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How to break in a new pair of shoes without leaving yourself in total agony

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Sam Diss
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Try as we might, men cannot live in trainers alone. 

One time my girlfriend invited me to her colleague’s house party, a party populated by grown-ups. “You’ll have to wear shoes, obviously,” she said.

“Uh, haha, yeah, obviously,” I said. “That’s no problem.”

I was shitting it. After years of wearing trainers every single day, my feet – already delicate little doves – had been treated to a near-lifetime of comfort. In school I wore black trainers, somehow avoiding detention and “isolation” – the punishment doled out to those who ignored the school board’s strict uniform rules – by feigning deafness and always making sure they looked really, really clean. 

Whenever I’ve had to actually wear a pair of shoes, whenever a loved one died or a friend got married, I’d curse. This is bullshit. Why do shoes feel like this?

At the house party, my fears were confirmed: I wore a brand new pair of sand suede Desert boots by Clarks and they cut my heels to absolute pieces. I hid in the bathroom and removed my shoes, looking at the cured meat selection gathering about my lower Achilles and grumbled about formal dress codes. filling my shoe with tissue paper and wincing as I applied cool water to the deeply affected area.

It was, in short, very painful, and I promised to never suffer like this ever again.

While my own strict-if-churlish dedication to casual footwear had left my feet in a perilous position, I am not alone in fearing the leather shoe’s unforgiving form. Chris, a writer with long hair, asked me: “Is there a smart and non-fucking-agony way of breaking in a pair of shoes?” And I replied “Yes, mate, let me show you how, in the form of an article for ShortList.”

So here’s how:

GET THE HAIRDRYER OUT

You when your boots hurt and you need to wait for bae to do her hair so you can warp the leather structure around the heel (via iStock)

Nothing kicks a tough heel’s head in quite like the hot blast of a hairdryer. First whack on the thickest pair of socks you have – even if you want to go sockless in your shoes (and you should read our guide on how to do that, if you want to do it right) – and then put your awful, debilitating shoes over the top of them. Next you’re gonna aim that heat straight at the bits that feel like they are made of razors and slowly wiggle your feet around in them until you are left with a pair that don’t make you weep. Then buy some leather oil to stop them cracking like a rookie spy and Robert is very much your mother’s brother.

BUY RUBBING ALCOHOL (WHICH IS A REAL THING AND NOT JUST FROM THE SIMPSONS)

Good ol' manipulative Lenny (via Fox)

When I was first introduced to the concept of rubbing alcohol, it was by those jaundiced boys in Springfield. They used it to anti-septic their wounds and to get pissed on when liquor laws stated alcohol couldn’t be served before a certain time. It sounded great! Stops infection, gets you blind drunk, etc. but then I heard it could be used to make leather more pliable and its real world usage opened up to me like a benevolent clam with a bottle of 200ml glass bottle of Care+ instead of a pearl.

I still won’t be pouring it into cuts any time soon – I’ll just pick the gravel out with my nail and whack some dinosaur plasters on there like our fathers did, like their fathers before them did – but pouring a small amount onto a cloth and working it into the inside back heel of your shoe really adds some much-needed give, and is one of the most area specific ways to sort it out.

Buy Care+ Surgical Spirit rubbing alcohol at Superdrug, £1.79

BUY A SHOE-SHAPER

One like this or just one of those cheap ones from Amazon, tbh (via iStock)

Also known as a “shoe-tree”, a “shoe-stretcher”, or “you know, like those things you used to see in Shoe-Zone”. Throw a few socks around a tightly-coiled shoe-shaper, leave it overnight and find them all pliant and expanded in the morning. That’s it. Done. Your shoe is now slightly bigger (mimicking the effect all that breaking-in effort would hope to do) and won’t hurt as much as before.

Buy a shoe-shaper on Amazon from around £4

GET SOME OF THOSE COMPEED BLISTER PLASTERS

Marry me (via Compeed)

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Honestly, you could really fuck everything except these off and you’d be fine.

Let me tell you something about the Compeed Blister plaster: I think I’d let you punch me in the face if you promised to buy me a year’s worth of Compeed Blister plasters. If you woke me up in the middle of the night – like, fully broke into my flat and shook me awake, screaming, with a balaclava over your head and a flashlight scorching my retina – just to give me a packet of Compeed Blister plasters, I would be over the moon. I’d kiss your fluffy balaclava’d face. If you led me into the centre circle at Wembley, high noon on a match day, and bitch-slapped me in front of 90,000 people plus however many millions watching on television and then for some reason my pants fell down and everyone laughed, if you’d only be so kind as to tuck a packet of Compeed Blister plasters into my sweating palm, I would be at one with the world. A dreamy smile would drift across my face. The pain of humiliation trumped by the sticky cuddle of a padded, blister-avoiding slice of gel and adhesive.

Compeed Blister plasters changed my life. Here’s how you use them: open the packet, peel off the piece of plastic that protects the sticky-side, and then stick them to whatever part of your shoe is being a dickhead most/whichever part of your foot is getting it worst. That’s it. After that, I swear that you feel like you could run a marathon in Dr. Martens, go climbing in a new pair of Oxfords, have a little kickabout in some spanking oxblood Bass Weejun loafers. The world suddenly becomes your foot oyster. Those sand suede Clarks now fit like a dream instead of a nightmare.

You’ll wonder how the hell you ever lived without them, and then you too will go from town to town evangelising them. You’ll become the Compeed Blister Plaster Guy, the guy who gives them for birthday presents, Hanukkah gifts, wedding favours, for you are bestowing the greatest thing a man could offer: comfort, safety, not-bloody-heels.

You’d be the most popular man in town.

(Main Image: Die Hard (1988) / 20th Century Fox)

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Sam Diss

The Associate Editor of New Projects at ShortList, Sam enjoys making up words to annoy editors, writing features about sports, music, weird things, and cool people, and listening to Mark Morrison's 'Return Of The Mack'. He's also a fairly capable centreback. Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamDiss

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