I've struggled with the squick factor regarding thrifting shoes. The thought that thrifted footwear was once home to someone else's sweaty, possibly smelly feet once is a hard one to negotiate. However, in the end, wearing shoes purchased from a thrift store is no different than wearing anything else I've thrifted. With a thorough cleaning and sanitizing, thrifted or vintage shoes are just as economically smart as any other item gleamed from the thrift store.
Thrifting for shoes can be quite difficult. Most of the footwear I come across during thrift store excursions has seen better days. From torn leather to worn soles to missing clasps and scuffed heels, searching for, and finding, a wearable and stylish pair of shoes can be an arduous task. However, few things beat the thrill of finding a great pair of Ferragamo or Prada pumps for a fraction of their retail price.
(A random selection of shoes seen at my local Salvation Army. Yes, those are vintage Prada and Ferragamo heels, both priced at $15. Yes, I hyperventilated a little.)
If you're ready to consider wearing thrifted footwear, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Come prepared: This one might seem obvious, but bring a pair of socks with you every time you go thrifting just in case you see a pair of shoes that interest you. Besides avoiding direct contact with an unsanitized pair of shoes, you'll get a more accurate idea of how they'll fit.
- Quality: Before trying on a pair of shoes, give them a once-over for cracked leather, splitting heels, stains on suede and discolored fabric. Woven leather shoes are also prone to fraying. I suggest looking on the inside of the shoes as well, as torn or missing insoles can make them unbearably uncomfortable to wear, no mater how intact the outside of the shoe might be.
- Dig deeper: Examine the stitching and the buckles/holes on straps. Loose stitching can be easily fixed, but stretched out stitching or torn holes can’t. A missing buckle might be hard to fix too, especially if the strap is an odd size or the buckle a specially made one.
- Heel strength: There's no point in buying a pair of shoes if the heel is weak or splitting. Bend the heel back gently and check to make sure it isn't wobbly or flimsy. However, if you've fallen in love with a pair of shoes with broken heels and you're willing to cover the extra expense, heels can be replaced.
- Do the shoes fit? Never, ever buy a pair of thrifted shoes without trying them on. Vintage shoes are often much more narrow that today's versions.
If you've found a great pair of shoes at a thrift store and are ready to take them home, here's a simple way to sanitize them:
- Wipe the inside of the shoe down with rubbing alcohol or bleach. If using bleach, mix 1/4 cup with water and using a spray bottle, spritz the solution on the inside of the shoe. Be sure the liquid doesn’t come in contact with the outside of the shoe, the bleach can ruin the material. Air the shoes out over night. If there are insoles, you definitely want to replace them.