JM Weston Triple Sole Brogue – Hard to Break In!!!
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 in ready to wear shoes (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 especially), I have decided to give you my thoughts on what to expect for the first 30 days of wearing your new shoes.
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. What they tend to lack however, is true support which for me is what gives real comfort.
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, 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
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 for those that have never tried a goodyear welted shoe before. This example is for the extreme cases as in reality they are not so bad, especially when used to them.
Plain and simple: If you are not used to it, the shoe will feel incredibly stiff. Now, depending on the upper leather used, this stage can be quite unbearable for those that have never suffered through it before. 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 uncomfortably 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. Once ‘snug’ has broke it, it should become ‘just right.’
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.
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).
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 people 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, bending down whatever spot is bothering you). While this will cause a bit of creasing in the leather, it is the surest way to soften up the heel stiffener that is between 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.
Paolo Scafora’s handwelted shoes use a special technique that allows you to bend the shoe in half
Now if doing all of 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 (i.e. blake-rapid shoes). 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 cheap cordorvan or shiny bookbinder leather (also cheap)). 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!