Caring for Leather Shoes and Leather Boots

Got a new pair of leather shoes or leather boots? To get maximum mileage out of them heed these tips on caring for leather.

| November/December 1984

It’s easy to understand why humans have been wearing leather apparel for thousands of years. Flexible, strong, functional, and decorative, it's one of the most versatile materials around. But it's not indestructible. If you have leader goods, particularly leather footwear, you need to know a few essentials about caring for leather. We’ve compiled the following tips.

Breaking In

Leather boots and leather shoes need to be broken in to be comfortable. Depending on the kind of leather and the type of construction, this can take a little or a long time. In the course of researching this subject, we encountered suggestions ranging from the barely plausible to the patently ridiculous, all of them aimed at breaking in new boots in the shortest amount of time with the least discomfort to the wearer.

One suggestion that apparently gets a lot of play is filling the boots with water and letting them stand overnight, then wearing them with two pairs of socks for several hours the next day. Unless broken in means "broken down" to you, don't do this. Water will soak into the unprotected threads in the insole seams and cause them to rot. Mildew will form inside the shoe, where it's nearly impossible to get out.

An equally unworkable way to break in and stretch tight boots was related by a shoemaker who's been repairing shoes for 50 years. Farmers would, he claimed, fill their boots with cracked, dried corn and add water. The corn would swell to many times its original size, pushing against the leather evenly in all directions to stretch arid soften it. "Of course," he winked, "you had to watch it so they didn't explode on ya!" Uh-huh.

Well, with all that in mind, the bad news is that there's no quick way to make new boots fit and feel like old ones. Breaking in boots takes time, travel, and, unfortunately, some pain as your skin and the leather work out an adequate compromise. You can, however, ease the process somewhat.

First, make sure your boots fit, and when you find a brand that fits well, breaks in without undue hardship, and gives good service, stick with it no matter what the "in" boot happens to be at the moment. Try on several styles in various length and width combinations. Listen to the outfitter: He or she can advise you on what boot to buy for your intended activity. Try different sizes on each foot. Few people realize that their feet are probably of slightly different shape and size, and that sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

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