Can Women Wear Men’s Basketball Shoes? Chart Showing the Size Differences

Have you ever gone shopping for women’s basketball shoes and noticed that there are quite a few men’s shoes and not many made specifically for women? This narrow selection of styles and models might have caused you to wonder if it would work to simply buy men’s shoes instead.

Women can certainly wear men’s basketball shoes; in fact, almost all WNBA players do, whether they are men’s basketball shoes or adapted versions of the men’s shoes for women.

In this article, we will discuss the differences between men’s and women’s shoes and sizes, the shoes WNBA players wear, how to choose the best basketball shoe for your foot type and the advantages and disadvantages of wearing men’s shoes as a woman. Along with concrete tips on how to break in your shoes effectively, this information will help you make the best of the limited options for women’s basketball shoes and lead you to a shoe that plays to your strengths on the court.

The lack of women’s basketball shoes

Although shoe companies technically make women’s basketball shoes, they primarily are just slightly adapted versions of men’s signature shoe lines. In fact, nike makes 24 percent fewer basketball shoes for women compared to men. This leaves women (especially women with feet that are larger than traditional women’s sizes) with a much smaller range of basketball shoes to choose from that are specifically made for women.

What shoes do WNBA players wear?

Photo: ESPN

nike made the first signature women’s basketball shoes in 1995 for Sheryl Swoopes. Before the Air Swoopes, WNBA players were wearing men’s shoes because they had no other choice.

“The only sneakers that were really covered back then were the nike Air Swoopes, because Sheryl Swoopes was the first woman to have a signature shoe. That was a really big deal,” retired WNBA Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo told The Undefeated. “In my generation, they didn’t even make women’s basketball sneakers. You figured out which men’s size you wore, because they didn’t even have them in women’s sizes.” 

Nike, Reebok, Adidas and Fila all made a signature shoe in the mid ‘90s, but the production came to a halt in 2000. After a sudden dry spell, the last WNBA player received a pair of custom Nikes in 2006, before shoe companies stopped making signature shoes for WNBA players altogether.

In the past decade, WNBA players occasionally received custom men’s shoes from nike and other shoe companies, but not specifically women’s shoes. Adidas was sponsoring the WNBA in 2008, and for several years female players had to wear league-approved shoes that were primarily white or black. Now there is room for a wide variety in the design of WNBA players’ shoes, thanks largely to Instagram encouraging artistic expression. 

With this increased freedom for creativity, there is even more of a yearning for signature women’s basketball shoes. In April 2020, college basketball star and New York Liberty rookie Sabrina Ionescu signed a deal with nike that might lead to her being the only current WNBA player to have her own custom shoes. Until shoe companies start making signature shoes for women again, most WNBA players are wearing men’s basketball shoes such as Air Jordans, Kyries, Lebrons and Kobes.

The difference between women’s and men’s shoe sizes

Although youth shoe sizes are unisex, generally there is a 1.5-size difference in length between women’s and men’s shoe sizes. Thus, if a woman is a size 8.5 in women’s shoes, she would be a 7 in men’s shoes. The width size remains the same between men’s and women’s shoes.

Men’s shoe sizes usually range from size 8 to size 13, and women’s shoe sizes range from size 6 to 11, causing problems for female basketball players whose feet are large enough to fall outside the normal range. The smallest men’s sizes start at 5.5.

What size shoe does a woman wear in men’s?

Here is a table to provide a quick reference for your shoe size in a men’s basketball shoe:

Women’s size77.588.599.51010.511
Men’s size5.566.577.588.599.5

How to choose the best style of basketball shoe

Under the umbrella of both men’s and women’s basketball shoes, there are three main categories: high-tops, mid-tops and low-tops. The best type depends primarily on your playing position on the court, but past injuries could also play a role in your decision, as the different styles offer varying levels of support.

High-top basketball shoes provide the most stability and ankle support, which makes them best for playing the center or forward position. The downside to high-tops is that they restrict mobility, so they are not ideal for players whose priority is speed.

Mid-top basketball shoes enable players to have a wider range of movement while still supporting their ankles. This type is best for all-around players, as their best aspect is versatility. The only possible disadvantage is that mid-tops offer fairly average performance, as they are not exceptional in a specific area of their design due to their versatility.

Low-top basketball shoes are perfect for speedy players, enabling them to move more quickly, but they unfortunately do not provide much ankle support. They are most well-suited for the guard position because they are more lightweight and offer better mobility than the other two types of basketball shoes.

Below is a table that provides a quick reference for each basketball shoe type and its strengths.

 PositionDesigned ForDisadvantages
High-topCenter/forwardStability and ankle supportLess mobility
Mid-topAnyFreedom and versatility balanced with adequate supportDoes not excel in a specific area
Low-topGuardFast-paced movement and high mobilityLow ankle support

Regardless of which position you are playing and the type of basketball shoe you select, it is important that the sole of the shoe makes you feel solid and secure.

Advantages/disadvantages of women wearing men’s shoes

Even though it is extremely common for women to wear men’s basketball shoes (and in some cases, they have little choice), there are some possible disadvantages to consider.

  • Women’s foot shapes are different than men’s.
    • They have narrower heels, softer midsoles and wider toe and forefoot bases.
  • Because their heel is narrower, women’s heels can slip inside a men’s shoe.
    • This leads to instability.
  • Women have different gait patterns.
    • Because women are lighter, men’s shoes have cushioning that is too dense.
    • The mid-sole in a women’s shoe is designed to accommodate 15 percent less of an impact.

However, every woman’s feet are different, and especially in the case of female basketball players, some women may need bigger and wider shoes and might be more comfortable in a men’s shoe than they would be in a women’s shoe.

Tips on selecting and breaking in basketball shoes

Tip #1: When selecting a basketball shoe, make sure there is  ¼ to ½ inch of space in the toe with a snug forefoot and heel that does not slip.

Tip #2: Make sure to buy your shoes at least two weeks in advance of wearing them to a competitive event.

Tip #3: Break them in by starting with 10 minutes of light activity and adding 10 minutes each day for three days; next, wear them for an hour of more increasingly vigorous exercise for four days, working up to at least 30 minutes of jogging by the fourth day; for four more days, wear the shoes for two hours a day, including turns, jumps and pivots.

A Word From Love At First Fit

Because of the lack of options when it comes to women’s basketball shoes, it is perfectly understandable to buy and wear men’s basketball shoes as a woman. In addition, this might be a preferable option for female players (especially WNBA players) with foot sizes that do not conform to the narrow size range offered for women’s shoes.

However, for women with smaller feet, the possible disadvantages should be considered, such as instability due to differences in gait and foot shape between men and women. This could lead to an increased risk of injury.

When selecting a women’s or men’s basketball shoe, high-top shoes are the best choice if you plan to play a center or forward position and need more ankle support. Low-tops are ideal for playing a guard position, and mid-top shoes are a good option if you want to play a variety of positions and are looking for the most versatility.

No matter which model of basketball shoe you pick, take care that your toes have enough room, your forefoot is snug and your heel stays in place. Breaking in your shoes for a full two weeks with increasing time and activity will ensure that you stay injury-free. In the end, it is entirely up to you whether women’s or men’s basketball shoes make you feel the most comfortable and help you effectively take on the competition on the court.

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