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How to break in new shoes | The Mitchelli – Modern Gentleman

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How to break in new shoes

Learning how to break in new leather shoes is not as difficult as it seems, but something few have mastered. I have found that people’s experiences usually fall into one of four groups:

Those who suffer excruciating pain from cuts and blisters, but are stubborn enough to soldier on regardless of how much pain they are in. “I’m out for the evening, I didn’t bring spare shoes. I will just have to grin and bear it in the name of style!”

Those less stubborn who give up on the shoes blaming the fact they were expensive ‘fashion shoes’, “I only have this trouble with expensive shoes. I’m no fashionista, and I don’t get these problems with my £30 shoes from the supermarket!”.

Then there are those who swear by some archaic method, which usually involves unspeakable violence towards your new prized possessions “My grandfather taught me to soak them in petrol, then bash them with a rock to soften them up!”

And finally, those who know the secrets to surviving the first few hours of new shoe torture!

Why do your feet hurt when wearing new shoes?

The trick is understanding why new leather shoes cause discomfort in the first place. No matter how good the leather is, it will be stiff when factory fresh. Over time, the uppers will mould to the shape of your foot giving you a perfect fit. Until that happens you will be susceptible to blisters.

New shoes will force your feet into a shape they are not used to being in. This puts pressure on the bones and ligaments which make your feet ache. As the upper stretches and moulds to your feet, this allows your feet to return to their natural shape. Over time, your feet will also make an impression on the leather insoles giving even more room and a perfectly contoured fit.

How to avoid the pain

Most All of the pain can be avoided by some simple forward planning. Have you noticed your feet never hurt in the shoe shop when trying the new shoes on? This is because you only wear them for a very short period of time and then take them off before and damage is done. This is the single best strategy for breaking in your new leather shoes.  Wear your shoes little and often to begin with. Then increase the time you wear them by 10 minutes a time until you can wear them comfortably for an hour.

Too often shoes are bought for a night out, or to go to work in. Once you set out, you are forced to wear the shoes for hours not minutes. This is the biggest cause of pain. Worse still, you buy them for work and you are stuck in them for 12 hours – a sure fire way to get blisters.

Top tips:

  • Always buy in advance of when you need them so you have time to break them in properly
  • Wear the shoes for 10 minutes at a time, increasing by 10 minutes until you can wear them for one hour.
  • Wear the shoes around the house in the evenings if you struggle for time.
  • Take them to the office and wear them while you sit at your desk.
  • Polish your shoes after every wear to keep the leather as supple as possible while breaking them in.
  • Use quality shoe trees to keep the shape of the shoes when not in use (this advice is not just for breaking in, but for all the time).
  • Keep a couple plasters with you on the first time you wear them out, just in case.

Myths to avoid

These are the most popular of the bad ideas I found on Google.

Soaking in water or rubbing alcohol – This is a very popular tip when searching for ‘How to break in new shoes’ on google. I can’t understand why anyone investing in a pair of quality shoes would ever consider this as a sensible solution for making shoes soft. Water marks and the leaching of the leathers natural oils leading to drying and cracking are just a couple of the risks. This strategy is best avoided for anything other than workman’s boots!

Hammering the backs – I thought this was a joke when I first read it, but no, there really are plenty of websites out there recommending hitting, bending or folding the backs of your shoes to force them to soften up. I don’t doubt this might actually work – but I dread to think of how your shoes will look at the end of it.

Get someone with bigger feet to wear them to stretch them – Yes you want to stretch your shoes for a comfortable fit, but you want them to fit your feet – not someone elses! Even so, there appears to be plenty of charitable people out there because I found dozens of sites recommending this approach to breaking in new leather shoes.

In Summary

Breaking in your shoes does not need to be the painful experience it is for many. Unfortunately many men only have one pair of leather shoes, and replace them only when they are worn out. This leaves them with no choice than to wear the next pair for hours. If you can build up a collection of a few pairs – you will never be forced to wear new ones and you can break them in at your leisure – saving your feet.



  • Freedome September 6, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Are handmade shoes better for your feet and, if so why? I would have thought handmade shoes wouldn’t need breaking in because they are made for your foot. I am an educator/artist/entrepreneur. So I’m on my feet all day most days. I am beginning to buy handmade shoes. I love the uniqueness of the look, however, I worry that the shoes won’t be comfortable enough to stay in all day. Or that I will wear them down. How do I care for them so they last, break them in for long wear and will my feet get spoiled? Oh, also should I carry shoes to drive in, because I was told driving in your good shoes is a no go?


  • j.r. perotti July 29, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    I use this method along with those you mentioned. Told by my grandfather who was a shoe plant manager. When making riding boots the leg fit is attained by steaming. If you have a modern hand held lightly steam the area inside and use a stretcher either yours or your shoe makers lightly oil neat’s-foot or mink.
    Just a drop over the area. This also helps with breaking lines in stress areas I’m working in a pair of Alden slip on’s which are quite easy.
    But the steam and light stretching works well


  • Joe January 23, 2015 at 7:08 am

    Very sensible advice. You might also be able to break-in new shoes for longer, more practical periods of time with less pain while using vertical insoles. This is a product I love, that comes up high enough to block the sharp forces of the back of the shoe from directly cutting into the back of the heel.


  • Fine Cut Leather « Promenademagazine March 27, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    […] of time and not for hours at a time until they are properly broken in.  A guide can be found here […]


  • Fran January 23, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    Finally some logic….. After reading this it makes perfect sence….. Thank you and my feet thank you


  • nix January 16, 2013 at 12:59 am

    Does shoes break (literally break) if not used for a long time??


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