We compared the plantar pressures generated by walking in leather-soled Oxford-style shoes and by walking in inexpensive running shoes with those generated by walking in thin socks on a hard surface for thirty-nine individuals (thirteen who had diabetes and neuropathy, and thirteen who had diabetes without neuropathy, and thirteen who had neither diabetes nor neuropathy [controls]). Except for two anatomical regions, the plantar pressure associated with the Oxford-style shoes were not different from those associated with walking without shoes. In comparison, the inexpensive running shoes relieved plantar pressure in the forefoot and heel by a mean (and standard deviation) of 31 +/- 9.1 per cent, with the most relief occurring in the feet that had the highest pressures when they were unshod. There were significant reductions in pressure in all regions of the foot except for the midfoot (p < 0.01), and there were no significant differences between the groups. Individuals who have insensate feet should be discouraged from wearing leather-soled Oxford-style shoes because of the risk of ulceration due to elevated plantar pressures. Inexpensive running shoes should be viewed as the very minimally acceptable choice for footwear for these individuals if the feet are free of deformity.