1. Head to the cobbler before you start wearing new shoes.
When it comes to extending the life of your shoes, preventive care can do wonders. Before you hit the streets with a new pair of leather-soled shoes (or even after one or two initial wears), ask your shoe repairperson to have rubber soles put on. "Leather wears down very quickly," says David Mesquita, owner of Leather Spa in New York City. "Thin rubber soles, which are available in many colors, will blend right in with your heels or flats. Not only will they prevent the leather from wearing down, but they'll also keep water from seeping into the soles, which can travel to the upper part of the shoe and create even more damage."
2. Don't buy shoes to fix them up.
A great pair of vintage pumps can seem like a steal, but when it comes to old kicks, it's not worth it to have them repaired. Dried out leather and worn-in soles make them nearly impossible to restore affordably. "It's like fi up an old car," says Mesquita. "You'll repair A, and then B breaks down. Then you repair B, and C falls apart. It's an endless cycle because you're making one part stronger, and then the other parts of the shoe weaken in comparison."
3. There's a little wiggle room when it comes to shoe size.
Don't forgo a fabulous pair of shoes just because they're a tad snug or a bit too loose. If the size is too tight, many cobblers can make them fit. Stretching machines can increase length and width (though extending length is most successful on flat shoes), as well as stretch specific areas, like too-tight toes. On the other hand, if you're slipping around in your shoes, inner soles, tongue pads and heel grips can tighten up the fit. Similarly, tall boots can be altered to a degree: Too-loose pairs can be taken in, while snug ones can be stretched about 1/2 inch in the calf, says Randy Lipson, third-generation cobbler and co-owner of Cobblestone Quality Shoe Repair in St. Louis. But, warns Mesquita, "if you're in the store and can slip your finger into the heel, don't bother buying them. I have customers who come in having bought shoes on sale, then spend $30 on pads and they still aren't comfortable."
4. Steer clear of gel shoe pads.
Sure, they seem comfortable at first—especially on sore, swollen feet—but according to Lipson, gel inserts aren't the way to go. "Within a month they won't feel so comfortable anymore. The material spreads out and breaks down, leaving little cushion between your foot and the sole." Another material to avoid is latex foam, which also deteriorates quickly. Instead, he recommends buying pads made with long-lasting Poron, which is used in high-end orthotics. Foot Petals offers a variety of pads made with Poron in fun colors and patterns.
5. Weatherproof your shoes often.
When it's raining or snowing, give your shoes a spritz of water repellent—unless stated, these products aren't meant for just a one-time application. Mesquita, who even gives his sneakers a spray on stormy days, advises looking for sprays with nanotechnology, like Nanopro. The fine particles in the mist ensure that you won't overspray your shoes, giving materials like leather a chance to breathe and retain their texture. If shoes are visibly dirty it's a good idea to clean them before spraying. To clean leather or suede you can use a soft cloth or sponge along with cleaners that are designed specially for the material.
Nervous about spraying your new shoes? "In my 20 years in business I've never seen shoes change color with weatherproofing," he reassures. Still, spot testing is a smart way to make sure you won't stain the material.
6. You can significantly extend the life of your heels—as long as you know what to ask for.
Any stiletto-wearer is familiar with the inevitable "click clack" that comes when the heel tip falls off. And unfortunately, due to the way that style of shoe is made, this happens more quickly than most of us would like—often after just a few wears. To avoid the endless cycle of getting these bits replaced (which is essential, because walking on the exposed metal can cause damage to the entire heel over time), know what kind of heel caps to ask for. The best—and newest—brand is called Magna, which is made with liquid polyurethane so they're more comfortable and shock absorbing than the competition. Another quality brand to ask for is Avanti, which also uses polyurethane. According to Lipson, well-made heel caps can last three to four times longer than poorly constructed ones.
7. Use the shoe bags that came with your pair.
There's a reason many shoes come with their own storage case—by keeping them in the soft bag between wears, you can prevent structural damage. "When you store shoes in hot or dry places (like a plastic bin), the leather can dry up and start cracking," says Eduard Shimunov, owner of Cobbler Express in New York City. So keep your pairs away from sunny spots and heating vents to keep the material intact. Another way to keep leather crack-free is by applying leather conditioner, which will preserve the material's integrity. Lipson recommends Lexol leather conditioner, which can be found at most shoe repair shops.
8. Know what you can do at home—and what you can't.
For fixes like stretching, or anything to do with the soles, you'll want to bring your shoes to a pro to avoid costly mistakes. But there are a few DIY fixes that anyone can do. According to Mesquita, patent leather can be polished with glass cleaner, like Windex, and tiny nicks can be filled in with a dab of similarly colored nail polish. To remove salt stains from shoes, he recommends mi one part white vinegar with three parts water and then using a paper towel to dab the solution onto the stained area. As the solution dries, he says, it will evaporate the salt. And baby powder will absorb oil stains—just steer clear if your shoes are suede.