photo: mirror.co.ukReader Don asks:
I have a question about buying shoes. I've read about reshaping and all of that, so I know there are some restoration options, but how worn is too worn? Any tips on buying used dress shoes? All I've seen around town so far are very creased and discolored.
Good quality shoes in good condition are perhaps the hardest thing of all for a man to find in a thrift shop. For obvious reasons, shoes are the clothing item exposed to the harshest wear and tear. We walk in them, on pavement. We scuff them against things. They get sweaty on the inside. We wear them on our feet for extended periods of time, often for periods lasting years. A favorite pair is a treasured item, even for people who don't realize or won't admit it, and so they are often the last things we want to part with. Men tend to wear their shoes until they fall to pieces.
Besides all this, shoes are submitted to undue abuse in the processing phase between donation and selling time. Think of it: a guy decides to donate some shoes, and they get tossed in a garbage bag along with a bunch of other stuff. The thrift shop gets them, and tosses them loose in an industrial hamper with a million other pairs. They may get sorted through a number of these bins, always tossed in with a heap of other shoes. Maybe they get tied together in pairs by the laces. Maybe not. Eventually, they go out for sale some place. A sordid affair.
This may be bleak news for the man cracked enough (like me) to dedicate obscene amounts of time and effort into acquiring a closet full of the rich man's cast offs, but there is a bright side. Good shoes are made to last a long time, and hence are worth repair, and the best shoes tend to be owned by those who take care of them, and thus have more years left in them if given a little repair.
Quality leather can take a beating, so all is not lost. As with anything, look for quality and don't settle for junk. This is especially true with shoes. Not only do crappy shoes look bad and have a cheesy feel to them, they're uncomfortable as well. Steer clear of stuff that was crap in the first place...it will have only gotten crappier.
So, how worn is to worn is the real question. The answer depends largely on whether you have access to a good cobbler. If the answer is yes, then it's a good bet that shoes that many might consider wrecked are your goldmine. Worn heels, holes in the sole, or soles breaking away from the shoe, as well as peeling linings or stitching that's come loose, are all things that your cobbler can put right. It won't be cheap, though, so you have to decide what you're willing to invest. I might buy a pair of quality shoes by Allen Edmonds or Alden for less than $10, then pay the cobbler up to $100 to repair them. For me, $110 is short change for fine shoes. $110 buys junk new at DSW. Catch my drift?
Some shoes are just over the hill. Avoid anything with holes or cracks in the leather itself. Creases in the leather are not always the kiss of death, as polish and mink oil, plus a good pair of cedar shoe trees, can usually fix this, but a hole is a deal breaker. The vast majority of shoes at thrift stores were worthless to begin with, and junk is junk. I won't buy it new, I certainly won't buy it old. The rule of persistence in thrift shopping is of exponential importance when it comes to shoes, but when it pays off, it tends to do so in spades. Be patient.
Having said all that, if there's one thing worth coughing up full retail for, besides the requisite socks and underwear, its good shoes. They may be expensive, but good ones will last a very long time, and your $15 suit and 99 cent tie will look infinitely better when complimented by proper shoes. In fact, I'm gearing up for a new pair or two myself, likely to be the topic of a new "Worth Every Penny" post.
So, in closing, George Harrison, on vinyl :
p.s. don't forget the sale in the Shop. 15% off all orders over $50 through midnight Saturday. Use discount code NEWYEAR2012 at checkout.