this thing's incredible

This Stretcher Makes Too-Tight Shoes Feel Broken In Overnight

Photo-Illustration: retailer

I’ve been “blessed,” so I’ve been told, with somewhat small feet (the average women’s size is an 8.5 or 9 and I’m a 6.5 or 7). This is only really convenient when there’s a sale and sizes 8 and above are flying off the shelves. The catch? Or curse, rather, is that my feet are slightly wide — meaning I usually end up with painful blisters, toenails cutting into other toes, and sore heels. It can take weeks and weeks to break in shoes — and even when I think they’re broken in, I’ll still see a peeling pinky after a long day.

But when I recently found a pair of Mary Janes with rhinestone stars on the strap that mostly fit, I decided to take my chances. That lasted about five minutes after one wobbly walk down the stairs at home.

A trip to the cobbler to stretch them out wasn’t an option — the nearest one didn’t have stellar reviews (or results, judging by photos) and there weren’t any other options within a reasonable distance. And although one of the tricks I learned on YouTube — putting on thick socks and blow drying shoes while moving around your toes — had worked in the past, it didn’t work for this pair. So I typed “shoe stretcher” into Amazon, hoping to find one of the shoe sprays I had heard others rave about. I did spot a few — but then I saw something more intriguing: these shoe trees that promised four-way stretching (length-wise, width-wise, for the instep, and for specific spots along the edges). My curiosity beat out my skepticism and I bought them.

The shoe stretchers come in three different sizes, S, M, and L — each designed to fit a range of feet. I chose the smallest of the three, which are for women’s shoe sizes 5.5 to 10 (the M and L can be used for both men and women). Honestly, the shoe trees looked kind of confusing at first — the silver hooks, the holes, the knobs. But a quick peek at the directions — with photos for every step — and I got the general gist of them. The stretchers come with ten plugs, which can be inserted into holes on the side and top to give you extra room where you need. The plugs fall into two categories — those for bunions and one which is meant to give you more height in the instep.

To get the most stretch, it’s best to shove the trees deep into the toe box. From there, you can either lengthen by turning the knob clockwise, which will move the block in the heel box backward, or widen by twisting the hooked handles clockwise. Either way, the brand suggests spinning the knob or handle two to three times after the stretcher feels fully extended in the shoe (like how you would check that a screw is tight enough). It’s also recommended that you leave the trees in your shoes for 24 hours or more.

I used them on my Mary Janes first and there was a noticeable difference after 24 hours. I could tell just by looking at them that they were bigger than before (no ruler needed). The entire shoe seemed wider — from the pointed toe box to the strap, which showed the most obvious signs of expanding (the elastic on each end had loosened up). Once I put the shoes on, they felt so much more comfortable. I had enough room to wiggle my toes. The strap wasn’t digging into my skin (and didn’t leave a mark when I took the shoes off). And there was no stumbling down the stairs this time around. When I actually took the shoes out for a spin, I didn’t feel the usual aches of wearing a new pair of shoes. Instead, it felt like I had owned them for years — they felt fully broken in.

Of course I had to test out the stretchers on my other shoes that were just a smidge too tight after more than a year of mostly wearing slippers. Now I’ve used these stretchers on just about every pair of shoes I own, including other pointed flats, clogs, open-toed mules, and strappy sandals. Each has stretched out just enough to give me the extra space to stand a little taller and not shuffle around uncomfortably. For most of them, I haven’t waited the full 24 hours — an overnight stretch does the job. The one downside? The brand says these won’t work on taller boots. But I can live with it — my blister-free wide feet have never felt better.

Other Strat-Approved Shoe Stretchers

Contributor Caroline Bankoff generously applied this spray to her too-small stilettos, which stretched them out seemingly half a size for a night of walking and dancing. She arrived “home with nothing more than the little bit of pinching that results from any extended period of time in four-inch stilettos.”

This spray was previously recommended by Will Kelly, co-owner and operator of shoe-repair company My Shoe Hospital in Houston. Kelly told us to spray it all over the inside and outside of a pair. His other hot tip? Use a shoe stretcher afterward for an even more customized (and comfortable) fit.

Dealing with bunions or a hammertoe? Use this bunion-specific stretcher to find the spots in your shoes that could do with a bit more room, and take the pressure off those pressure points.

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This Stretcher Makes Too-Tight Shoes Fit Overnight