What is a ‘last’ shape and why is it important?

Without doubt one of the biggest questions when buying a handmade, lasted shoe is, ‘will shoes made on this last shape fit me?’ Firstly I will try and explain exactly what a last is.

If you can picture a wooden shoe tree then you have a basic idea of what the last looks like. It is a piece of wood that is shaped a unique way, that will form the shape of the shoe when the leather is stretched over it.

Highly skilled craftsmen tack the leather onto the last to ensure it is evenly stretched. Excess leather is then pared away so the shoe-maker can start attaching the sole to the upper. The shoe will stay on the last shape until they are ready to be polished and boxed.

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Individual bespoke lasts in one of the factories we use in Northampton

 

As you can imagine, there are many different last shapes from manufacturer to manufacturer. You will still find that last shapes cross over from style to style, for example the Herring Gosforth  is a Chukka boot made on the 026 last, as is the Herring Knightsbridge, an oxford toe cap shoe.  Although they are two different styles, the footbed and uppers will be the same and have the same overall shape and feel. On very rare occasions you get shoes made on the same last shape that can be a little different inside, this is down to the fact that one of the pairs was perhaps left on the last a little longer or shorter and so the leather may have stretched more or less than another pair. As these are handmade items, the subtle variations are to be expected and are part of the charm of a traditional crafted item, rather than a fault.

When looking at the last name or most commonly the number, unfortunately there is no recognised system or table to determine how each one will fit. There is no reliable relation between names and numbers so the 026 standard last is, for example, very different to the wide country 024 last.

The common mistake when looking at last shapes, is to think that a longer last is for a longer foot size. This is not the case. In theory the last is always sized to fit a standard foot size, meaning that a long last will fit the same foot as a standard last shape. The difference is in the appearance of the outline of the shoe.  A good example of this is the Herring Lewis which is made on the very sleek 486 last, but will fit just as well as any other lasted shoe.

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Herring Lewis in Brandy cobbler colour, made on the sleek 468 last

 

To summarise, the last is really more about the outline and style of the shoe, than how it will fit you. The key benefit of buying shoes from Herring is that we test all our shoes for size across all our manufacturers so you can be reasonably confident that any size shoe you find that fits will be similar to any other equivalent size. For the best results, you can just choose another style on the same last shape as this is virtually guaranteed to fit. You can search our website by last shape to make this easier. Just put the last name into the text search and all the styles on that last should appear. We have also added a shoe last comparison page which allows you to see the most popular herring lasts side by side.

If you do find that you have bought a pair of shoe on a last that is not quite right we are always happy to exchange or refund the shoes and we can always offer advice on what lasts would be best for you, based on your previous purchases and our extensive experience of helping customers for many years.

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