The Shoe Snob Blog

July 16, 2012

Written by , Posted in News

Breaking In Shoes – Your First 30 Days

Double-Soled Alfred Sargent Boot – Long break in period….

When you think about buying shoes, most people probably think about getting the most comfortable thing that they can find, as when we are not sleeping, we are most likely on our feet. Now assuming that our feet were made for walking on earth (dirt, soil etc.), one would think that wearing stiff leather in comparison might not be the most sound idea, which is why rubber soled shoes can be so popular. But as leather has been found to be the best resource for a pair of well made, built to last dress shoes, it is something that we are stuck with using. However, the idea of stiff leather leaves many people around the world quite fearful of certain shoes, particularly goodyear welted ones, as they tend to be among the stiffest (at least in the beginning). Because of this, many people don’t know what to expect and therefore may deter from actually buying these shoes. Due to this, and the fact that I love to break stereotypes (in the footwear industry), I have decided to give you my thoughts on what to expect for the first 30 days of wearing your new shoes.
Glued Soles


On a glued sole shoe, there should really be no break in period. Most of the time, you find that rubber soles are used anyway on a shoe that has a glued sole, so the pairing between rubber sole and most likely a relatively soft leather (think the majority of Ferragamo’s loafers – as shown above) leaves for a virtually pain free experience. The shoe should feel good right away, and if it doesn’t, then don’t buy it.
Blake Stitched Soles




Whether or not your blake stitched shoes will have a break in period will greatly depend on several factors. First and foremost, thickness of the sole. Take Santoni’s Fatte A Mano range for example (as show above), which are all blake stitched. Some of them use very high quality leather that is quite substantial and therefore quite stiff. In the beginning you can expect there to be a bit of stiffness and possibly discomfort (in the sense that it won’t feel as flexible as your glued sole counterparts), but being that blake stitched construction is not intended to be overly rigid, this stiffness should not last long. Within one week, this stiffness should go away and in some extreme cases may last two weeks. On a blake stitched shoe with a very thin sole (think Italian summer loafer in suede), there should be virtually no break in period with the sole, but what you might find is that depending on the upper leather, there might be some period of softening up of the upper. As most of the blake stitched shoes with a thin sole tend to use a thin and flexible upper leather, this break in period should be within a day or two of wear. There are always exceptions to the rule but as a generalization, blake-stitched shoes should not ever take more than two weeks to become soft and flexible.
Goodyear Welted Soles


Alden – Picture Courtesy Of: Leather Soul




This is the construction that many people who are not familiar with, will struggle for their first time of experiencing it. Due to the nature of the construction, where there are multiple parts of leather stitched to each other in order to create a very strong and durable bond, the shoe will virtually always be stiff in the beginning and thus might cause discomfort for those not used to it. Therefore, allow me to break down the first 4 weeks of using them.
Week 1
Plain and simple: the shoe will be incredibly stiff. Now, depending on the upper leather used, this stage can be quite unbearable for some not used to it. You might find yourself with blisters on your heels, leather cutting into your toes, sore arches, or just flat out not enough cushion in your insole. All of these discomforts should go away, so don’t worry.
In some cases, depending on how you like your shoes to fit, the shoe might feel slightly too small due to its stiffness. However, a shoe’s leather will always stretch, but that is not to say that you should buy a shoe that feels tight, but more so if it is ‘snug’ then not to worry as from snug to normal, just involves a bit of wear and softening of the leather.
Week 2
Depending on the upper leather used, and the thickness of the sole, the shoe might still be stiff. But if it is, it should be significantly less. The heel counter should be considerably softer by now, not giving you more blisters, but maybe making the previous ones still hard to heal. If you have a cap toe, the toe stiffener might still be cutting into your toes as these sometimes take a while to break in. The sole should be a lot softer now, so your arches should start feeling like they are moulding to the insole, and therefore should not feel sore by any means.
Week 3
While the shoe won’t be completely broken in quite yet, it should start feeling a lot more like a normal soft shoe. All of the aches and pains should not occur anymore, and if they do, then something is not quite right. At this this point, home remedies in softening the leather up should be considered (I will explain these below).
Week 4
The shoe should feel good now, through and through. The insole should be moulded to your foot, almost as if you have a custom arch-bed inside. The leather everywhere should be considerably softer, but it will never feel like suede so do not expect that. You should not have any discomfort anymore. Now, the one exception is if you are wearing cordovan leather shoes. While I have never owned a pair myself, I do know that their break-in times are significantly longer, some even saying that they never really soften up completely.

Manually Softening The Leather
Breaking in the heel counter can be done two different ways. The first way involves putting the shoe in front of you (toe facing away) and with your palm, bending the top of the heel leather downwards into the inside of the shoe (similar to shown above, only that you should do it in the middle of the heel). While this will cause a bit of creasing in the leather, it is the surest way to soften up the heel stiffener inbetween the liner and upper leather. Give it a good 4-5 pushes and hold down 2-3 seconds for each push. The second way is to take the convex side of a spoon, and rub back and forth on the upper bit of the inside heel counter. Rub thoroughly (for at least 10 hard strokes), but be careful not to fray the stitching.
Softening up the toe piece and/or upper leather at forefoot joints, involves a rounded broom handle (or any object long enough to get inside of the shoe, that is stiff and has a round end). You will want to stick the broom inside of the shoe, where the leather is stiff, and rub intensely using the hand holding the shoe to guide where the end rubs on the inside. I hope that this makes sense….
Now if doing these things still does not do the trick or that your arches still aren’t feeling quite right, then more likely than not, you bought the wrong size. The shoe will most likely be too big and the friction from not having a taut hold will be causing heel blisters and will make your break point (where the shoe creases in the forefoot) sit in the wrong area, causing it to dig into your toes.
This post is a general guide to stiff goodyear welted shoes as well as blake stitched shoes with thick leather uppers and soles. Not all shoes will break in the same way. Some will be significantly less troublesome to break in (such as my Gaziano & Girling balmoral boots were) and others might never really fully break in (think cordorvan or bookbinder leather). It will vary shoe upon shoe, maker upon maker and leather used for each model. But just because a shoe is stiff doesn’t mean that it should be ruled as uncomfortable. Some of my most comfortable shoes started off really stiff, but once broken in, feel more supportive and comfortable than my softest shoes. Everything will vary, but allow this to give you a general idea of what to expect!

By the way, tomorrow morning I am heading to my factory to hopefully finalize my first set of prototypes to the first collection. This means that I won’t have time to post so unfortunately you won’t hear back from me until Thursday, hopefully with some good news and a better idea to the long anticipated launch of my shoe line!!

Ever-beautiful Edward Green – won’t be on sale described below

On another note, I have something that should interest most of you in England, and maybe some of you in surrounding European countries:


Is this email not displaying correctly?
View it in your browser.


Pop-up Sale - Notting Hill

We are very excited to announce a pop-up sale we’re holding this week in Notting Hill with Drake’s of London.

Shoes will be selling at significant reductions – up to 80% off normal retail – better than the factory sale. There will be a wide variety of shoes on offer, as we clear good quality odd and imperfect stock.

Drake’s will also be joining us with shirts, scarves and their beautiful Clerkenwell-made ties.

We’ll be holding the sale in a lovely space just off Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill. Make sure to pay a visit – this really will be the sale of the year for London’s sartorialists.

12 Needham Road, off Westbourne Grove, W11 2RP
Wednesday 18th to Sunday 22nd July
Week 12- 8pm | Saturday 10-7pm | Sunday 12-6pm

————————————————-
Maximum of five pairs per customer. Personal shoppers only.
No shoes can be sent out. Cards are welcome. No returns will be accepted. 

  • Alex B

    What I’m wondering, Justin, is how often/long you’re wearing the shoes in these weeks. I guess if you’re “rotating” them once or twice a week this makes sense. Otherwise I’d say if you wore them a lot, normally a few days is enough to get them feeling like they’re yours.

  • Derrick

    Good question Alex, I was wondering the same thing. I wear my EG Malverns about 2X a month. I’ve owned them a year now, do you think they’ve even been broken in?

  • Alex B

    By the way, thanks for the tip on the sale! Just so happens I have to hang around in London for a few hours Friday afternoon…I think I know where I’m going now!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, "The Shoe Snob"

    Alex B – Yes you are right…only that the stiffer the shoe (and the more the person is not used to this feeling) the more likely that the person will wear them only a few times a week, as they won’t be able to bare the brute of a hard and fast break in

    Derrick – EG’s leather is quite soft, so I guess that they have been alright? The sole is probably still stiff though as 2x a month is quite little…

    Alex B – ah you should come say hi Alex!

    -Justin

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07386862044639606865 avi

    found this post now, better late than never, but when you talk about breaking in a shoe, like in the first week how long should u wear the shoe for? like wearing it inside with minimal walking around or walking for like 20+min than wearing them all day.
    What would be a good timeframe to break in a stiff pair of goodyears

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, "The Shoe Snob"

    Avi – breaking in a shoe needs to be done by wearing it normally, throughout the day…one cannot break in a shoe at home as you simply don’t do enough natural movement and walking at your house as you would in the street. Timeframe can be anywhere from a few hours to 2 weeks, it really just depends on the shoe and the wearer….

    -Justin

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05067981434392997024 Deborah

    Hi Justin, I’m a woman who purchased a pair of leather flats online. They arrived today and I’m not sure now whether I should return them or try to break them in. The reason is because the toe box feels too tight. My toes have enough room in the tip, but side-to-side it’s tight.
    This article was pretty helpful on the process of breaking in men’s leather shoes…but will it be worth it to break my flats in, or are they just too small?

    Thanks!!

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, The Shoe Snob

      if a shoe is snug in the beginning then most likely it will break in to become just right…if a shoe is simply outright tight (uncomfortably), well then I must say that the chances of them getting to the point in which they are comfortable is unlikely….hope that this helps

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, The Shoe Snob

      sorry for the delay in this, just realized how long ago your comment was, I must have accidentally overlooked it…so sorry!

  • Anonymous

    Justin, have you a view as to how best prolong the life of leather soles.
    I appreciate impact of wearing in the wet etc, but is there an oil or product which can be applied which would help extend their use.
    Thanks

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, The Shoe Snob

      you can wax polish them just like you would your uppers…the wax will help to seal them to protect the from water etc….

    • Anonymous

      Justin, would this also apply for suede shoes, which I understand stretch more than calf leather ones?

  • Tony

    This is the one area about buying expensive shoes I hate. You get the not inconsiderable amount of money together and with much excitement hurry on down to your favorite shoe shop or manufacturers shop of your choice only for the whole process to become somewhat of a nightmare. What we really want iffor the salesman to tell you, “these shoes are a perfect fit for your feet”, however this never happens as most of us do not have perfect feet or indeed very often one foot is slightly smaller/bigger than the other. The salesman can only be so helpful as really the final decision is up to ourselves. Even after we persevere and end up at home with our purchase the doubts begin, are they too tight/loose, too narrow or too wide, too long or too short ect, ect and none of this will really become apparent until after the break in period. What exactly does a snug fit mean, does it mean slightly tight or just a good fit. If a shoe salesman cannot explain this how do I decide as a layman. I know I exaggerate a tad but is the day where we can place our feet into a 3d machine that will link our size with our perfect fit that far away.
    One other consideration is the manufacturer and type of shoe. For instance a pair of Alden calf can seem much stiffer than a pair of C&J handgrades in calf so does the breakin period differ and because the leather in the Alden is stiffer should we go for a tighter fit in the Alden when buying the shoe. How people buy shoes like these online is beyond me unless of course that already have a pair and know their size.

    • TheShoeSnob

      dear Tony,

      fit is subjective so you as the purchaser need to decide whether or not something feels good and fits well…a shoe should feel hugging at first and then perfect (as one can be) once broken in…. 3-D machines don’t work (and people have already tried) because it gives you theoretically a “perfect” measurement for fit, but it does not take into account personal preference i.e. many Americans and English like loose fitting shoes while many Europeans like a very snug (and sometimes overly) fit….therefore this idea is unfortunately null…. Shoe fitting is just one of those things that will forever be difficult for some and easy for others, but not because of the shoes, more so because of the person trying them….

  • JohnHousecat

    So the painful blisters will go away with time? :(

    • TheShoeSnob

      yes they will…hang in there!

  • Justin L

    I bought a beautiful pair of Donald Pliner brady chukka boots. They were very stiff when I got them yesterday. I put some mink oil on them and overnight they have losened up. My only issue is I think I would have liked to keep them stiff and their contour exact. Did I screw up by putting the mink oil on and potential over softening and early stretching or did I do the right think by protecting the boot and also softening so that creases won’t be so drastic and my feet feel more comfortable than tight…. I almost want to return them and get another pair so that stiffness lasts and will wear naturally…..

    Please respond in driving myself insane.

    Thanks
    Justin L

    • TheShoeSnob

      you did not do anything wrong at all so don’t worry about that….better if anything as the mink oil would help the creases to not become too prominent too quickly…