A piece of equipment designed to determine the shoe size that one should purchase. The Brannock device is a miracle of modern technology, made of no more than three die-cast steel components and including a riveted-on label proclaiming its name. These beauties are found in shoe stores everywhere. It's been a while since I've seen one, but if memory serves correctly, they come from New Jersey.

In reality, the Brannock device is of no particular note, except for its cool name. Upon first seeing said device and noting its name, one might conclude that it is destined to inflict some sort of torture upon the user.

A tool used to measure one's feet for proper shoe size. The potential shoe buyer places his/her bare foot on a flat, marked plate, with the heel resting against a curved form on the back of the device. The big toe rests on a mark indicating the length size. The salesperson then slides an indicator against the outside of the foot to measure its width. The brannock device helps the salesperson verify the customer's totally incorrect estimate of their shoe size.

Customer (usually an extremely overweight woman holding a narrow black pump removed from a display): "I'd like to see these in a size 5, please."

Salesperson (usually some poor part-time high school student guy in an ugly tie who'd rather be at a rave or skateboarding): "Yes, ma'am. Why don't you have a seat here and we'll double check your size?"

Customer (eyeing the guy as he grabs the brannock device): "Oh, you don't need to measure. I've been a size 5 since I was 18."

Salesperson (thinking "Right, she's a size 5, and I'm Regis Philbin."): "Well, let's just check to be sure."

Customer (after squeezing her voluminous hoof into the brannock): "Was I right?"

Salesperson (trying to avoid a laughing fit): "Well, ma'am, it says you're a size 8. But don't worry. You're feet are probably a bit swollen from walking around the mall."

This was a common encounter during the worst job I ever had, shoe salesman at a Thom McAn store on Long Island. This job was directly responsible for my eventual enthusiastic enlistment in the United States Navy.

In a world where planned obsolecence drives sales the Brannock device has remained virtually unchanged through decades of manufacturing. Invented and promptly patented by Charles Brannock of Syracuse, New York in 1926-1927 this double sided steel plate is now the shoe industry's standard for helping customers find the right shoe for their particular foot. Rather than focus on the company Charles Brannock founded I would like to explain what his device does and how it has revolutionalized shoe fitting.

Before the Brannock device was invented a small piece of wood was used to determine what size of shoe a customer required. There were a couple of problems with this method two of which Charles Brannock's new device addressed. Knowing how long a foot is from the heel to the longest toe is important however it is not the most important measurement of an individual's foot. Two people can have feet that are identical in length yet require two different sized shoes for each of them to be properly fitted. If you're wondering why that is I invite you to continue reading

The answer to that lies question lies in the second measurement everyone who measures your foot should be taking. People's feet will change an average of about five times as they age. Whenever you are shopping for shoes store employees should be measuring your foot and if they are not manipulating the small metal pieces on the side of the Brannock device they are not doing their job the way it should be done. Heel to toe length is an important measurement however it must be used in conjunction with the secondary arch length measurement.

Arch length is the measurement from the heel of your foot to the ball joint. If the ball joint of your foot is not prominent shoe store employees may ask you to curl your toes, alternatively they may use their thumb to feel for that joint. This is an important part of getting a good measurement so please do not be offended by someone touching the top of your foot. It is also vital that your foot be properly positioned in the Brannock device so make sure your heel is touching the back of the heel cup and there is no material other than your sock in between your foot and the heel cup.

Customer cooperation is an important part of this process. Pulling your toes back interferes with an accurate read. Besides being a self defeating idea your sales person is reading your arch length which they will use to determine your foot size. Once someone has a heel to toe length and an arch measurement they should be comparing those numbers. If the numbers are the same then that is the person's shoe size according to the Brannock device. Since those numbers are frequently different a shoe fitter should choose the larger of the two numbers before proceeding to the third step.

After you have determined what size a person's foot is that will help you determine the width. People can be sensitive about these meaurements, some people will argue with you and the customer may always be right but they may be leaving the shoe store with a pair of shoes you know do not fit them correctly. How you handle those people is another writeup entirely so I'll fast forward to the last two steps. The sliding bar on the side of the Brannock will help you find out whether the foot you're working with is broad, medium or narrow

Generally speaking people tend to be asymmetrical so each foot should be measured every time you are trying on shoes. It might seem like a silly waste of time to sit through someone measuring your foot but you are only doing yourself a disservice by not cooperating with someone who offers to measure your foot. Used correctly the Brannock device has between a ninety-five to ninety-six percent degree of accuracy. Shoes that flex need to bend where your foot naturally does. Using the Brannock to measure arch length, heel to toe length and width helps the people assisting you find a shoe that fits you properly.

Stunningly elegant in design the Brannock device remains an invaluable commodity for people who know how to use it. Manufactured to withstand years of use and abuse Charles Brannock decreed that whoever runs the empire he built would have to agree not to compromise on the quality of the product he created. Historically he is regarded as a quiet man. A bachelor until the day he breathed his last Charles left no children to carry on production of the device he created. Next time you find yourself confronted with one of his devices observe a moment of silent tribute to Charles Brannock: the man who changed footwear fitting forever.

Sources: http://www.brannock.com, personal experience.

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