Ask Design Mom: Toddler Shoes

July 26, 2010

Ask Design Mom Question:
Hi Gabrielle. I feel like all I do is buy shoes for my toddlers. How many types of shoes do you purchase for your children each year and how many sizes do they go through in a year. Please tell me these bi-monthly foot growth spurts will end. Also, is it okay for children to wear hand-me-down shoes? Many thanks — Amy

Design Mom Answer:
Hah! This made me laugh, Amy. Shoe buying can definitely take over your life. I’ll break my response into 3 parts.

1) In the summer, I like to have a pair of slip on sneakers (like Vans), a pair of flip flops and a pair of sandals for each toddler or preschooler (if I choose carefully on the sandals, they’ll work for church too!). In the fall and winter, I like a pair of sneakers, loafers or maryjanes (or something similar), and some sort of leather boot.

Of course, this doesn’t count specialty shoes. Tap shoes or ballet shoes. Soccer cleats. Fancy shoes for a reception. Snowboots… Also. I’m a big fan of Original Saltwater Sandals. They come in colors for girls or boys. They’re good for at the beach. They’re good at a picnic. They’re event sweet with a little dress.

2) Yes, the bi-monthly growth spurts will end. : )

3) Foot experts will tell you hand-me-down shoes are not a good idea. Real life mothers that scored a pair of gorgeous Italian toddler shoes at their favorite consignment shop will tell you hand-me-down shoes are rad.

What about you, Dear Readers? How do you like to handle toddler shoes?

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{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sierra July 26, 2010 at 1:55 pm

All I can say is I had my first 3 kids in 3 years and there was a lot of shoe sharing going on. A few sturdy pairs have made it through the kid guantlet line for Baby Jane…who, at 1omos, does not yet wear shoes.

The one thing I would add to the list is crocs (or knock-off crocs like we have) as a great shoe for summer. Ugly as sin, but mine wear them in the wading pools, creeks and on the beach.


2 Design Mom July 26, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Crocs is a great suggestion, Sierra! Glad you mentioned them. They keep little toes from getting hurt.

I know people think they are ugly, but I think for ages 5 and under they are adorable. They look very modern dutch to me. The proportion of traditional Crocs gets too weird in bigger sizes, but for little kids I’m a fan.


3 jessica July 26, 2010 at 9:18 pm

and… even tiny toddlers can put crocs on all by themselves. My 2 littlest throw a fit if I try to put something other than crocs on them. They don’t want my help– they want to do it themselves :)


4 bettijo @ PagingSupermom August 31, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I agree. I think crocs are adorable on kids, and you gotta love shoes they can put on by themselves!


5 the sleepy time gal July 26, 2010 at 1:57 pm

are you kidding me? we get awesome hand me down children’s shoes and use them till they break down!


6 Design Mom July 26, 2010 at 2:17 pm

We like hand me down shoes at our house too!


7 Kristi July 26, 2010 at 2:04 pm

The worst is when your little one has extra-wide feet which completely knocks you out of bargain shopping. Only expensive Striderite have the sizes we needed and not in all the styles. Dropping $40 for a pair of tiny shoes that will only last six months is not fun. I did get some gently used ones on ebay but mainly we got the grandparents to chip in and buy them. And, due to daycare rules, we had to buy these shoes even before he could even walk even though research says babies learn to walk best barefoot. Ugh!


8 Design Mom July 26, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Hooray for generous grandparents!


9 Erin July 26, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Kristi–my younger sister and I have wide, wide feet. For this reason, we wore a lot of Saltwater sandals and beaded moccasins, which we could always fit into. And now moccasins are back in style! Hooray for wide-footed people.


10 Kathleen July 26, 2010 at 2:48 pm

My youngest has wide feet (high arches too) See Kai Run have worked wonders for us and a couple times a year the shoes get reduced down to about $15!


11 Kristi July 27, 2010 at 7:36 am

Thanks for the suggestion. The See Kai Run shoes are really cute and no more expensive than StrideRite.


12 Anne July 26, 2010 at 2:21 pm

FYI Lands End has a printable shoe chart and their “overstocks” are affordable.


13 Michelle July 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm

We absolutely wear hand-me-down shoes, as long as they look nice and still function well. I have two little girls, so most of the shoes still look great because my oldest daughter outgrew them so fast.

I second Salt Water sandals. Even after a summer beating they look great.


14 Erin July 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I love the Saltwater sandals! I’ve been wearing them since I was a little girl and still wear around a pair in the summer, now. I wish I could find them easily at brick-and-mortar stores. They’re the best summer shoes, for all the reasons you listed.


15 Kaleena July 26, 2010 at 2:26 pm

I just have one boy, this summer he has been living in a pair of navy blue salt water sandals. I also tend to pick him up converse all stars and vans slip-ons at thrift stores. At 2 and 1/2 he still prefers to go barefoot so why not spend the money elsewhere?


16 Heather July 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Your timing is too perfect! I just realized today, I’ve been squeezing my poor two year old into too small sneakers that I bought at Easter time! Oops! Perhaps you should arrange a shoe swap on your blog! I’ll be the first to contribute a very cute pair of brown suede sneakers!

And yes, Crocs are great!


17 maythi July 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm

saltwater sandals are cute. although, i’m thinking mostly for girls past a certain age, right?
we don’t usually do hand-me-downs because my mom is a little nutty about shoes for the kids and will shoe shop for them so they don’t have hand-me-down shoes. she took lots of courses in podiatry and sold orthopedic shoes for kids for over 10 years and, i suppose, like the “experts” she frowns upon hand-me-downs. apparently the issue is that the gait in a hand-me-down shoe has already been established by its previous wearer, and therefore, the new wearer will fall into that gait by default – for whatever reason, this is not a good thing?
however, i completely understand that for most people, NOT accepting hand-me-downs with shoes is completely unrealistic. shoes are so expensive!


18 Leslie July 26, 2010 at 8:40 pm

saltwater sandals are wonderful….not only for girls:)
and for obvious reasons (Maythi is my sister), i too do not hand down shoes as our nutty mother would possibly pass out at the mere thought. i tend to agree with the experts as well, just by looking at my 2 children you can see how differently they walk, step, and wear down shoes.


19 Katie July 26, 2010 at 2:32 pm

The company website for Saltwater Sandals lists several stores where they are available.


20 Yolanda July 26, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I believe whole heartedly in hand-me-down everything, especially well-made shoes. As for favorites, my 3-year-old wears mostly Vincent shoes, I can only afford to buy them during clearance sales and closeouts. But I will buy my favorites in 2 or 3 sizes at a time. The outgrown pairs are resold or handed down to younger cousins or friends. But I love the style and quality of Vincent shoes and people ask me about her shoes often.


21 damaris July 26, 2010 at 2:40 pm

can I just say that I love Salt Water sandals for me? They are seriously my most comfy shoes ever.

My son loves crocs. I think they’re ugly but I’m more concerned about his comfort than his style.

I flip flop on the issue about whether to only buy new or to also use second hand. I mostly go with second hand.


22 Anne July 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm

I agree. For the spring/summer: sneakers or slip-ons, and an extra special pair if needed. For the winter: I like a pair of sneakers and maryjanes (or something similar), and definitely good quality snowboots. I also find it’s good to have rainboots on hand, and if needed for daycare or wading pools or whatever, a pair of water shoes is great to have.

Not sure if Style Sense exists in the States (it’s affiliated with Winners and HomeSense up here in Canada…Winners, I believe, is TJMaxx), but they often carry shoes by Striderite at about half the cost. You can’t always get the range of widths necessary, but if your child is in the standard width, there’s usually some decent style and colour selection. However, I’ve found that it promotes buying more shoes than necessary!

I only have one child right now, with our second baby on the way this winter. Don’t know yet whether we’re having a girl or boy, so I’m not sure if sharing is doable. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it for the shoes that really do get worn on a very regular basis. Like my daughter’s summer sandals (they’re great, they’re Keen sandals…very durable), for example. They’re holding up, but they’re getting a lot of abuse. Rainboots though, without question are definitely prime hand-me-down candidates.


23 Vanessa July 26, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I am so glad you put the Saltwater brand! My Grandma told my Mom to use these and my Mom just told me the other day that I needed to try these. I just put in an order the other day. I have such a hard time finding sandles that don’t hurt their feet, give them blisters or make them trip.


24 StumptownMom July 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm

In Oregon we have Nordstrom Rack and I’ve found some great deals there for Geox sneakers (love them but they are spendy), Keen and other nice brands. Keen sandals in summer look so cute on little feet – and they make those adorable little canvas sneakers too.
I found Vincent shoes to be really narrow. We love Crocs in our house too (spendy too, but the knock-offs didn’t last at all). They can put them on themselves and in winter they make ones with fuzzy fleece inside.
Rainboots are key in our climate and those are easy to find in good used condition.


25 Kristen July 26, 2010 at 2:55 pm

I love Salt Waters for me…and I’m much older than toddlers. No joke, I have a few pair. I’m not sure Stacey & Clinton would approve. : )


26 Brittany July 26, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Love it…will try it with my babe upon arrival…albeit I have much less confidence in my photo-setup abilities, especially while trying to keep baby asleep. The Thai/Indian inspired one is my fav.

And totally not creepy–Angela and the veggie tray in the Office–creepy, newborn dreams, not so much.


27 makakona July 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm

we have five kids under seven (on a cop’s income… in socal!) and do hand-me-down EVERYthing… EXCEPT shoes! it’s poor foot health.

in the spring, we buy cute sandals at target that can double for church through the summer. in the summer, everyone gets crocs. ugly on adults, cute on kids, and CRAZY practical for running in and outside, playing in the sand, waterplay, and so on. come fall, they get a new pair of athletic shoes and a new pair of nina kids candybar maryjanes, which work for school, church, play, whatever. they hold up CRAZY well. babies get pedipeds from when they start walking till when they outgrow the pediped originals, then we splurge on stride-rite, though at the outlet or new on ebay.


28 maythi July 26, 2010 at 3:20 pm

if you saw my post above, we don’t do hand-me-down shoes either, but we LOVE hand-me-down everything else! our girls get excited when they get hand-me-downs – and so do we!!!


29 Katie July 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Oh thanks for the Vincent recommendation Yolanda. They’re having a big sale right now too!


30 whoorl July 26, 2010 at 3:32 pm

We LOVE Saltwater Sandals at the Whoorl household! (I even have a pair…)

Between those sandals, Vans and a couple pairs of Crocs, we have our toddler summer shoe collection intact. Oh, and Wito loves his Sambas:


31 Tegan M. July 26, 2010 at 3:44 pm

You can’t go wrong with Saltwaters– I learned that when my mom gave me a pair (the same ones pictured) that *I* had worn 28 years before my own son is now wearing them!


32 Amanda Conley July 26, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I just let my kids go barefoot.
No, just kidding! But we love hand me down shoes around here, for sure.


33 BK July 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Hand me down shoes or not a great idea. The problem with sharing shoes is that the original person who wore those shoes stretched and molded the shoe to fit their foot. When you wear a shoe your foot makes a print in the shoe to match the width and the arch of your foot. When someone else wears them it increases the likelihood of blistering as well as it is more strenuous for them to attempt to keep the shoe on causing sore or tired muscles. When children are just developing their bones you shape the way they walk for the rest of their lives, if shoes do not fit properly to their foot you increase the likelihood that they may have irregular walking patterns, and shoes now while they develop are much cheaper than corrective actions later on in life. Stick with good shoes like Stride Rites or most European shoe’s like Primigi or even Ecco’s.


34 bryssy July 26, 2010 at 5:10 pm

My son (2) has never worn brand new shoes. We get hand me downs from at least 3 older friends and I often find never or seldom worn shoes at tag sales. Right now he is wearing Baby Gap and Stride Rights that cost me 50 cents for each pair. Both were hardly worn. We live in Florida and also go without shoes quite often.


35 M. Peterson July 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm

My mom buys my 2 year her sneakers every 3 months, I’d say, and I buy the specialty shoes (maryjane dress shoes in fall/winter, sandals in spring/summer). I don’t do flip-flops because my daughter is a klutz, so her sandals are all-purpose. 2 year olds aren’t supposed to have perfect shoes, i figure. so that’s it – usually only 2 pairs of shoes a season.


36 Emily Price July 26, 2010 at 7:06 pm

I have three boys and have handed down shoes. Some pairs have made it to my third boy. However, the hand me downs have stopped now that two of my boys are in school…they wear out their shoes before the school year ends.


37 Kage July 26, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I canNOT believe how late to the party I am with saltwater sandals.

I am SO buying these next summer for the kids.

I just bought my kids their first proper pair of sneakers (new balance) and they were sized WAY bigger than the shoes I had been buying them. These sneaks have been so awesome for walking a lot and the playground. I have bought too many shoes at old navy, all of which swiftly fall apart.

Standard buys for summer:
flip flops
sneakers (with summer (low) socks)
dress sandals
spring flats

Standard buys for winter:
leather boots
extra dress shoe….

Oh dear, I think I buy too many shoes.


38 Gayle July 26, 2010 at 7:31 pm

luckily for me I live on an island ’cause I just have a pair of flipflop handy
one dressy-ish shoe and maybe a pair of sneaks.
bare feet work well too LOL
My BFF gave me her baby’s baby shoes for my twins and they are working great.
Thanks for always responding to my comments :)


39 ali July 26, 2010 at 8:39 pm
40 Kari July 26, 2010 at 8:52 pm

I’d like to know some of the leather boot brands you like; I got my daughter a Primigi pair one year which of course she quickly outgrew and I just thought, I can’t buy leather boots in every size, it’s just too expensive! So we usually do one pair of sneakers, one pair of dress shoes until she outgrows them, then one more pair of each. But a boot is so darn cute! And now with three girls, the shoe needs are a bit overwhelming if there is to be no handing down. We usually hand down the dress shoes because they are worn less, but everyone gets their own new sneakers. And on that note, I have liked Morgan & Milo shoes very much.

My oldest daughter is moving into larger sizes, I think she must be 13 by now. Any suggestions on cute/funky/sturdy/supportive athletic shoes in the bigger-than-toddler sizes?


41 Jen July 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm

We LOVE LOVE LOVE handmade Soft Star shoes. They are sturdy, well made, use formaldehyde-free leather (yes, isn’t is incredible most leather has formaldehyde etc. in it), even have an eco vegetable-tanned leather option… and yet so soft for developing feet. We chose them after reading lots about how soft soles help feet develop naturally. Once we bought from them, we never turned back.

We also buy rainboots and water shoes once or twice a year.


42 Sherri July 26, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I LOVE the saltwater sandals. Had some myself as a kid and wore them and wore them, ya know? I have a pair ready for my two year old (she has tinier feet than I anticipated and bought these thinking she would wear them this summer – looks like next). I also loved the Morgan and Milo shoes I had for her – easy to put on, easy to walk in, etc. I have a pair of retro red Keds that all my kids have handed down to one another, and… they are sturdy – not worn out after 4 kids. Also a huge fan of my older daughter’s maryjane Doc Martens – sturdy, cute and super red (with that cool yellow stitching). I also bought a pair of suede baseball shoes (look like retro high tops) from Mini Boden that my son would not take off!


43 grace July 26, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I usually buy a summer kick, like converse for each child. I also buy them each a pair of crocs, and a church shoes. Which would be a cute sandal for my daughter, and a nice light weight slip on for my sons. For the cold months I get them each a pair of boots. Leather, that they can wear everyday. And so far its worked. I need to get the summer line up a bit more streamlined. I’ve never done the salt water sandal, but they sure look like a good idea.


44 rkwpnw July 26, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Our favorite is Keen which we have gone thru in a few sizes. I agree with Gaby especially for girls, need something practical and fun. Also LOVE hand-me-down and used shoes… And love shopping for kids shoes at


45 Sarah Buttenwieser July 27, 2010 at 4:24 am

combination. too worn=new shoes, not bad=hand me downs. my toddler until last week only had hand me downs (save for booties as baby gifts). she got a pair of sandals (new) on sale (through her hand me down sources she’s really got great shoes by the way, many fairly unworn!) She really does adore the flower sandals.


46 Carla July 27, 2010 at 6:55 am

What great advice from everyone! I buy the seasonal standards and then buy one time dressy shoes (especially during holiday season) at Target. Their shoes always fit my girls well and at under fifteen bucks a pop, I don’t feel bad getting shoes they’ll only wear once or twice. Now I need to take my own advice for kids and update my own shoe wardrobe!


47 melanie roepke July 27, 2010 at 6:56 am

We visit Nordstrom Rack twice a year (like a clearance store) and scour the racks for Vans and maryjanes in too-big sizes. Then I keep them in a bin until they fit. I don’t ever pay more than $20.
I also troll yard sales in the wealthy parts of town for gently used shoes (and clothes). I bought a pair of $80 Aster maryjanes for back-to-school for $10 (barely worn!).


48 Rebecca Weiss July 27, 2010 at 8:29 am

I am terribly guilt-ridden, but I like sandals because toes poking out the front can be catergorized as cute somehow. Now, not so cute in loafers. Not sure what I’ll do come fall. JK! :-D


49 Meredith July 27, 2010 at 9:37 am

Tried salt water sandals years ago for my first daughter. I was sucked in by the classic design and that they would wear well and go with everything. She and I hated them then. I tried them again for daughter #3 when shopping at Nordstrom and was reminded again why I hated them. Slick soles. No arch support. Oddly fitting ankle straps. Yuck.

Really my favorite sandals right now for my toddler are legacy ones from my now nine year old daughter. Elefantens. Can’t get them anymore – they became the company Umi. But I have bought the old designs on Ebay. They used to cost about $40 new and I have bought some new ones in the old designs on Ebay for $20.


50 Kaely July 27, 2010 at 9:47 am

I’m in the “no hand-me-down shoes” camp. Proper foot development is too important to risk it. When my son was a young toddler he usually only had one pair of shoes that fit him at any given point. I love Soft Star shoes. I think that their shoes look great with both casual and dressy outfits and that eliminated the need for more than one pair of shoes per season. Now he’s six and has several pairs of shoes that fit, 1 pair of tennis shoes, 1 pair of saltwater sandals, and 1 pair of crocs (we use them mostly as pool shoes). My one year old doesn’t have any shoes yet. She’s not walking yet, she probably won’t get any shoes until it’s cold enough to need socks and shoes on outside. I prefer to not put shoes on early walkers unless absolutely necessary. It’s much easier to walk barefoot.


51 Hannah Mackie July 27, 2010 at 10:35 am

I love Saltwater sandals and always wore them as a child. But the summer my daughter was 2 1/2 and my son was 6 months old, I bought her a pair of green Crocs. She wore them EVERYWHERE. The beach, church, the city, grocery shopping…everywhere. Not only did she willingly wear them, but she could put them on herself which turned out to be a huge time-saver when trying to get out the door. And if I couldn’t locate her in a sea of children, I would just crouch down and look at their shoes. I found her every time:)
Up until two months ago we’d been living in an area where there’s snow 7 months out of the year, so we would invest in a solid pair of winter boots and then great inside shoes for school, usually Geox. They really hold their shape and the kids never complain about blisters, so I’m guessing they’re pretty comfortable. Where we’ve moved to has no snow, but it rains pretty much all year round. Having grown up in this climate I know the winters are wet, cold, and pretty miserable, so I bought them each a pair of Bogs boots because they are temperature rated and water-proof. I’m hoping the kids don’t grow out of them before the winter is through!


52 EvaBabeDesigns July 27, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I love dressing up Converse shoes with a little bling:

My favorite sporty shoes are Tsukihoski Shoes. These are anti-bacterial (with green tea infused in the sole), very sporty & comfortable. I buy one pair for each size for my daughter. We loved the hot pink & gold ones so far.
This site has the best prices:


53 maythi July 27, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Also, forgot to mention a great site for shoes at discounted prices. They have lots of Morgan & Milo, Willits, etc. it’s – I have found shoes on the site for as low as $9.99. Shipping is quick and customer service is excellent.


54 LP July 27, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Oh no! No one mentioned Birkenstocks. Absolute must. Timeless, comfortable and great for the feet. We love them but hard to find in Canada in kids sizes. I also love Pom D’Api sandals for my girl. They come from France and are pricey but who cares? They’re only young once and now they will let us choose their clothing for them so I go for the gusto and love vicariously through them and their shoe collection.


55 just July 27, 2010 at 8:15 pm

whats even better is that they come in our sizes too!
i want them so bad.
i like the keens a lot too though.


56 Bridgette July 27, 2010 at 9:08 pm

When my girls were little they ALWAYS had a pair of white saltwaters for summer. They also wore white leather keds. The beauty is they are both machine washable and dry in a flash in the summer sun.

On Sundays I would add white eyelet socks to the sandals. Clean and classic…win win:)


57 kimberly July 28, 2010 at 9:12 am

saltwater sandals are the best. I wore them every year as a little girl, and my little boys have a navy blue pair for sunday best. We do a versatile sandal for each boy–maybe a pair of keens scored at the Nordstrom Rack for $12. They are practically indestructible but can be worn with anything not too dressy (no weddings). Also converse slip on in a bright color, which I think look really great with a church outfit. This was our first year for flip flops and my pre-schooler loves them.


58 Kaylee July 28, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Salt water sandals are TIMELESS! I wore them when I was little and I JUST bought a pair for my daughters first birthday!


59 Tara J July 28, 2010 at 2:30 pm

My boys each have 2 shoes:
1) crocs
2) Vincent shoes, they are stylish and super durable and great for dress up/ play.

I seem like if I buy the right size, the shoes will last 1 year and after that 1 year they are totally shot, so no hand me downs.


60 Missy July 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm

My babies loved Robeez: Adorable, long lasting, and the next best thing to being barefoot!


61 Erin @ Letter Soup July 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm

For starters, they must be slip-ons, so we can actually make it out the door. We stick with Vans, Crocs, and something from See Kai Run/Eleven that can be worn with jeans or slightly dressier pants. (I only have boys.)
I like your boot suggestion!


62 Shelby July 29, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I am glad this was perfect timing! My kid just started complaining about his feet hurting in his sandels, and now we are shopping around for some stylish ones that will fit his feet.


63 valerie September 22, 2010 at 9:28 pm

My oldest child is 3. If we did not recycle shoes by reusing them, we’d be broke! My daughter wore a pair of sun san sandles just like the picture above today in chocolate brown- $3 at a consignment sale and they looked like they had never been worn! They were 1 size too big compared to the other shoes she is in… and they stayed on her feet perfectly. We’ll get at least 2 years out of them! Can you imagine the amount of space kids shoes could take up in landfills if we did not reuse or recycle them somehow?


64 click here to get started February 19, 2014 at 4:18 am

That kind of thinking shows you\’re on top of your game


65 bridge September 10, 2014 at 5:49 am

For pre walkers and early walkers totsox are great. Comfortable flexible soles and gives traction on slippery surfaces. My bubs loves them.


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