Wear and Tear on Heels

how to save your heelsReader A, living out West, writes in with a question that kind of boggles the mind…

I wonder if you could do a post about wear & tear on shoes. I recently started my career as an associate at a lawfirm. I am on my 4th month and have gone through two pairs of black pumps. I do at least 1/2 mile of walking downtown to and from court everyday–sidewalk, brick, asphalt. I live on a dirt road & when I pick up my son from his grandmother’s house, I have to walk through gravel. Needless to say, my heels don’t last long. The obvious answer is to get the heels fixed at a tailor, but there really isn’t a conveniently located tailor. So, even if I am going to get them fixed, I may have to wear them for awhile before I can get there.

Wow — we’ve heard of people who wear their shoes hard, but reader A has them beat. I t seems like there are two things going on: first, the walk to and from court — and second, the dirt road/gravel and so forth. We’d like to take gravel out of the picture for your high heel pumps (how do you even do it?) — what you need is a commuting shoe. Obviously, you don’t want to go whole-hog on the cowboy boots (although, hey, they are jokingly referred to as s#$! -kickers for a reason) but Frye makes a number of boots (as well as some hard-working shoes) that can look great with both pants or skirts.   We might even suggest looking into Doc Martens or the like — you just want a black shoe or boot that won’t be noticed beneath your regular suit pants, but can take a gravel-dirt road experience.  If money is an issue, even just plain black sneakers (like those from Sketchers) would be a good option for commuting shoes (and, unlike our other suggestions, they’re lightweight enough to toss in a plastic bag and toss in your tote bag if you need to carry your commuting shoes with you instead of just kicking them off under your desk).

Now, in terms of sidewalk, brick, asphalt — shoes do need regular maintenance. We suggest finding a shoe guy (there must be one near the courthouse — isn’t there a shoe shine stand, at the very least?  Try asking the proprietor of the shoe shine stand if he or she does other maintenance.)  We’ve noticed a big difference when we’ve had the heels and soles of shoes replaced with rubber soles — more comfortable to walk on, less skidding, and they wear much better.  In fact, at the end of every season you should do an assessment of your shoes — does the leather need to be conditioned?  Does the suede need to be brushed or otherwise cared for?  Is the leather holding up?  How are the soles doing?  It doesn’t require a weekly trip to a shoe guy, but once a season goes a long way.

Readers, what kind of maintenance do you do on your shoes?  Do you have any suggestions for grueling walking circumstances like Reader A?

Pictured: My fancy new boots, originally uploaded to Flickr by Hillary H.

Comments

  1. Corporate Tool :

    I commute in NYC, and the subway/sidewalks were chewing up my heels. I use a communting shoe (this one http://www.merrell.com/US/en-US/Product.mvc.aspx/W-F-F/18222W/0/Women/Footwear/Filters/Womens/Allegro-Leather) super comfy, and I can walk miles in them.

    I actually leave 4 pairs of heels in my desk at work (blue, black, brown and grey) and change when I get in. No one has noticed so far

    • I have those shoes too! For some reason they always hurt the back of my heel when I wear them for more than a few hours- did you have that problem with them?

      • Try inserting heel cushions. Sometimes this happens because the back of the shoe just comes up too high on the back of your foot, and raising your heel 1/4 inch or so will fix the problem.

  2. A person who fixes shoes is called a cobbler, not a tailor….

    • VERY snarky. I think we all figured out what she meant.

      • brain freeze today — the word “cobbler” totally escaped me. :)

        • ‘Shoe guy’ is perfectly sufficient. :) Btw, when you find a shoe guy, make sure he knows what he’s doing. I recently checked Yelp for reviews, but not until after the shoe guy in my building RUINED a pair of short boots. Sure, they looked great and perfectly shiny when I picked them up, but the first time they got wet, the polish came off and showed that he somehow had utterly destroyed the finish of the leather itself. So, in sum, I’d suggest checking around before volunteering your shoes to the most convenient shoe guy.

          • Yup – same thing when I got a bad cobbler to glue together some shoes that had been coming apart. There was so much glue under the sole that it was impossible to walk in them and I had to toss them.

          • This happened to me too – took some shoes to a cobbler for repair and he did an unbelievably shoddy job. The repairs were pretty simple and fortunately didn’t cost much, but I was still very disappointed. Get reco’s before you hand over your expensive shoes!

          • curmudgeon :

            Actually, “shoe guy” is sexist.

          • oh come on, is shoe guy really sexist? I say pizza delivery guy no matter who it is, and say hey guys to women. breaaaathe, if you are constantly looking to be offended you always will be.

          • curmudgeon :

            No offense taken; I’m just pointing out “shoe guy” is not gender-neutral.

      • Well, no – maybe the question asker honestly didn’t know – given that she’s never used one.

  3. I have large feet and I think my weight does not distribute evenly. As a result, the caps wear off/just plain fall off of my pencil and kitchen heels within weeks of breaking them in! The nail ends up sticking out of the heel, and no “shoe guy” has really been able to fix them. The shoes just get thrown away! While we’re on the topic, does anyone have any advice on how to maintain heels to prevent this from happening and/or how to effectively repair them once this happens?

    • I’ve had heel caps break off, and my cobbler fixes them just fine. Same with my colleagues – we all take shoes to the same cobbler near our office. Not sure why yours can’t fix it, but that’s odd.

    • You might be waiting too long to get them fixed and wearing the heels down too much. I’ve done that before. Either that or your shoe guy is terrible. You should get the heel cap replaced before you hear the metal-on-floor noise that lets you know you’ve worn them down to the nail. In my experience, whatever they make the replacement caps out of tends to be much more resilient than the ones that come on the shoes originally, so you may not need to keep getting them replaced every few weeks.

    • If you tend to forget to get your shoes fixed, you could just have the cap replaced first thing when you get them, along with replacing the leather sole with rubber. Agree with JRD – the original caps are almost always crappy and need to be replaced with the good ones the cobblers put on. You can save a few dollars by trying to get some wear out of the crappy original heel caps, but if that’s causing you to ruin the shoes, then maybe you should give up on that idea.

      • I’m not sure I agree. I find that with the shoes I buy, the initial heel caps tend to last longer than their replacements. So initially, the cap is good for 2-3 months, and then I have to replace the cap every month and a half or so.
        Experiences vary I guess (just like shoes & cobblers :))

        That said, it’s def a fixable problem — there is no reason your cobbler shouldn’t be able to do that assuming you bring in the shoes for repair when you start to see the cap is wearing off.

    • Liz (Europe) :

      Get the heel tips replaced when the shoes are still new with a sturdier version. Costs about $20 at my local shoe shop, but works though.

    • Big Foot,

      I used to have the same issue and now before I wear new shoes, I take them to be rubber soled (incl heel caps). I had this ‘nails sticking out’ problem when I used to buy Nine West, but for the sake of my feet, I upgraded to Ferragamo and never had the nails sticking out. Maybe a brand thing?

      • Chicago K :

        Happens to me when I step into a crack and the heel cap gets stuck and away I walk without it…

      • How much does having rubber soles put on cost? Can it be done to any shoe or only certain types? I didn’t even know such a thing was possible, but I would loooooove to have it done to a few pairs. I hate having to walk carefully in order to not slide on polished office floors!

        • See my post down towards the bottom. The shoe service in Chicago, Brooks, charged $24-28 several years ago. My guy in Iowa charges about $14-18. Well worth the investment for nicer shoes. I have never worn out a sole, and I feel safer on icy sidewalks or slick office floors.

          • The only problem I’ve ever had with rubber soles is that I had bought 3 pairs of Louboutin heels on ebay and had rubber put on them. Now, I can’t wear heels due to a knee issue, and the resale value is really hurt by the rubber. But they were really, really easy to walk in with the rubber, and since it rains so much here, the soles didn’t get shredded.

  4. Also, buying good quality shoes to begin with. They last longer than the cheepo black pumps from Payless or wherever. And I don’t mean $300-$400 heals, you can get some quality BR or Nine West shoes for around $100 that will last considerably longer than the super cheep ones.

    One of my biggest pet-peeves is the tapping sound that heals make when the heal-tip has worn down. That nail hitting tile or marble floor is so annoying. Ladies…get your shoes fixed! It costs $13 at my shoe guy. Easy, easy fix.

    • Eek, heel-nails on hard floors, so easy to slip and go flying, have seen it happen.

    • I couldn’t agree more! I’ve started shopping almost exclusively at Nordstroms. I have size 11 feet, and they’re one of the only places willing to work with me without making me feel like a mutant, but a side benefit is that I’ve started buying shoes that actually last and don’t make my feet go numb…

      Plus, they’re pretty good about fixing shoes. There is a Nordstroms on my way home, so I can drop my shoes off in the shoe department and they will fix them. The price is pretty reasonable.

    • I bought two pairs of Sofft shoes and they have rubber soles and they don’t make a sound when walking.
      I find them very comfortable and they are holding on -(I walk through gravel, dirt, sand, mud and of course holes… btw I am from Africa in case you’re wondering what war zone I walk through.

  5. This is fascinating. Admittedly, I’ve always been a fan of cheap shoes that I wear through in a couple of months easily (Target, Payless, etc.), but with the urging of my fiance, I am beginning to spend more money on nicer shoes. (I know, I am so lucky to be marrying someone who encourages me to spend money on myself!). It never occurred to me to do “maintenence” on my shoes. Usually, I just wear through a pair and toss them and get new ones. I can’t wait to hear everyone’s advice!

    • I don’t believe it’s possible to do really good maintenence on NW or equal shoes. You can replace heel caps, but the shoes just don’t last. Period. Personally, I buy my black shoes cheap as possible at TJ Maxx or Marshalls and just wear them out and toss. I tend not to spend more than $30 on black work shoes. Wear for 3-4 months and toss. I tried Target ones, but the fake leather just isn’t as comfy. And yes, I have tried nicer (Cole Haan and Stuart Wietzman) but I just feel badly when they wear out just as quickly.

      • Do you tend to wear the same shoes every day? Shoes last longer if you give them a day to regain their shape and air out between wearings. It also helps if you wear socks or hosiery to prevent them from getting sweat, oil, dead skin, dirt, etc inside.

  6. I live in Manhattan and walk anywhere from 5-10 minutes to and from the subway to 45 minutes to or from work if I want exercise. I don’t do either one in heels, all of which I keep under my desk at work. I’ve seen other women do real damage to their feet by doing too much walking in heels so I try to keep my time in heels limited. This is the trade-off I’ve made with myself because all of the heels I wear in the office are at least 3″ and not comfort shoes.

    In the summer I generally wear either black merrell mary janes or birkenstocks with my suits to and from the office (I found that the birkenstock gizeh model in black patent leather is feminine enough for the commute). I also have a pair of black flats I can walk a decent distance in if I am meeting people for drinks after work or otherwise don’t want to be seen in either the merrells or the birkenstocks. I would recommend any of these options for someone looking to spend less time in heels or do less damage to her heels.

    In the winter I wear either the mary jane merrels with warm socks or a pair of knee-high black merrell boots (fairly sleek despite being merrels). I think the style was called plaza peak.

    As for maintenance, I don’t have to do as much because I only wear my heels outside when I’m getting lunch, going to court, or on the rare occasion when I have a work function at night. I usually wait until the heel starts wearing down and the sole starts being worn down before I take them to the cobbler. Unlike Cat, I actually don’t think the rubber sole makes them more comfortable than having leather on the bottom. It never feels like they absorb the shock of walking as well after I’ve had them fixed. But it’s necessary to have them fixed in order to keep wearing them! The places around here charge $30-45 to have the rubber at the end of the heel replaced and the sole replaced, which is way less than what I’d spend on a new pair of quality shoes. Maybe there is somewhere online where you could send your shoes to be fixed if there’s nowhere near your office?

    • When you’re walking and replace your heels with flats, what do you do with your suit pants? Temporary hem? I always have issues with this – I wear flats for comfort, but then the bottom of my pants get dirty by the time I put heels on. I switched to Dansko’s, but they are much heavier to carry around than flats.

      • Legally Brunette :

        Zakkerz — they have a website but they are much cheaper if you buy them through the QVC website. They are basically magnets which keep the hem of your pants from getting dirty. I love them.

      • I usually wear comfy platforms/wedges with pants if I am planning to switch into office heels; but more often than not (esp. in the summer when I just want to wear cute flip flops), I just wear a skirt. No hemming problem & it saves me on dry cleaning (skirts need it less often).

  7. Shoe guy = cobbler. Look for cobblers on Yelp or in your phone book.

    I would never wear my pumps to walk around on pavement on a daily basis. I’ll wear them if to walk down the block to Starbucks or to grab a taxi or whatever, but high heels are not made to stand up to half-mile walks on pavement. I change into sneakers or boots before I leave the building and keep most of my work shoes at the office.

    • Agreed. I grew up in deep-snow country, and everyone always wore boots and carried their ‘good’ shoes, no one ever thought twice about it. Now I’m in the south, I automatically put my good shoes in a nice tote of some sort, and wear comfortable shoes to walk if I’m going any distance.

    • Agree — good shoes – the nice ones with heels and nice leather – are not meant to go on gravel paths!

      Get a pair of sneakers – which is what most people do, and stash them in your office or car.

  8. AnneCatherine :

    I’m not sure if it’s a quality thing, so much as a heel-type thing. Maybe I’m wrong. I have had a LOT of Nine West-type shoes, which are pretty mid-range but not necessarily bargain basement, where the heel tip on a skinny (usually stacked wooden, not leather-covered) heel came off after a few weeks. I just bring them in to be replaced AS SOON as the black heel tip/covering comes off. If you walk around on the exposed heel head/nail, the walking/exposure will break off bits of the wooden heel itself, bit by bit, leaving a nail sticking out. It is when it gets to this point, pardon the pun, that a cobbler will often say he can’t just re-tip, and will advise you to throw the shoe out. (This supports my multiples-buying OCD-ness in any event; if I find a shoe (or anything) I like, I buy it twice (at least)). For what it is worth, I have found that Chattahoochee flooring/outdoor paving of the Chattahoochee variety is the absolute worst to walk on. It will shred your heels off in about two days even if you only take a couple of steps on it (in my case, it was the Chattahoochee pavement outside the coffee shop). So I started driving in other shoes. Yes, I have “commute” shoes for driving, which also solves, somewhat, the one weird black smudge I get on my left heel from resting it somewhere while I drive I guess.

    My dad actually taught us to (a) buy leather shoes and (b) every Sunday night, spread out your newspaper and your shoe-shining kit and shine all your shoes. Also to use shoe trees. So I’m pretty okay with the upkeep but shoes—women’s shoes—do have a limited lifetime it seems.

  9. Has anyone had patent leather repaired? I have messed up the leather on the heels of a pair of nice patent leather pumps – it tore a little and got pushed up a bit in a little spot or two. I saw somewhere that a good cobbler can basically “melt” the patent a bit for a repair, but I am too scared to take in my otherwise beautiful, nice shoes for what sounds like an extreme procedure. Anyone tried it? Did it look ok?

    • I’ve had a cobbler fix the patent leather that I messed up on the heel when wearing the heel cap down too far. I don’t know what he did, though I suspect he probably didn’t melt it and maybe just pushed it back down and smoothed it out. I’d just go ask the guy what he thinks he can do and decide whether you feel like you can trust him with the shoes.

    • Yes. I fell a couple of weeks ago and scraped up the tip of one of my favorite pairs of patent heels (Delmans no less, so they weren’t cheap). They were basically unwearable because you could see the raw leather, which is much lighter than the color of the shoe. I was so sad, especially since they do not seem to even be available anymore in my size. Anyway, I took them to a shoe guy near my office and he put some kind of resin in the place where I scraped it, and while they don’t look perfect if you look at them up close, they are totally wearable now. So yes, it is possible to get patent leather repaired.

    • The tearing on fabric covered heels makes me crazy, so about two years ago I switched to only buying heels with the stacked wood-type heels for work. I have found several pairs of pumps and slingbacks with colored or black leather than have same-tone stacked finish heels.

      These are MUCH lower maintenance and look better a lot longer. If the stacked heel scuffs, you simply can polish it up as you would with the rest of the shoe (using an appropriate color, of course).

  10. On a related (and sort of gross (sorry)) note, I often wear my heels without stockings or socks and the the inside gets really gross. Any tips on how to prevent this and/or clean the inside of the shoes?

    • Cobblers can replace the insole too. I just had that done and it worked out well. Agreed that it gets nasty — but I hate wearing hose! I don’t have any ideas on preventing it from happening.

      • Ugh, I agree and have the same problem! Would some kind of powder help on the insides? Or maybe cleaning them with some kind of a safe cleaner? It’s not like I do it on purpose… but especially in the summer they get gross since it’s hot outside.

        • I had a great aunt who just had a rule of wiping down her shoes inside & out whenever she came home. That and letting them breathe a day between wears. Her shoes always looked perfect & lasted forever.
          Unfortunately, I do not have that kind of discipline.

    • Liz (Europe) :

      Baby (talc) powder in a sock, stuck into your shoe overnight. It absorbs all the sweat, preventing bacteria from reproducing (unlike popular thought, it’s not the sweat that stinks – it’s the bacteria that thrive in the moist environment full of epithelials and fat). Also keeps things like athlete’s foot from reproducing, although if you catch a bad case of that it’s really better to just throw out your shoes and buy new one (or peroxide the heck out of the insides of your shoes, if they’ll stand it).

      Baby powder’s also perfumed a bit, so it’ll give it a nice smell on top of it all. It’s a common trick with figure skaters, who have to wear their very padded (lots of spongy material on the inside) skates barefoot for optimal boot/foot contact. Believe me, those boots get gross very fast without the trick.

      • Liz (Europe) :

        Oh yeah – you’ll have to do this every night for it to work, from the first time you wear your shoes. Once the bacteria are already thriving, nothing will kill them.

        Keeping the talc in a sock when you stuff it in, serves no purpose other than to keep the powder from sticking to the inside of the shoe. You can re-use the same talc powder in a sock many many many times.

      • I like the talc option, although I actually buy the little hose that fits within the ballet flat or the pair of heels in the summer. Figure skaters actually wear very thin socks/hose in their skates (usually).

    • AnneCatherine :

      Go to Kiwifreshins wesbite. You have to start using them from the beginning of the shoe’s life (shoes’ lives?), though, or at least after a good cleaning (which I find baking soda and water will provide). Then, switched out every 6 wears or so, as recommended, they keep things. . . okay.

    • I swear by the little no-show socks/shoe liners — without them, my shoes would be disgusting. They also provide a layer to prevent chafing when my feet start to swell.

      http://www.amazon.com/HUE-Womens-3-Pack-Hidden-Cotton/dp/B002JM0S4U/ref=pd_sbs_a_3

  11. I find that the heel tips that come on shoes are hard, noisy and slick. I work in a hospital where 95% of the workforce wears scrubs and athletic shoes so the click-click-click of my heels is pretty obvious. I take my shoes in immediately and have the tips replaced with a softer rubber. It keeps them from being slick and definitely cuts down on the noise factor on hard surface flooring.

    I saw not too long ago on zappos website (or someplace so don’t quote me) a heel tip replacement kit from Kiwi. Kiwi makes lots of shoe polish and other maintenance tools for shoes so it seems reasonable they would have DIY replacement kit. Has anyone tried doing this themselves?

  12. Off topic, but wanted to thank you all for your encouragement to buy a suit that was on sale but had longer pants legs than my petite legs and get them shortened – I’m off to the tailor to pick up my $30 Jones New York Suit, with the legs shortened for $12.50

  13. Liz (Europe) :

    Have a pair of pumps with iron heels that you can change into. I don’t mean the entire heels of course – just the tips of the heels. This won’t be office-appropriate to wear all day due to the tsok-tsok-tsok sound the heels will make when you walk around on tiles, but for outside it’ll be fine. The shoes won’t look different with iron heels as long as its black iron.

    Good luck finding a shoemaker who still has those iron heel tips though, when I wanted to do that to a pair of my shoes a few years ago (off a tip of my mother’s, who grew up in a large city, walked miles and miles every day, and always wore heels) I found that none of the local shoemakers carried those. I eventually took them with me on a trip to eastern Europe, where they’ll craft anything for you if you just pay enough. Those shoes lasted me ages and ages, and I was running on them a lot from trains and where-ever.

    • But the iron tips will destroy hard wood flooring!! I had a running battle with my cobbler when I lived in Eastern Europe — he changed my heel tip 2-3 times before demanding that I switch to the iron tips. Hated, hated, hated them. And the noise they make on flooring is much worse than any plastic.

  14. (1) Minimize wearing your heels outside (i.e., where possible, use commuting shoes/flats)
    (2) If you must walk outside regularly w/heels (e.g., to/from court and no option for taxis), consider buying shoes with a wider, thicker heel, which tends (in my experience) to last a lot longer. E.g., something like this:
    http://www.zappos.com/nine-west-canis-black
    (3) Include shoe repair as part of your budget. Find a good cobbler and visit often.
    Repairing, rather than replacing, shoes has two benefits: (a) I’ve already worn the shoes in and like them and (b) it’s better for the environment to repair than replace, when possible.

    • Res Ipsa: agreed on all points, especially #3. It takes me forever to find shoes that don’t bite, so once I’ve got them, I’ll have them repaired when necessary. One beloved pair of weekend sandals has been repaired 3 times, and they are still the most comfortable shoes I own. At one point I even got tired of their being black, painted them with dark bronze nail polish, looks great.

      And I really like 3b, since throwaway-thinking is terrible for the environment.

  15. Liz (Europe) :

    Also, for dancers (dancers wear 100+ dollar shoes, where the tips wear off like mad) they make little rubber heel coverings that you can buy by a packet of dozen or so off ballroom dancing gear websites. You slip them very easily over the heel, and you slip them just as easily off the heel again (unless it’s a flared heel) once they’ve worn through.

    Added bonus: makes the heels silent as mice.
    Downside: you can see the clear plastic, so you can’t exactly put those on shoes you wear at the office and forget about it. May just be worth for an old, busted-heeled spare pair you keep in the car for running around gravel paths though.

  16. s in Chicago :

    I don’t know how common this is, but one of my favorite pairs of mary janes purchased a few years ago came with a little baggie that had extra rubber tips. Why can’t all shoe makers do this? I haven’t had to use the spares yet, but I just love that they are there if I need them.

    The shoes weren’t anything high-end either. They were a DSW purchase of an odd brand (seems like it might have been Vintage something??) that were probably less than $100.

    Shoe folks, if you’re listening, help us ladies out!

    • Elle Woods :

      I have come across this on several pairs, but so far never used them because I couldn’t get the original ones off when they were worn down! When one finally came off (by accident, no less), the new one wouldn’t stay put, so I gave up and went post haste to the cobbler.

      • Aren’t you supposed to take the extra caps to the cobbler to use? I never in one million years would try to repair my shoes myself. There is no doubt that I would end up with a black eye and possibly a broken bone.

  17. Those heel covers would have been nice to know about a few years back when I took the Virginia bar exam. At that time (not sure how it is now), you had to wear a suit while sitting for the exam (and I’m told it was only a few years earlier that they dropped the skirt suit requirement for women). But dress shoes were not allowed, due to noise concerns. So to add to the general indignity of the bar exam, you had a roomful of people in suits with sneakers. Very Working Girl—though I found it even funnier on the men.

  18. To the OP:
    First point — If you’re determined to wear heels for commuting, I would recommend wedges instead of pumps. I find they last longer & need less upkeep. Also, with wedges, you can take them to a cobbler when you first get them and he can add rubber soles to help with the wear & tear to make them last longer.

    Second — if you’re somewhere where you’re mainly driving, I would just keep a pair of easy to walk in, commuting shoes in the car. Wear the heels when needed, and the rest of the time stick to what won’t get ruined or won’t matter if it does.

  19. I posed this question and am amazed at the response. Thanks for all your feedback. I even appreciated the stinky shoe suggestions. P.S. I knew the term cobbler, but must have just used the wrong word in typing up my email quickly.

  20. I work for a government agency, and our main building is about 1/2 mile from my office, but I have to walk back and forth quite a bit. I keep a pair of flip flops at the office I can wear – they’re small enough to slip into my bag when I get to the meeting. When it’s rainy or otherwise not appropriate for flip flops, I can take a shuttle. No way my heels would hold up to 3 or 4 miles a week of DC streets, but I hate the way it looks to walk into a meeting with your street shoes in your hand, so the flip flops are a good compromise.

    • Do you always wear skirts? I worked in DC for a summer and did the flip flop thing on the commute, but I always struggled with it when I wore pants. The pants would drag on the ground. Then they’re ruined!

      • For pants that are long enough, I’ve used double-sided tape before to hold my cuffs. But it helps that I’m 5’11”, so it’s hard to find pants that drag on the ground, even without heels – most of the heels I wear are less than 2 inches.

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