When people talk about ‘breaking-in’ shoes, they talk of pain, suffering, and weeks of gritted teeth; a thoroughly unpleasant experience akin to running a marathon wearing stone flip flops. They will have you believe that you will rue the day you ever bought ‘proper shoes’, at least for a week or two, until you finally emerge the victor, bloodied and bruised, and your shoes have succumbed to your feet, defeated and spent. ‘Broken in’.
It doesn’t have to be like this. You ‘break-in’ a horse; you shouldn’t have to break-in a shoe.
Instead, I’d like to suggest ‘wearing-in’ your shoes. It sounds a lot less scary and labour intensive, and there are steps you can take to make the whole process easy and pain free.
For a Goodyear welted shoe to become fully comfortable, there are a few things that need to happen: the leather (or suede) uppers need to soften around the shape of your foot, and the insole and cork filler will flex and take an impression of your foot to aid comfort and support. This is where this style of footwear excels as the more you wear it, the better it gets.
We don’t expect this to happen overnight, but the difference I want to make clear is that the shoes should be pretty comfortable when you first try them on. In doing so, they can only feel better over time and you’ve eliminated the need to swear at your feet; this is counterintuitive and makes you look a bit silly.
The first thing you can do to ensure a painless wearing-in experience is to buy a shoe that fits. This is a large subject to tackle here, and one that has some subjectivity, but when doing a fitting in store I always make sure that the customer has breathing room in the shoe. This way, you’re giving the leather the space it needs to take the shape of your foot whilst also allowing some leeway for when your feet fluctuate in size. They do this quite often depending on how far you’ve walked and how warm it is, so it’s always a good idea to leave as little to chance as possible.
If you feel pressure in the toe box or the heel, the shoes are too small. These are reinforced and will never give, regardless of how loud you shout at them.
The quality of leather also plays a part in how easy the shoes will be to wear-in. The leathers we use are all of a high grade and will therefore soften really nicely over time whilst retaining their strength. Cheaper leather, if I dare say that, is often treated with chemicals to make it usable, resulting in stiff leather that is very stubborn and isn’t particularly bothered about working around your foot shape.
You’ve made it this far through the blog, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to shed light on how to wear-in your new shoes. What’s the hack? Is there a big secret?
Here goes: the easiest way to wear-in your new shoes is to wear them. The end.
Okay, let me elaborate. There’s no real secret or fancy technique to it; if you want your shoes to be comfortable, you need to give them time to work around your individual foot shape, and there’s no better way to do that than wearing them.
However, I do recommend wearing them little and often to begin with. Put your new shoes on you’re nipping to the supermarket for milk, or meeting a friend for coffee, or even around the house (if they’re clean). After doing this a couple of times, you’ll be able to wear them for longer and longer until they’re fully worn-in.
Dry leather is tough leather; it’s always a good idea to keep your shoes topped up with a good quality shoe cream, but particularly when they are new. Using a neutral Renovator Cream and a coloured 1925 Cream will soften the leather and aid with wearing-in. I find this particularly useful with black leather, as the tanning process makes it a slightly stiffer leather initially.
If your shoes have leather soles, wear them outside on a dry day to scuff the soles and make them less slippery on smooth surfaces – although it is fun to glide into a room to really make an entrance.
After taking these steps (literally and figuratively), your new shoes should start to feel even better than they did when you first tried them. No fuss, no pain, just patience in exchange for years of good wear.