Choosing Shoes When You Have a High Instep


I have a high instep.

This means my foot is overly tall.

It’s a cause of difficulty when it comes to shoe shopping, because there are some shoe companies and design styles whose shoes have a low vamp seam.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information out there about how best to shop for shoes when you have a high instep, so I figured I’d write a bit about my experience and things I’ve learned.


How do you find dress shoes to suit a high instep?

As we know, the two main styles of laced dress shoes are oxfords and derbies.

Oxfords – with their closed lacing – can be particularly difficult for a high instep. There’s a high chance that your foot will cause the closed lacing system to pull apart, the gap between the sides widening as the laces reach the heel.

It can cause a feeling of tightness and discomfort depending on how the shoe is constructed, and if you’re particular about the details of your outfit then the unsightly gap is going to bother you.


The obvious solution is to go for a derby shoe. With the derby’s open lacing system, a high instep is given much more room to breathe.

Unfortunately, those of you looking for a particularly elegant dress shoe are going to notice that the classic four or five eyed derby is inherently more casual – one might even say, chunky – than its Oxford compatriot.

For brown shoes, I don’t think this is an issue. With black shoes however, I find that I just don’t like a black derby. It looks more like a school shoe than anything else.

So what’s the solution?


My experience has been that you can either search for a brand of Oxford shoe that suits your foot – I’ve found Cheaney to be good for an RTW option with generous instep space – or if RTW fails and you have the money, have a shoe custom made.

Otherwise, there is a particular style of derby shoe that I find particularly sleek and elegant that would serve nicely as a dress shoe.

It has only two eyelets, and there are a number of shoemakers selling these. Europeans in particular have some elegant designs of two eyelet derbies, you can see a host of different ones on The Shoe Snob blog here.

I can’t speak personally of these shoes as I’ve never tried a pair on – I’ve never seen any in Adelaide for sale – but I think they would do as much for formality as a classic black Oxford, should you like the particular style.

Daniel Craig wore a pair of black John Lobb two eyelet derbies with a tuxedo in Casino Royale, consider that how you wish.


Additionally, you can always opt for some loafers if you don’t require a laced leather shoe. I’ve found it easier to shop for loafers of various styles than anything else. Just watch out for the height of the vamp seam: if it’s low-slung, you’re going to have a sore foot.

Note: this doesn’t mean you can’t have a low vamp loafer. The position of the vamp won’t disqualify you (to see the difference between high and low vamp penny loafer styles, compare the middle picture below to that on the right) but a low and tight seam height will.


Which boots suit a high instep?

A high instep can pose a challenge for boot shopping too, in some circumstances.

I’ve found that closer fitting laced models of Balmoral boot can cause extreme pain across my instep because of a low-slung vamp seam. I’ve also found button-fastening boots to be difficult with my high instep.

There are plenty of choices that do work though, especially in the more casual realm.

Chukka boots are fantastic for a high instep, as they give your whole instep and ankle room to breathe. I’ve got a couple of pairs of chukkas, and they’re some of my most worn footwear.


Derby style boots like Red Wing (875 or derivatives like my 9111 boots) or Dr. Martens are also easy options to fit a high instep, though I can’t recommend Docs given the price/quality ratio. Red Wings on the other hand, I can happily say go for it.


The other easy possibility for boots when you have a high instep is a Chelsea boot. The elasticised sides make for easy wearing and the flexible nature of the style’s construction means that a high instep isn’t going to be too problematic, if at all.


Conclusion: a high instep isn’t the end of the world.

Having a high instep can be a real pain – literally and figuratively – when it comes to shopping for leather shoes. There are still plenty of styles that can be worn regardless, and pulled off with style.

If you have a high instep, have you found any other tips or tricks that aren’t listed? Let us know down below!

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Sam founded STS in 2019 to help his fellow man not just to dress (and smell) fantastic, but to enjoy it too. An avid motorcyclist, musician and sportsman, he spends most of his spare time in those pursuits.

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