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Thou Shalt Throw Away Worn Out Shoes


This heel just snapped under me as I walked to work. Tragic.You might think shoes, because they are so far away from your face, or are covered by long hems, won’t be noticed. Wrong. Or perhaps you just aren’t into shoes, fashionable or otherwise – all you care about is comfort, and regardless of the occasion or the shoes’ condition, you might think they will bypass people’s attention. They will not, and beware: like it or not, fair or not, you will be judged.

The fashion-aware will consciously do so, and not even necessarily in a condemnatory way; those not so interested in such frivolities as clothing may only subliminally notice – but in both cases sloppiness or inappropriate footwear will be noted and will affect others’ perception of you. It only takes seven seconds to make a first impression.

shoes have an uncanny ability to make, or break an outfit …

Once, I was attending an opening night at the ballet with a sister who was visiting from out-of-town. She hadn’t come prepared for gala evenings out, and she wore plain black, serviceable walking shoes. ‘That’s all I have with me,’ she protested at my aghast expression. ‘At least they are new and clean,’ she added, as if that ameliorated all her sins. I wore my red glitter Mary-Janes, and guess who did get noticed and admired by ladies squeezing past our seats, on their way to their own? Granted, those shoes are very eye-catching, but it was not my shoes politely being ignored. 

My sister’s saving grace was that her shoes, while unglamorous, were in fact new and clean. But what happens when this is not the case?

Perhaps – in a form of domestic blindness – you simply haven’t noticed how worn your shoes are, or they are a beloved pair you can’t bear to part with. Or maybe you’re too busy to clean your footwear, or just simply too lazy. But far from being an irrelevant detail or negated by their practicality, shoes have an uncanny ability to make, or break an outfit, so take time to take them seriously …

It’s when shoes have become shoddy rather than showy that it’s time to reevaluate their usefulness. 

The shank on this shoe is broken, necessitating the complete removal of the heel to address the problem. A special magnetised machine will be required to remove the nail embedded in the heel first.

When to Cast Aside an Old Shoe

It’s when shoes have become shoddy rather than showy that it’s time to reevaluate their usefulness. Firstly, look through your shoe wardrobe and sort the wheat from the chaff. Determine whether the shoe really is just down, and not in fact out. Which pairs do you reach for all the time, and which are the shoes you simply don’t wear? The wheat are the great shoes that you wear all the time and are in good condition, and the amazing shoes that you loooove but don’t have occasion to wear often. The chaff includes the worn out, the uncomfortable, ugly, or simply passé.

Illustration from a Danish magazine of 1914; image from ‘Vintage Shoes’, by Caroline Cox (Carlton Books, 2008)

The Wheat

Annoyingly, the left shoe of this pair of Mary-Janes lost its heel tip mid-commute one morning. They will not be worn again until they are repaired – doing so would ruin the patent leather further. Original heel tips are often of lesser quality than those used by quality shoe repairers. Have problem heels attended to ASAP! Make sure those shoes you wear very often are kept in tip-top condition. Protect them against the weather, and clean them when they are dirty. Have them resoled or protective tips on toes or heels added sooner rather than later. If you have a favourite pair of shoes that are really past it, consider replacing them with a new pair that are, if not exactly the same, as close as possible in likeness. 

If you are a shoeaholic like me, you may have a lot of beautiful shoes that don’t get worn often for the simple fact that there are not enough days in the year, or the right occasion or weather to wear them. Keep as many of these as you like if you have the space for them.

The Chaff

Of the shoes you don’t wear at all, or very, very seldom, it is actually fairly easy to grade them.

The Worn

Start with the worn out. Be ruthless with truly disgusting specimens of footwear. Broken, stinky, or so worn out it is a waste of time and money to repair them – these shoes should be unceremoniously cast into the outer darkness.

However, before you do anything so drastic as trashing only a midly disreputable-looking pair, consider whether all they need is a little TLC to make them look good as new. It may be as simple as cleaning and polishing them up yourself, which costs little more than the price of some shoe polish, brush and cleaning cloth – any lint-free rag will do. Or if they require the services of a cobbler, you will need to factor in the cost x love, ie, are they worth spending money on a repair? Sometimes it’s more cost effective to replace them.

Keep in mind certain types of leather age well too – scratches and wear (when polished up) can enhance good quality hide and even bestow a favourite pair of shoes or boots with that well-loved and lived-in glow. On the other hand, patent leather that is badly scratched or torn right off is a bad look. Chuck it out.

Illustration of Perugia footwear from the ‘Gazette du Bon Ton’, 1924; image from ‘Vintage Shoes’, by Caroline Cox (Carlton Books, 2008)

The Uncomfortable

If the shoes in question are uncomfortable you must weigh up the pros and cons of shoe beauty vs crippling agony. Can you barely stand in them for half an hour at a time, far less run for a bus or tram in them? Do you look ridiculous hobbling along in heels too high, or plastered with a multitude of bandaids? (Don’t forget new shoes will need wearing in – try wearing them at home for a short time each day before you take them on an outing.)

Poorly-fitting shoes can be made more wearable through stretching (cobblers can do this, or you can purchase some shoe-stretching spray), or inserting an insole, or softening, for example. One trick I learned from a shoe repairer was to rub pure soap to soften leather that is hard. If the shoes are ugly and uncomfortable, well, need I say more?

Don’t donate shoes that rightly belong in the rubbish … Consider it a good deed for the community at large.

The Passé

Some of your shoes may simply be out of fashion. If they are still in excellent condition and high quality or designer, you might consider keeping them in storage against the day they suddenly segue to the rank of vintage collectable. (New incarnations of an old and familiar style will rarely be exactly the same as past versions.) Platforms of decades past that were once considered ridiculous are now collectors’ items. I confess I own more than a few pairs of shoes that are either impossible or ridiculous or both, but I am sure one day a distant relative of mine will clap her hands in joy when she inherits this stash.

Alternatively, if the questionable footwear are still in very good condition you could sell them on eBay, or less-than-perfect-but-still-wearable-shoes could be donated to a charity shop. Don’t donate shoes that rightly belong in the rubbish. If you refuse to inflict them on the world, why give the opportunity to do so to a stranger with lesser shoe values than yourself? Consider it a good deed for the community at large.

When was the last time you polished your shoes?


Your shoes will last longer if you take care of them properly, obviously. Try not to wear the same pair day-in and day-out – they will be better for having a day off and time to breathe. Of course, shoes that have both outer leather and inner leather linings are the most comfortable and least likely to smell. (Don’t get me started on PU – I’ve had a couple of misadventures in stinky shoes. Even cuteness had at $25 a pop will not make that revolting stench go away. Click here and here for a giggle.)


These shoes are permanently water-stained, and excessive attempts to clean them damaged the leather further.Use protective spray on shoes, especially against the chance of rain, even in summer. I ruined a beautiful pair of very expensive designer shoes (right) that I had splashed out on when I was caught out in an unexpected summer shower. Normally a bit of rain won’t ruin shoes, but these are made of supremely soft Italian glove leather, and the watermark can’t be removed. Lesson learned! 


Be careful with over-brushing muddied suede – I waited until the mud was dry, but even so, this left boot is sadly bruised. Like my spirit. Clean dirty shoes when they first become dirty. Don’t leave them encrusted with mud for days – a very slovenly look. Suede that has been spattered with mud should be left to dry before it is brushed off, and in most cases it will come off easily. Keep an eye on heels and tips – have them attended to before they are drastically worn out and the leather on the shoe is ruined beyond repair. When shopping, I also keep in mind that shoes with leather covered heels require a little more care in wearing, as once they’re ruined there is little a cobbler can do to restore them to their former glory. Cobblestoned streets are the worst hazard – avoid them if at all possible!

Not many of us are lucky enough to have the kind of shelving system Mr Big gave to Carrie …


Store your footwear appropriately. Not many of us are lucky enough to have the kind of shelving system Mr Big gave to Carrie in the Sex & the City film, but boxes with some kind of vent will keep them dust-free while also helping shoes breathe. Don’t, for goodness sake, throw them in a jumble in the bottom of your wardrobe! They will become hopelessly scratched and dirty, and it doesn’t help you in the morning when you’re dressing.

All a good shoe wardrobe requires is an eye for style that properly balances quality with affordability (whether your budget is shoestring or stiletto-high), proper maintenance, and a streak of ruthlessness. Keep all this in mind and you will always put your best foot forward.

Check out this little gallery for some shoespiration.


Come back in a week or two for the Eighth Commandment of Miss Moses: ‘Launder thy garments respectfully and they wilt serve thee long’. If you’ve just tuned in, or would like to refresh your memory, click here to review all the Fashion Commandments. 

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