Wearing and caring for your period shoes

A period fit

Wearing period shoes feels very different to wearing modern shoes. We are all used to mass-production shoes cut to a standard pattern which we consequently tend to buy slightly bigger than we really need  e.g. because one foot is slightly wider than the other. (It could be worse: it was only in the twentieth century that the army started providing left and right shoes. Prior to that it was a case of one foot fits all.)

I only make shoes to order, so your shoes will be fitted exactly to your feet. This means they may not both be exactly the same shape! I also make them so that they fit snuggly. Leather is an immensely malleable material which can stretch by up to 20% as it as used. If I made them to fit loosely the way modern shoes do, then the inherent stretch means they would be falling off your feet after a season.

If you would like to stretch your shoes before wearing them to a show, then just put them on, damp them, and walk around in them for a few hours.

Protecting your shoes

You can  add waterproofing by applying a mixture of beeswax and oil  (or modern equivalent) to the uppers and letting it soak in. Don’t coat the sole: it will make them very slippery! You should do this roughly once a year to feed the leather and keep it supple.

If making up your own mixture, avoid walnut, almond, linseed or Danish oil as these will dry your shoes out.  Neatsfoot oil should also be avoided as it can decay linen and your shoes are likely to be sewn together with linen thread. Fortunately vegetable oil and olive oil are both good to use and widely available.

If you would prefer to buy waterproofing then I’ve had good results with Dubbin, although do read the label to make sure they haven’t added anything odd since I last used it.

A word of warning: direct heat irreparably damages leather, so if you get soaked at a show don’t put your shoes on the firebox to dry. Home radiators or fires will have the same effect, so if you want dry them, just leave them to air dry in a warm, but not hot, place.

A second word of warning:  leather shoes will go mouldy if left damp for a prolonged period of time. Do not forget to unpack your shoes and leave them out to dry after a show!

If you do accidentally leave your shoes in a plastic bag between September and May, only to retrieve a set of blue furry objects the night before the show, then you should soak them in clean (not soapy!) cold (not hot!) water and gently scrub off the mould. Leave them to dry then re-oil them as above. The reason you need to avoid warm water is because this will harden the leather, making it brittle and potentially shrinking the shoes.

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