Buying your child's first ever pair of school shoes is something of a rite of passage but how can you ensure that those you do choose won't be outgrown or fall apart before the first half term is out?
Consider how your child plays
If they're an active type and likely to spend every break time tearing around the playground, jumping in puddles and squelching in mud, choose shoes that will work with that (flexible soles, something rugged, waterproof coatings and easy to clean styles).
You'll find plenty of shoes like this for boys but it can be more challenging for daughters. Shweta, a mum of two, finds sporty girls' school shoes frustratingly hard to find.
"If your child tends to play football at break or run around a lot, the dainty girls' shoes just don't work. We need more sporty choices. Lots of girls play like this and need covered shoes to run around in."
If those delicate Mary Jane's aren't going to work for your daughter, err towards shopping slightly earlier (see below), or online for a wider selection before stock starts selling out.
Think about the weather and not just now
Many of us buy school shoes on balmy August days but consider whether the same pair will be suited to a snowy or rainy winter too. Again, this can be particularly tricky with girls' shoes which tend to be somewhat open at the top, leaving girls more likely to get wet socks after an encounter with a puddle or pile of snow than their brothers, wearing closed shoes, would be. For this reason, it's worth opting for loafers or lace-ups instead.
Boys – 'school shoe trainers' or smart?
With boys' styles, there are many more sporty options, right down to black 'school shoe trainers'. These can be practical and comfortable for running about and playtime games but think about whether they will look appropriate if your son's school has a more formal uniform. Something of a compromise – with a flexible sole but less casual upper – might be preferable in that case.
Think about cleaning and materials
Busy parents probably don't want to be cracking open the shoe polish every day, so look for a pair that lend themselves to a quick wipe clean rather than a full shine. Smoother uppers with fewer seams help with this.
Gillian, a mum of two and former fitting assistant in a children's shoe shop, recommends leather over cheaper man-made materials: "Leather shoes allow the feet to breathe and this prevents athletes foot and the like. Leather is more expensive that PU but worth it."
Clare, who has two grown-up children and an eight-year-old daughter, warns against all-over patent for girls as in her experience it isn't as hard-wearing as normal leather: "It looks nice and shiny but we've found the patent peels off and then looks awful."
Don't expect shoes to last a full academic year
You should get at least a term and a half out of each pair (unless you're very unlucky with a big growth spurt) but they'll probably either fall apart or be outgrown before three terms are over. It's worth heading back to the shop they were bought from for a fitting check by the middle of the year if your child hasn't started complaining that they're getting too tight by then.
Go with properly fitted shoes
At best a poorly-fitting shoe can lead to blisters and discomfort and at worst, bone deformities. Given they don't tend to last the full year, properly fitted shoes can seem expensive but no other item of uniform (well, maybe apart from a tie!) will be worn every single day and none has such a big effect. With this in mind, it's usually worth paying a bit more for fitted shoes if possible.
Cut costs elsewhere by buying generic uniform items at supermarkets or the larger retail chains, rather than official uniform outfitters which tend to be pricey.
Don't forget to take a pair of socks to the fitting.
But skip those designer labels
Whilst it's probably worth paying a little more for high quality, properly fitted shoes, flash designer versions costing £50+ probably won't be respected by your child. Only buy them if money is no object and you won't mind if they get lost or trashed within a couple of terms.
Talking of lost shoes...
...don't forget to name your child's – they are likely to be taken off regularly and someone else will inevitably have the same or similar. It's not unheard of for pupils to come back with one shoe of their own on one foot and someone else's (possibly even a different size) on the other! Name them with shoe labels (available in most children's shoe shops), a name stamper or on the inside with a permanent marker.
Younger pupils' shoes need to be easy to put on and take off. The teacher or TA will struggle to help 30 children do up laces or tricky buckles on PE day if children can't do them themselves! Velcro fastenings that aren't too fiddly will be welcome all round.
Get your timing right for hitting the shoe shop
With growing children in mind, it makes sense to delay buying shoes until into August but don't leave it too late or you might face lengthy queues for a fitting (many shops operate a ticket system to make it fair - take a book or colouring book to occupy little ones just in case though).
Also some shops run low on stock towards September - whilst it'd be unusual to be left with nothing in your child's size, you could find choices become limited. Two to four weeks before the start of term is ideal.
Check the uniform list to see what other shoes they'll need
If the school list says black shoes only, don't be tempted to push the rules with blue or brown. Chances are you'll have to fork out for a second pair of shoes.
Most schools will require a pair of plimsolls – these can be bought off-the-shelf or properly fitted (still worthwhile, especially if your child's foot is narrow or wide). Some schools also request a pair of wellies, if yours does, keep those fabulous Hunters for home and stick with something cheap and cheerful in case they get lost.
What tips would you give first-time school shoe shoppers if you've been there and done that?
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