Reader Sue asked:
… what tips or routine treatments you may employ to “help” some shoes which may be adorable and perfectly compliment any given outfit, but do not feel like warm buttered slippers on the feet all day? I’ve noted your mention of the use of moleskin, but how exactly can this be used? I understand there is a certain amount of breaking in to be expected with a new pair, but when do you resign yourself to the fact that a particular pair may require “this” or “that” throughout their life in order to keep them as good shoe citizens?
Such fabulous questions, don’t you agree? Now, some shoes are just inherently comfier than others, so I can’t promise to offer solutions that will make six-inch stilettos feel like Uggs. But I can share the tips I use to keep my feet as happy as possible, and share what I’ve learned about breaking in your footwear safely and smartly.
First and foremost, do some careful thinking if you try on a pair of shoes, love them to pieces, yet realize that they’re not immediately comfortable.
- Ask yourself how much you love the shoes and whether you will continue to love them if they cause you painful blisters for several wearings.
- Determine if they’re uncomfortable because of some stretching or flexibility-related issue, or because of shoddy construction or overall shape.
- Gauge how much you’re willing to change your preferences and behaviors: If you’re just beginning to explore heels and wedges, are you willing to deal with calf soreness and foot aches to accustom yourself to this new shoe style?
And, finally, be sure that they’re worth your hard-earned cash if they’re not perfect right out of the box. There might be a different, equally awesome pair out there that feels marvelous from day one. What is motivating you to consider these particular shoes?
BREAKING IN SHOES
Some shoes hurt because they aren’t meant for your particular pair of feet, but some shoes truly do need a bit of wear to fit properly. Years ago when I bought a pair patent leather combat boots, they were about as supple as poured concrete. The salesclerk told me it would take about eight hours of wear to break them in and it was all I could do to keep from laughing in his face. I mean, it’s possible that after eight hours of solid, vigorous walking they’d begin conforming to my specific foot shape … but there was no way I’d wear sparkling new patent boots on an eight-hour hike. Even eight hours of normal wear – with breaks for sitting and whatnot – will not a comfy, broken-in pair of shoes make. Especially not a pair made from something as inflexible as patent leather!
In my experience, most dress shoes are completely broken in after about ten wearings. As in, once they’ve been to the office for ten full working days, they fit like they were made from molds of my feetsies. The first five wearings do most of the work, and the last five add refinements to fit. I vastly prefer to be patient and let shoes break in gradually than to artificially accelerate the process by wearing new pairs on long walks and grinning through the blisters.
But that’s just me. Some of you may want to chuck a pair if they don’t quit rubbing after four wearings. Some of you may do everything in your power to force slightly-uncomfy shoes to become comfier as soon as humanly possible. Some of you may think that all shoes should fit and be comfy right out of the box, period. All valid philosophies.
Let’s assume you’ve ended up purchasing an imperfect pair for whatever reason, and need some tips on how to make the breaking-in process less arduous. Here’s my roundup of techniques:
Area-specific rubbing: Band-aids slide around and blister block does nothing to improve long-term fit, so I prefer moleskin. Once you’ve determined which area is going to get rubbed raw, cut a piece of this stuff from a sheet, remove the backing, and apply the adhesive side to your foot. Like a band-aid it will shield your foot from the painful portion of the shoe, but since the moleskin itself is fairly thick, it will also begin to train the shoe away from that part of your foot. The moleskin helps stretch the shoe more quickly and effectively than just wearing and blistering.
Length tightness: Now, if a shoe is so tight it causes your toes to curl or your foot to feel truly and uncomfortably cramped, TAKE IT BACK. Or donate it or whatever. Just don’t subject your poor tootsies to that exquisite torture. If a shoe is slightly snug in the length, you can attempt to stretch it yourself … but I’d recommend taking it to your friendly neighborhood cobbler. Stretching doesn’t typically cost more than $10, and the cobbler can give you an expert opinion on whether or not stretching will even help.
Width tightness: Again, checking with the cobbler is never a bad plan. But if a pair of shoes feels just a wee bit snug in the width, I will sometimes go the cheap route instead. I put on my thickest pair of fluffy socks and smash my feet into the shoes for a trot around the house. This is not fun, not comfortable, and not recommended for long periods of time. But if you do the thick-sock trick for an hour a few times a week, you’ll definitely notice a difference.
Roomy toe box: I read recently that lambswool, which ballerinas use in the tips of their toe shoes, can work just as well for slightly large shoes that you find yourself sliiiiding into. As in, you’ve got a pair of heels that fit great when your ankle is back against the heel of the shoe, but when you slip down the slope, your toes get crunched up in the box. Lambswool specific to this purpose can be purchased here. Ball of foot pads like these can also be helpful
Slippery: See this post for my ideas, and some fabulous ones shared by readers!
Finally, a few general words about uncomfortable footwear:
- I adore the leg-lengthening properties of heels and wedges, but make a point of varying my footwear. And so should you. DO NOT wear tall heels every single day, friends. Give your body a break and strap on a flat shoe every so often. Otherwise, your joints will rebel.
- It is possible to learn to walk in extremely tall, extremely skinny heels. But not everyone can do it and it’s not a skill necessary to every lifestyle. There are alternatives.
- Before you choose your shoes in the morning, think long and hard about the day ahead. Too many of us have ended up limping because we wore sitting-down-shoes on a day that involved long walks!
Image courtesy [auro].
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