Thrifting 101: How To Thrift For Shoes

Do you have an issue buying shoes from a thrift store?

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.

thrift shoes

(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. 


      1. These are fantastic tips! I have only bought one pair of boots while thrifting ... something about wearing old shoes just grosses me out. But the bleach suggestion/replacing the insoles may make me reconsider ...

        1. love these tips. check out my similar post from awhile back!

      2. Shoes are one of my favorite things to thrift for, but mostly because they are so hard to find! I've never been grossed out by it, but I will definitely take your cleaning tips!

      3. Love these tips - especially the reminder to bring socks! I forgot last time. Very sad.

        I cannot even imagine finding Prada shoes whilst thrifting. What a thrill.

      4. Great tips and I just went to the local SA too and fell in love with a few pairs of shoes. I always wondered how to sanitize them. My favorite pair of heels that I own were thrifted. Just wore them last night!

      5. I've just begun thrifting and shoes are the one thing I'm still hesitant on. I can remember my mom telling me as I was growing up that I shouldn't borrow my girlfriends shoes because we all walk so differently and I might foul up my gait. Hehe. It still sings in the back of my mind when I'm in the thrift store. Thanks for the tips!

      6. Great tips indeed, on thrifting shoes. I have found several pairs of Ferragamos at my local Goodwill store and yes, they are in my closet. I use lemon vodka to take the stinky smell from garments (sprayed on the offender, not imbibed by yours truly), and wonder how that would work for decontamination.

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