Shoes that feel as cozy as slippers in the store can become just the opposite after an evening out or a couple weeks of wear. And few stores allow customers to return worn shoes. The shoe’s material and construction could be the problem, or it could be fit. “Sizes in even the most expensive shoes don’t accommodate individual lengths and widths of feet,” says Linda O’Keefe, author of Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers and More. Rather than burying the pair in the back of your closet, check out these 10 fixes for the most common issues.
1. Too Tight Straps
While many leather straps stretch with wear, you can shorten the breaking-in process with water. H2O can gently stretch leather, molding it to the shape of your foot, says Meghan Cleary, author of Shoe Are You? Before you wear shoes out the first time, spritz them with “a light spray of plain water,” she says. “Wear them around until dry.”
These are most likely to crop up on the bottoms of feet because of friction between your feet’s soles and the shoe’s. To avoid blisters, line each shoe with moleskin foam, which creates a cushion. The padding absorbs friction with a layer of cotton over the foam. “Adhere it to the inside of each shoe before the first time you wear them,” suggests Cleary.
3. Arch Pain
Shoes that cause this likely don’t provide enough support in the middle of your foot. Stick to brands known for supportive kicks, including Cole Haan, Clarks and Onex, suggests Kimberly Ade, a stylist at Keri Blair Image Experts in Denver. Or at the very least, “opt for wedges instead of skinny heels,” she says. Wedges distribute weight away from the ball of your foot and more evenly throughout the shoe. And when you wear heels, choose ones that are shorter than three inches, adds Ade. But if most shoes make your arches ache, orthotics, custom-fitted shoe inserts from a podiatrist, may help.
4. Sweaty Feet
Too-small shoes can heat up your tootsies and cause blisters. To get a better fit, “only buy shoes at the end of the day when your feet may be swollen and tired,” suggests O’Keefe. Even if the shoe fits, the material may turn up the temperature. Save patent leather and rubber for colder times of year, and opt for breathable canvas and natural leather in warmer weather. And if you’re wearing socks, choose cotton ones, rather than those with artificial fabrics, to absorb sweat. One more trick: Cleary recommends sprinkling baby or shoe deodorizing powder in shoes before wearing them to soak up moisture while they’re on your feet.
5. Cuts on the Back of Your Heels
Shoes that dig into your skin can be some of the most painful to wear. While you may think they’re too snug, the problem is more likely that they’re too big. Overly spacious shoes let feet shift around and are the biggest reason for cuts, says Ade. Consider taping heel pads into the back of your shoes. The cushion “prevents your heel from moving in and out of the shoe and skin from getting cut,” Ade explains.
The hard, dead skin that can form on the soles of feet and the sides of big toes can be tough to get rid of. But prevention starts with choosing well-fitting shoes. “Avoid jamming your foot into a shoe that’s too small or narrow,” says Cleary. Another good idea: Wear socks or tights in shoes, which can thwart unwanted friction. “If you already have calluses, soak, pumice and moisturize your feet often.” Or use a foot file to slough them off.
7. Heels Sinking into Grass
Attending a dressy outdoor wedding? Rethink the stilettos. Many types of heels sink into the ground and even thick carpet, making maneuvering tricky and dancing next to impossible. If you must wear skinny heels, tack on a heel cap that adds surface area to the bottom of your heel, lowering your chances of getting stuck in the ground. Otherwise, stick to wedges, which elongate legs like heels do, but are more comfortable outdoors.
8. Scuffed Leather
A single visible scratch can make nice, new shoes look like old, poorly made ones. While there’s no way to completely avoid scratching leather shoes, polishing shoes you wear often can help, says Ade. “The more you polish, the less likely scratches are to form,” she explains. For best results, once a month, wash the shoe before polishing; then, use a cream-based polish and buff with a soft cloth. Keep in mind that patent leather is more prone to deep scratching, Ade adds.
9. Wobbly Heels
You’re walking around when BAM—your heel detaches from the sole. How embarrassing. Not all shoes have a sturdy metal shank that connects the inner sole to the heel. So before you buy, walk around the store to make sure the heels aren’t wobbling. Ade says chunkier heels are better bets. Whatever shoes you purchase, “don’t rock back and forth in them; that’ll weaken the attachment,” Ade points out. If heels do detach, a cobbler can reattach them for about $20—which may or may not be worth it depending on the original shoe cost.
10. Soles Wearing Off
Dressier shoes’ soles can quickly become scuffed from hitting the street, resulting in tattered-looking footwear. Try sole protectors, which make soles extra-durable and slip-resistant. “Adding rubber soles to the bottom of shoes or heel taps can extend the life of the soles and heels,” Cleary explains.
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