New Adventures in Skate Shopping: Buying Women's Inline Skates
by Tony Chen
April 18, 1999
(some new tidbits on this topic)
It's hard to believe that I bought my first pair of skates back in 1991 or so. Back then, there was only Rollerblade, and I had decided on the black and neon-green trim Aeroblades. The only problem was that the nearest store with that color was an hour or two away. Being in college and with no car, I actually went out and rented a car just so I could go buy my skates 8-)
Recently, I had the opportunity to go skate shopping again. Although I hate to admit it, I have gotten a bit behind on what's new in the inline skating industry. Lack of time and the proliferation of new skate manufacturers and models makes it hard to keep up. That's a good sign though, in many respects. There used to be so few skates on the market, that I could tell the exact make and model at a distance just from the color scheme. These days, there must be more than a hundred skate models out there on the market.
Anyway, I welcomed the chance to hit the stores and give my skate shopping skills a little workout. I wasn't buying skates for myself, though. This time was special -- the skates were for my sweetie 8-)
When we first met, my sweetie wasn't a skater. But hey, if you know me at all, you know that sort of situation can't last for long 8-) Besides, who better to convert her to a roller-sweetie, than yours truly, right?
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As I found out, even though the inline skating industry has grown up quite a bit since the "old days", it still has a way to go. Most of my past experience with helping others to buy skates has been for men and not women. But given that there are so many skates built "just for women", I assumed that getting a pair of women's skates would be just like picking out men's skates, except you picked from the women's models.
How little did I know.
Once again, the lesson is: ignore the hype.
(Don't know about the hype? Read the Buying Guide and ABEC = HYPE)
Although the women-specific skates may have some minor adjustments to fit a good number of women, I'm willing to bet there's probably just as many women, that they do NOT fit well at all.
Size Does Matter
Okay, not to be royally sexist, but if you ask me, I think all skates, even women's skates, were designed by guys. Probably very talented, very experienced, and well-paid, but still very male 8-)
What us men often don't realize is that women are built differently. "Well, duh", you say. No, I don't mean the obvious differences. I mean the subtle ones, that we don't often think about or even notice.
The first problem was that my sweetie has wide feet. The skating industry seems to think the only feet that exist are the medium (i.e, not narrow and not wide) width feet. A quick and unscientific survey, of females that we knew, showed that just as many had wide/double-wide feet as did narrow and medium. I don't know how the supposedly "normal" width became the de facto standard width for shoes and skates, but that appears to be the way it is for now.
Anyway, the point is that the skate manufacturers haven't done a great job at making skates in varying widths. Roces traditionally was better at accommodating wider feet, but they seemed to have lost a lot of their market presence (I can't remember the last time I saw Roces skates in a store anywhere, although mail-order may be a different story).
The end result was that to fit her feet, we had to move up one or two sizes. Not a real big deal, right?
Just wait, it gets more complicated.
Size Really Really Does Matter
Yes, two inches can make all the difference. Although for some people that sums up their entire love life 8-) for me, it's where the skate manufacturers fall short in a big way.
At this point, we've got skates that will fit her feet. Victory is ours! Yeah, right. We start to snap on the buckles...and come to Problem Number Two!
Now as connoisseurs of female gams will attest, female calves, like the rest of the female form, can range from slim to curvy. Apparently, in their infinite wisdom to build only medium width skates, the skate companies also built their skates to fit only skinny to medium width calves. My sweetie has curvy calves (and very sexy ones at that 8-).
Attempting to close the top buckle all the way, amounted to applying a tourniquet on her lower leg. This was the case for every skate with a buckle on the top. Rollerblade, K2, UltraWheels, Nike didn't matter. In most cases, the skates would have fit, if only they had bothered to extend the top buckle by say 2-3 inches.
This can't be a recent occurence either. Last spring, there was an inline skating expo in our area. We went with the express purpose of trying on skates. After several not-so-great fittings at various vendors, what we ended up doing was having her try on a men's skate and -- here's the stupid part -- they had to use duct tape on the top, instead of snapping the buckle down.
My sweetie wasn't the only they had to tape in to their skates. Several guys and gals also had to use tape.
So, you know these Rollerblade reps know that their top buckles are too short. They had the tape out, just for that purpose. You'd think they'd spend the extra nickel and put a longer buckle on those skates! On a product that costs $100-300, who's going to care about an extra few cents, if you can make your product available to an extra 25-50% of the population?
We went to Rollerblade's bandwidth-hogging web site and emailed them about this ridiculous oversight. Their response? "Sorry, we don't have time to answer our email. Call us instead." Sad, but true.
So there's all this fancy technology and not a single skate will fit.
Interestingly enough, Bauer had some skates at the expo that did fit. Only their problem was the tilt "feature". Their skates are tilted forward, to supposedly help you in to your skating posture. Kind of neat, until the cuff cuts into your calf when you stand up!
Anyway, if all these skates had slightly longer buckles, we probably would have spent twice as much on the skates.
So what did we end up with? To find a skate that did not have a buckle on the top, we had to go with the Rollerblade CY 33 (I have no one idea what that kooky name stands for, maybe someone's initials? *). Instead of a buckle, it has a big velcro powerstrap at the top, and laces the rest of the way down. We almost didn't even try those on at all. The Sports Authority that we were at (yes, salesdroids-city) had none on the shelf.
On a lark, we tried the skates that were on display. Miracle of miracles. Not only did it fit her foot size AND width, the top buckle didn't attempt to impersonate a boa constrictor. To recap, we started out looking for a women's 8-wide skate, we ended up with :
|Model type:||For men, not women.|
|Size:||Men's 8. Normally an 8 in women's is roughly a 6.5-7 in men's. We had to go up quite a bit to account for her foot width.|
For those of you wondering how I could buy skates that so blatantly violated the sacred tenants of the CST (Crummy Skate Threshold), I was curious about that myself.
The CY 33's are actually pretty good skates. Not a kids skate or a K-mart/Wal-mart/Target/Toys R' Us skate, but a real solid adult skate. I did a search on the skate reviews on Skate FAQs and found a reference to them selling for over $120 at one time. So fortunately this skate purchase still passes the CST (remember, it's not the actual price you pay, but the price that the skates may have retailed for.)
They may be phasing them out, for all I know, hence the low price. Also, no ill-fitting buckles to pay extra for.
Like I said before, two inches can make all the difference 8-)
So we started out looking for women's skate, and ended up with a men's skate that wasn't tremendously close to her shoe size (even after you convert between men and women's sizes).
For those of you with wider feet (especially women), don't give up trying to find the right skate. You probably want to ignore the sizing charts and go with whatever fits best (i.e, snug as possible, without hurting).
As for those with really wide feet, I'm not sure what to say. The skate companies don't seem to want to sell more skates. Maybe we should all write to them and let them know that they're shutting themselves off from a HUGE market.
- A few weeks after writing this article, I came across the C.Y. 33 skates on
a skate shop web site, still listed at around $149. I guess our Sports
Authority was trying to get rid of theirs, or just didn't know how to price
their skates. Not that I'm one to complain about a good deal on skating
- In the May 31, 1999 issue of Time magazine (page 101), columnist Anita
Hamilton details her own experiences with finding a good-fitting skate. Picking
from Rollerblade, K2, and Salomon skates, she found a pair that was soft as pillows.
* a reader informs me that apparently "C.Y." stands for "City Young".