baker is a rare true master of sizing feet. Whether you’re visiting Baker’s Boots & Clothing in person or getting a consultation from them online, you’re just about guaranteed to walk away from the experience feeling confident about your shoe size, thanks to Kyle and co.’s expertise.

We caught up with Kyle for a quick Q&A to learn a few things about his unique skill. How did he get to be such a sizing expert? What kinds of tips does he have for measuring your feet at home? What are his thoughts on the Brannock device? We delve into all of that and more, plus a story about a sizing mishap with some deceptively large feet…

Josh Bornstein: How does someone learn how to measure feet for living?

Kyle Baker: Simply put, it’s just lots of reps. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, from when I was young—high school, you know, 14, 15 years old, looking at and measuring feet using Brannocks, RITZ sticks, all that stuff. You just learn all the different lasts and shapes and arches and things like that, to be able to give customers the right size output based on experience. It’s hard to dump that knowledge into somebody that’s “trying to learn.” I think it truly is acquired knowledge that’s just from repetition—reps, reps, reps. When we get new employees that are on the sales floor or in customer service, we literally start them off by learning how to measure feet. You can make a really cool custom boot, have it be exactly how you want it, but if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. So fit for us is the most important thing for sure.

Bakers measuring feet

I was once told by somebody else who measures feet for a living that sometimes you just have to intuitively guess what size or last will work for the foot based on your previous experience. Do you find that you agree or disagree with that approach?

I mean, you definitely take all that into consideration. It’s a lot tougher with fit kits and remote measuring and stuff like that. I always ask people, “What are you wearing now? What model, what size fits?” The Red Wings, the Aldens, the Wolverines, and some of those other big players, those are usually a pretty good baseline for us. If you’ve got a guy that says, “I wear a Red Wing 875 moc toe, but it’s too tight in the sides or too tight in the toes,” well, right there you start going through your Rolodex in your mind. This guy probably needs a little bit more toe volume with a little different configuration. Maybe even leather’s a factor—if you go with a softer, more supple leather, you get more of a stretch, as opposed to a thicker oil tan where you’re not gonna get as much. We take all that stuff in consideration for sure.

As far as remote sizings go, where do people usually go wrong when measuring for their fit sheets? What are the main points of failure that people usually stumble across?

We ask people to measure their feet two ways, sitting and standing up. Sitting in a chair, they outline their foot while the leg’s at a 90 degree angle and not bearing any weight. Then we have them get measured while standing up, to check the arch and get an indication of the arch strength. But I would say just following the instructions is probably the biggest hurdle.

Some people will measure their feet, come up with a size…”I’ve never worn a size 7 in my life.” Well, what are you wearing now? “Oh, I wear a 9 in Red Wings.” Well, an alarm goes off. Something went wrong here. So we ask how they measured. “Well, You know, I just measured my feet sitting down.” Okay. “And I wasn’t wearing socks.” Okay. Well, do you plan on wearing socks with the boots? [Laughs] Not to sound like a smartass, you know, but it’s just that type of stuff. We make sure that we have the most accurate information from what they see, and we only know what we know, and we only know what we’re told.

If you’re new to the game and you’ve never worn a pair of shoes like this, and you’ve come in from the sneaker world or whatever, it’s gonna be a little bit more of a challenge just because that baseline’s a little tougher to understand. But if you’ve got a guy that has a gateway boot—a Red Wing or a Thursday or something like that—that at least gets you in the area. I try to keep everything size-related on email just for transparency on both parties. I’d love to jump on the phone and talk to people every single day about their size if I could, but unfortunately there’s just not enough hours in a day to do that, so we resort to emails in most scenarios.

But again, the more info, the better. If your tracings are maybe inaccurate, there are plenty of times where we’ll decide to just put them aside and then we start going down the list of, what do you wear? What size? What fits with that boot? What doesn’t fit on that boot? We can usually narrow the gap.

Brannock

What’s your opinion on measuring with the Brannock device as opposed to taking measurements for a fit sheet?

I think the Brannock is a great baseline because it’s standardized, whereas footwear sizing is not standardized. I mean, you can be a 10.5 in an athletic shoe, and then wear an 8.5 in a boot. But if a guy says he’s a 9.5 on a Brannock, well, I know what that is. I think having a Brannock measurement is quite valuable. But, we prefer to use the measurement sheets. With different lasts and manufacturers, we can get a more accurate and precise fit for our customers with the fit kits.

What’s your most memorable experience from sizing someone?

There’s one that sticks out in my mind. I was talking to a gentleman—this was like, pre-video chat—and we’re chatting over email and the phone. This guy’s measuring his feet, and to my knowledge he’s doing it right because I’m instructing him on what to do. He keeps coming back to me and I keep getting the size 13FF. That’s a big foot.

I have to ask him, what do you wear? He goes “I only wear 11, 11.5.” I’m like, I don’t think these are accurate. Explain to me what you’re doing. He says, “I sit with my feet on the paper and measure them.” And I’m like, okay, well, do it standing up too, and we’ll see if maybe you’ve got really high but weak arches. Maybe that’s why we’re getting this larger size. Send me another set of tracings.

So he does, and we eventually ended up settling on 13FF. So we make him a pair of boots from White’s. Back then it took about four to six weeks to make them, so they came relatively quick. He gets them, puts ’em on, and of course he’s just swimming in them.

I go, Okay, well, based on the measurements, this should be pretty close. Send me some pictures. So he sends me some pictures, and I mean, his toes, they were at the laces! It looked like a little kid putting on his dad’s shoes.

So finally I was like, Let’s start from square one. Send me pictures of how you measured your foot. He sends me pictures, and he literally was wearing a pair of sneakers, measuring around the sneakers! He was measuring the outline of his foot with the shoe on, giving me ball, heel, instep measurements with the shoe on! I’ve never had that happen again, but that one, I will remember that.

Big thanks to Kyle for having a chat with us! Be sure to check out all of Baker’s fantastic boots and get yourself measured for a custom pair of your own at bakershoe.com.