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The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: December 20, 2013

Submitted by on December 20, 2013 – 10:54 AM15 Comments


Readers! Sarah here. I need help with boot-stretching.

Okay, here’s the story. I got a great deal on a pair of vintage boots last month, a great enough deal that I didn’t consider some snugness in the toe box (…hee) a problem. And if I wear just tights, or a very thin pair of socks, it isn’t a problem…for a few hours…but at the end of the day, in both senses of that phrase, the boots are just a little too short.

Another quarter to half inch in the toe box. Width- and arch-wise, they fit fine.

1) The half-isopropyl-alcohol, half-water spray/huge socks treatment; it seemed to help, for an afternoon, but I think it was more my really wanting to believe than any actual results, and if they did stretch, it didn’t last.

2) Asking the local cobbler to stretch them — this isn’t a guy I’ve used for these jobs in the past; the shop I went to last time didn’t blink when I asked them to stretch Hasbeens, but this boot is a different build, more like Fryes with a hard outsole, and this dude seemed to be saying that he couldn’t stretch the insole/top past the stitching? (His exact words were, “Meez Bunting, you are naive to natural leather.” Su…re?) That isn’t what I asked for, and in any case it’s a quarter inch, but he wouldn’t try it. The other guys maybe could do it but they’re two neighborhoods over.

Tell me your boot-stretching DIY stories. I have Googled it pretty extensively, but Lifehacker and various videos don’t give me a sense of how realistic it is to try another method like a blowdryer. Have you tried the heat method? Does it work? What prep should I do, if any? Am I being “naive to” the way this boot is put together; do I need to accept that they’re a short-term wear and I can’t go out for the day in them?

I need your suggestions and caveats. You will not be blamed if the boot is fubared; like I said, the deal was so good I really can’t go wrong here. (Pro tip: summer-community stores in the off-season = gold mine. One sincere comment about the quality of curation in the store, the next thing you know you’re getting free St. Laurent. You’re welcome.)

Nation Santae, bring me a fix!




  • Dayna says:

    The blow-dryer method worked for me on soft leather flats. The shoes were tight even without socks, so I put them on with a slightly thicker pair of socks than I would normally wear and pointed the blow-dryer (set on high) at them. Got the shoes hot, wore them around for about 30 minutes, then did it again. Presto chango, they fit perfectly now with thin or no socks. With boots, you may have to do it more than twice, but I would give it at least one try and see if you notice a difference.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    How vintage are we talking? Leather that’s 30+ years old probably isn’t going to stretch without damage. Says me who had a fabulous pair of 1930s vintage slingback, peep toe pumps that also needed to be a half inch longer which now adorn my sister’s half-inch shorter feet (she was thrilled–said it was the best birthday present that year) on special occasions. My local shoe repair guy, who specializes in repair of vintage stuff practically had the vapors when I asked him about stretching. Imagine a 6′ 3′ muscle-bound, heavily tattooed dude with the vapors.

    Ahem, long-winded way of saying that in my limited experience, vintage leather is pretty set in its ways and while repair is possible, stretching is risky. You could try shoe trees but again, stretching old leather, risky. Resign yourself to short wear and enjoy the hell out of it. Oh, and post a picture!

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I couldn’t tell you the exact age but I doubt they’re older than 15-20 years. I wouldn’t bother with it for a pair of pumps, but boot leather, it seems to me, should be tougher — and honestly, if I’m looking at my boots in the morning and I have a choice between these and the *actual* Fryes that don’t give me ingrowns…I’m wearing the Fryes, because when I dress for the day, I don’t want to change until bedtime. So my feeling is that you are right BUT I may have to risk it.

  • Bubbles says:

    This worked for my newer Docs (no wait, just realized they were about 10 years old when I did this), but your mileage may vary… They were always a bit tight, and I muddled through them being too narrow. And then… some sort of pun on muddling through and getting them muddy while out hawking with my in-laws. (Actual hawks, hunting jackrabbits… hence mud.) There was nothing for it but to hose ’em down. While they were still soaking wet, I put them on with some thick socks and wore them until they were about dry. I also keep them oiled fairly well to keep the leather from being too stiff. It’s not the most perfect fit, but they are as good as I think they’re going to get.

  • Bubbles says:

    And isn’t there a saying about tough as boot leather?

  • Angharad says:

    My feet are on the wide side and generally difficult to fit, so I made the $30/$40 investment in a bottle of solution and stretchers awhile back. Try to get the stretchers with movable plastic pegs (most on the market have them), as that allows you to spot-stretch. And if you’re able, get stretchers made for men’s shoes. I wear a larger size (11) anyway, but I’ve found the men’s version to hold up better than those made for women. Spray the shoes, put the stretchers in, leave them for about a week, and repeat as necessary. I’ll recommend using a good leather conditioner, too, before and after stretching. Also, if the area that needs to be stretched is exactly where the stitching is, you’ll have limited luck. Shoe thread has no real give to it.

  • Nina A says:

    The blowdryer thing does work. @-3 pairs of heavy socks-5-15 minutes running the blowdryer on high.

  • Alix L says:

    I’ve been selling shoes for 18 years, and the one thing I always tell my customers is that shoes will get wider, but they will not get longer. Also, a quarter inch is a whole size, a half inch is two sizes – that’s a lot of stretch to be looking for without damaging the leather.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I should probably add that I suck at measurements. 3/16 to 1/4 would probably more than do it.

  • Jobiska says:

    I’d try to think of some other errands (fave restaurant you miss, maybe? Friend to meet there for a meal?) in the vicinity of the two-neighborhoods-over shoe repair place and make an expedition out of it. I do get not wanting to slog over there carrying boots, but to me it seems like it has the most chance of success–and if they too opine that you are naive to natural leather, that’s a bigger sample size and you might be able to resign yourself to the short-term wear!

    That’s if, as I suspect, shoe repair people are not even late adopters of things like websites and email and such and you could send them an email with a photo of the boots….

  • KarenF says:

    Major disclaimer – I have never tried to stretch boots or shoes, and I have no idea if this would work, or even if you could even find a store that would allow you to try this, however…

    Really good figure skates are sold to be extremely tight, then custom fit to your feet. This is done by putting the boots (prior to blades being added) on your feet, then putting your feet into a machine that heats up the boots for about 20-30 minutes. The boots are heated, then cooled into the shape of your foot.

    When the above posters talked about the hair dryer, it reminded me of what I go through when I get new skates (and the weirdness of getting a phone call while your feet are in the machine: “Hey, Karen, can you be downtown for a meeting in ten minutes,” “Ummm, no, my feet are in a machine.”).

    Anyway, skating boots are thicker than riding boots, but if you’ve exhausted all of the above solutions, you might want to call to custom skate shop (any that sell high end Reidell, Klingbeil, SP Teri skates would have at least one of these machines) and get their opinion on this.

  • Judy says:

    Seconding KarenF. Hockey skates can be “baked” for a better fit, and those actually get done with the blades attached. They stick the skates in, then you lace ’em on while they’re good and hot and they cool around your feet and stay in shape after that. You might try that…

  • G.I. Jane...not says:

    Agree with Bubbles. After 22 years in the military and breaking in countless pairs of new (and very stiff) boots, the best way I’ve found is to soak them in water, then put on 2 pairs of thick socks and “walk them out wet.” The concern with your boots is what effect the water may have on the leather dye. Military boots used to get tons of polish once broken in (they’re all suede or rough leather now), so discoloration wasn’t a factor. Not sure how yours will fare.

  • Fiona says:

    Sarah, have you done this boot thing? I’m so curious about the results…

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Not yet! It’s on my list. I’ll report back.

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