Advice for new expats in the Netherlands about buying shoes: smaller sizes may be difficult to find, suede is not the best material option, bicycle-friendly styles a must, size standards vary, leather vs man-made…
Expat shoppers in the Netherlands planning a new shoe purchase should take into account a few conditions unique to Holland. These considerations will help in choosing the ‘right’ footwear style, one that leaves you happy rather than remorseful about your purchase.
USA/UK/EU SHOE SIZE VARIATIONS
Manufacturer tags on most shoes sold in the Netherlands show three sizes – EU size, UK size and USA size. Often there can be variances between corresponding sizes depending on the brand. One brand may consider the equivalent to a men’s USA size 8 to be EU size 40.5, while another may equate it to an EU size 41. These variances can lead to a consumer buying the wrong size shoe, especially if they are making a purchase online.
While there is no fail-safe way to ensure the right size, one thing can be done to minimize the chance for size discrepancy when buying for shoes in Holland. Try on shoes from three different brands to determine which is the right size for you. Each brand should be from a different size scale standard region (i.e. a European brand, a British brand and an American brand). The most accurate size for each brand’s shoe (and your correct shoe size) is the one showing for that brand’s region – the American’s brand shoe size is most accurate based on the USA size scale standard, the British brand shoe size is most accurate for fit against the UK size standard and the European brand shoe size is the most accurate relevant to the EU size standard. You only need to do this once as your feet are unlikely to change in size if you are already an adult.
You may actually find the right size shoe for your foot varies by standard. For example, you may find that while a USA size 7 and a British size 6.5 are the best fit for your foot, an EU size 40.5 is better than an EU size 40. In such a case, a standard size conversion chart may not work best for you.
STANDARD MEN’S SHOE SIZE CONVERSION CHART
STANDARD LADIES SHOE SIZE CONVERSION CHART
Because Dutch men and women are among the tallest people in the world on average, expats with smaller feet may often find shoes are not available in their size in Dutch footwear stores. This applies to women with a USA shoe size 6.5 or smaller and men with USA shoe size 8.5 or smaller. These consumers may find it easier to shop for shoes online where greater size ranges are available.
As cycling is the most common way to get from point A to point B in the Netherlands, one should consider how well-suited (or not) a shoe is for bike riding. Flimsy sandals, stiff tall-shafted boots and shoes with smooth slippery soles should generally be avoided as they can be difficult to wear when cycling.
The temperate maritime climate in the Netherlands is due to its extended coastline and adjacency to the North Sea. It also brings a good amount of precipitation to the country each year. In short, you can expect a lot of rain and wet conditions whether you live in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam or elsewhere in Holland. This factor should also be taken into account when buying shoes in the Netherlands.
Generally speaking, suede and fabric are not the best material choices for footwear in Holland. The constantly changing Dutch weather means days that start off sunny and dry can easily end up rainy and wet. Water-proof leather is the perfect material for shoes in the Netherlands but alas it is only offered by a handful of brands (such as Timberland and Ecco) due to the high cost.
While upscale expat shoe shoppers may have frowned upon synthetic upper shoes back home, here in the wet ‘Lowlands’, shoes with man-made uppers can often be a better choice. Synthetic leathers (sometimes referred to a ‘pleather’) are naturally water-resistant due to the base material being made of either polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane (PU), both of which repel water. Genuine leather, on the other hand, will absorb water which not only results in wet feet but water stains once the shoe dries out.
Advancements in synthetic materials technology means that footwear with man-made uppers can often be as attractive, comfortable and long lasting as genuine leather footwear. See examples from Scapino, Van Haren Venice and Vero Moda.
One last consideration to help choose the right pair of shoes is where you live and where they will be worn. Rotterdam is not an issue since its city center was entirely rebuilt after WWII, with wide streets and paved sidewalks. But in most other Dutch cities, including Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Haarlem, Groningen and Breda, the old town center streets and sidewalks are typically paved with cobblestones. Uneven surfaces and frequent divots can make walking in certain types of shoes, such as high heels, a bit challenging.