I have wide feet that are slightly different sizes (as most people do, even if they don’t know it). I also don’t wear flats, so the joy of buying shoes has always been tempered by the dread of breaking them in. Until recently, I simply accepted that my first couple of experiences with most footwear would end with blisters, numb toes, pain, and/or, on a few occasions, dirty feet from giving up and going barefoot for the final stretch.
Last month, I impulse-ordered some almost comically impractical heels that turned out to be so tight and generally uncomfortable that I decided to return them, only to realize that they were final sale. In an effort to begin what I expected to be a particularly miserable breaking-in process, I wore the shoes to meet a friend for dinner in my neighborhood. When I explained why I was hobbling, she said, “Oh, you just need that stretching stuff.” For those who, like me, were not aware: That stretching stuff is a spray that uses diluted alcohol to soften the stiff fibers in new shoes, allowing you to loosen them up using your own feet or, if necessary, a wooden shoe tree. The shoes I used it on are made of leather, but it’s made to work on suede, canvas, and linen, as well.
The instructions on the bottle said to “spray heavily,” so I completely soaked the interior of the shoes. Then I put them on and clunked around outside for 15 minutes or so, pausing periodically to flex my feet as much as possible (two people stopped to ask if I was alright). After letting the shoes dry out, I repeated the process. When I put them on later that day, they fit perfectly.
I didn’t measure the shoes, but I’d say they certainly felt stretched at least half a size. After my experiment, I wore them out for a night that required a mile of walking and at least an hour of dancing — and arrived home with nothing more than the little bit of pinching that results from any extended period of time in four-inch stilettos. Now, I’m planning to use the spray on all my too tight left shoes, from black pumps to some of my newly acquired winter boots.
Writer Priya Rao uses Jason Markk’s Repel spray (which was formulated for sneakerheads who want to keep their shoes pristine) on everything leather: “Now, my stiletto-heel YSL boots don’t get that dreaded ring around the toe when walking in slushy snow. The rain no longer seeps into the fringe leather skirt that I bought two winters ago on super sale. Needless to say, I’ve tossed the bottle of Ugg Stain and Water Spray I’d been using as a leather protectant. While that works on Ugg’s slouchy suede, it didn’t do much of a job on my stark-white Converses and Vince leather jacket. The Jason Markk, though, is my all-around fabric-protecting champion.”
Writer and costume designer Alison Freer first told us about Keysocks last winter, which are no-show socks that actually keep your feet warm: “Kind of like a pair of Peds on steroids, they’re meant to cover your toes, foot bottom, heels, and calves while still leaving the top of your foot and ankle exposed. Not only are sweat and odor cut in half (Keysocks are made with 80 percent Coolmax Polyester, a moisture-wicking technical fabric invented by DuPont), but your toes also stay toasty when you’re wearing ankle-baring jeans in the winter.”
For incredibly smooth feet, beauty writer Hannah Morrill recommends a cream she learned about from dermatologists: “I’ll rub it all over my feet and be someone who sleeps with socks on for just one night. In the morning, the fine white fissures in my toes and along the heels will have disappeared, craggy cuticles will have laid flat, and the ashy nubs around big toes will have receded. The cream also contains glycerin, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and cholesterol — a.k.a. the very best skin-moisturizers science knows about right now.”