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As a thrift store fiend, I’m no stranger to wrinkles and crunched-up leather shoes and boots.
It seems that every pair of shoes that has been lovingly cared for by the previous owner ends up misshapen 5 minutes after entering the donation bay of a thrift store.
This really leaves me with three options:
- Wear misshapen leather boots or shoes
- Sell them on eBay for a reduced cost (because they’re ugly…)
- Learn how to reshape them before wearing or reselling them…
Obviously, we’re going to choose the last one.
Learning how to reshape leather boots and shoes (and even non-leather ones) is a skill that’s valuable for your personal life and invaluable for your business if you’re a reseller.
Having restored a hundred or more pairs of boots and shoes over the past couple of years, this is how we do it.
Oh but, before we get there…if you have a pair of really nice or expensive boots you want reshaped or stretched…just go to a cobbler. That’s my number one tip if you can stomach the idea of possibly ruining your boots or shoes. Hire a professional.
However, if you’re a DIYer and you’re still around, let’s talk about how you can do it just about as well by yourself.
The Process Of Reshaping Leather Shoes & Boots
1. Clean & Moisturize The Leather
If you’re going to be stretching or reshaping leather you don’t want it to be dry and cracky.
I typically use mink oil for moisture as it helps with the color and makes the lather nice and supple.
Just be sure to spot-test before using anything on your shoes.
2. Wet The Leather
For leather to really get supple and assume a new shape you’ll want to get it wet.
Damp (not soaked) leather will easily dry into a new shape.
If you’re doing very expensive shoes you can opt for distilled water as it won’t leave water lines on your shoes.
3. Choose A Stretching/Shaping Method
Whether you’re stretching or reshaping your shoes you’re going to want to give them a bit of help to assume the proper shape.
The only real difference between stretching and shaping is the amount of pressure you put on the leather.
You have a few options here depending on what’s convenient and how much size modification you want to do:
Your Feet: If simply wear your wet shoes or boots around it’s typically enough to fit them to your feet and reshape them. Your feet won’t do much stretching of the leather but they can help your boots/shoes mold to your feet. I am typically reshaping boots that don’t fit me personally so I don’t use this method. However, when I have, I found that a pair of really thick socks helped give the boots a better shape and made things more comfortable for me.
Shoe Stretcher/Trees: In case you’re unaware, there are tools that are specifically meant for shaping shoes. I just don’t use them because I don’t have them. However, if you have shoe stretchers, putting them in with a moderate amount of pressure is probably the easiest way to get your footwear back in shape.
Damp Rags: This is the low-tech method that I typically use. I get some rags wet (not soaking) and stuff them into the shoes or boots. It will usually take a day or so for your shoes to dry into shape. Just be sure to use clean rags and not leave them in for too long or you’ll end up with a pretty bad smell.
Once your shoes are shaping you’ll want to let them dry before unstuffing or releasing them.
Hopefully, they’ll be much improved but, if they’re not quite there, you can always go for round two!
Tips & Other Things You Can Try
If you are dealing with a pair of shoes or boots that is either extremely misshapen or way too small you might need to try some more extreme methods. Here are a couple I’ve used in the past with success:
Using Hot or Cold
Leather is an organic material and it doesn’t take much temperature change for its properties to change as well. Both hot and cold can be used to reshape your shoes. Here’s how…
Reshaping With Heat: After you’ve followed all of the above steps, apply a hairdryer to the parts of the boots that need the most help. The extra heat will help relax the leather and it will stretch or assume a new shape more easily. Just be sure you’re wearing thick socks if you’re trying this while wearing your shoes.
Reshaping With Cold: This was the first method I ever used and it works. Not great, but it works. I put a plastic bag in my shoes, making sure to press it into the crevices. I then filled the bag with water, sealed it, and stuck it all in the freezer. Because water expands when it freezes (almost 9%) you’ll get a bit of stretch from your shoes when you finally take them out and thaw them.
Use Alcohol Spray
If you want to relax the leather a bit more and for the final product to really hold its shape, consider something other than way.
I’ve only tried this one once but I have a friend who swears by it.
- Mix a solution of 50% rubbing alcohol and 50% water in a spray bottle.
- Spray the inside of the shoes and wear them as they dry for a custom fit.
That’s all there is to it! I’d imagine it won’t work for major overhauls but just a bit of reshaping should be just fine.
At the end of the day, reshaping boots really isn’t that hard or time-consuming. When we’re in reselling mode my wife and I will grab just about any leather boot or shoe from a thrift store that’s made by a decent brand. We know that with just a few minutes of work (and an overnight wait) we can have them ready to wear or sell!
Good luck with your project!