Q And Answer: Pre-Owned Shoes

May 14, 2010

Q and Answer: Pre-Owned Shoes

Aliotsy asks: Where do you draw the line on whether or not a pre-owned shoe is too worn to be worth purchasing?  Should I only be looking for lightly-worn, like-new shoes? Or is it okay to take a chance on something that’s had a couple years of use?

Great question, Aliotsy.

I buy a lot of my shoes second-hand.  I know for some people this is a no-no, because feet are gross or whatever, but the reality is that everything is gross, especially doorknobs, and if I’m going to use doorknobs, I figure I might as well just go whole-hog.

The biggest drop in a shoe’s price comes the first time it’s worn outside.  Any scuffs on the sole at all and they’re suddenly non-returnable and used.  Usually a very lightly worn shoe (say one that didn’t fit the original owner, but couldn’t be returned) is your best bet when it comes to used shoes.  You can easily save half of the retail price or more if you’re willing to let someone else wear your shoes once or twice before you do.  You should be able to recognize a lightly-worn shoe like this even from eBay photos – there will usually be at least some of the original finish on the shoes.

Some people are obsessed with the idea of one’s feet creating an indelible impression in the footbed of a shoe, making more heavily worn shoes only suitable for their original owner.  I’m not going to say that this is complete baloney, but it’s certainly never been an issue for me.  A greater issue when buying more worn shoes is estimating how much wear is left in them.

A complete recrafting will generally run you about $100 from the manufacturer.  This usually includes replacing the insole and outsole and cleaning and conditioning the upper, and returns even well-worn shoes to very good condition.  If you’re buying shoes that look like they’ll need these services soon, remember to add a hundred bucks to the price you’re paying before you decide if they’re worth it.  This isn’t to say that you should always have used shoes recrafted, but rather that they are much more likely to need recrafting sooner if you wear them with any regularity.

Used shoes have often not been properly cared for.  With a thorough cleaning, conditioning and polishing, they’ll often spring back to life.  This is particularly true of shell cordovan, which can develop a waxy white buildup if it isn’t cared for.  With a cleaning, even old shell often gains a lustrous, deep shine.

Remember though that major flaws in the upper cannot be repaired.  If the leather is gouged, or if there’s crazing, you’re simply not going to be able to make the shoes presentable, and you should walk away.