5.21.2014

old shoes, new tricks

thrifted: secondhand Via Spiga animal-print peep-toe heels

With a blog named Secondhand Goods, you would think I never buy anything brand new. But I do. It's just rare and well considered, like the Rough & Tumble hobo bag, made in Maine, I've been sporting every day since March. Of course I buy underthings and socks brand new, and also leggings and yoga pants—usually from Nordstrom Rack or TJ Maxx—and the rare handbag. But other than that, I can't think of the last time I bought brand-new clothes or shoes, furniture, jewelry, or decorative objects. There's simply too much good previously owned stuff out there for that.

Last summer, I did almost buy a pair of inexpensive red espadrilles from Alder and Co., a Portland boutique a few blocks down the street. (They're no longer available on the Web site, but you can see them here—so bold tomato!) I had a white pair of espadrilles in high school that were super comfy and since it never rained in the high desert and since I wasn't exactly an outdoorsy teen, they barely got dirty. But drizzly Portland is not a town for espadrilles, which could only really be worn here for about two months of the year, so I didn't buy them, pretty as they were. (See? I don't get everything I want.)
 
Finding cute, comfortable shoes has always been hard for me. Because my feet blister easily, it's an awful feeling to have spent $200-plus on a pair of shoes and find your toes blistered and your heels raw and covered in dried blood, even with socks on and even after the break-in period. In years past, I've had to consign almost-new Frye boots for this reason, which is why I now feel much less guilty buying shoes at Goodwill. Because if they don't work out like the pretty blue snake shoes (Nordstrom B.P., made in China, $2.50 at GW) that always rubbed on my lone bunion (thanks to a piece of someone's cheapo furniture falling on my foot several years ago), which left me limping at the end of each day, well, at least I didn't drain my bank account finding that out.


thrifted: black Banana Republic boots, brown Cole Haan boots

But even after switching to buying almost everything secondhand, it took years before I would even consider buying used shoes. The thought of someone else's feet sweat-stink still grosses me out, and I'd never buy a pair of secondhand sneakers or sports shoes unless they'd never been worn. But then a couple years ago I spotted a sexy pair of tan pumps at Albertina Kerr and a few weeks later a beautiful peacock blue pair of vintage Bandolino pumps at Goodwill, probably from the 80's, which per the leather soles, had never even been worn (!), and they were only $5. So I snagged them both.

And once I started to actually browse the secondhand-shoe aisles at thrift stores instead of walking right past, it became obvious that older shoes are generally better made—meaning of all-leather in Italy, Spain, or Brazil rather than China. Just because shoes are older doesn't mean they're worn out, especially if we're talking about dress shoes, which quite often have been barely worn and perhaps discarded on the basis of some trend as dictated by fashion magazines but mainly because people get bored and want new things, whether we're talking shoes or wives.

And so used shoes abound at thrift stores. Most are made cheaply in China within the last several years. Avoid those altogether. Some shoes are dinged up, dirty, or otherwise not well cared for, or else they've simply been very well used. Skip those, too.

Instead, be choosy and follow your heart. Buy only well made secondhand shoes in great condition that you love, and seek out designer labels you could never afford brand-new. It'll be our little secret.


thrifted: Linda Allard for Ellen Tracy black suede pumps

To make any shoes last, do have rubber soles put on anything worn frequently in rainy climes, clean them often, and polish as needed. After the initial purchase and after each wearing when going sockless, I also wipe mine down inside with a lightly damp soapy cloth to remove any dead skin cells and bacteria that could create odor.

For the record, in the last year, along with handmade shoes, my cobbler has even started selling vintage shoes in his Nob Hill Shoe Repair store. He says they're crafted better than anything made today. What, my fellow Americans, does that say about us?

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