Thrifting shoes is one of my favorite types of treasure hunts in local thrift stores. Shoes can quickly be scanned for any items of interest and typically snatched up for prices way below resale and new retail prices. When thrift shopping for shoes, I generally look for unique or purposeful pairs ranging from athletic sneakers to dress shoes. I look for items that I can easily clean or don’t mind the worn “patina,” which, in my opinion, is excellent on old Chucks and Dr. Martens.
Fresh Thrift Store Buys
When looking for shoes, I make sure there are no tears, evenly worn bottoms, that the heels and toe of the shoes are still well connected to the shoe, and ensure there are no cracks in the leather. If a shoe has any of these issues and still has my interest, I look for ones that can be easily repaired or used for a purpose in their condition.
The easiest way to get the maximum value out of thrifted shoes is to clean and mend any needed portions. With athletic, running-type shoes, for me, this is just a quick spray with a fabric stain remover like “Spray & Wash” and a toss into the washing machine with plenty of soap and a full cycle wash on cold. I toss in a towel or two to keep the noise down during the tumbling process. When the shoes are done washing, they should be quickly removed and reformed to hold their structure while drying. I typically do this by straightening the tongue and loosening the laces; occasionally, some paper towels may be necessary to maintain the form. If you use paper towels, use caution to not overstretch any fabric. Once reshaped, I leave them to air dry on the counter, usually for 24 hours. Typically this process yields near-new shoe appeal in terms of fabric condition, color, and overall cleanliness of the shoe. One caution to this method is anything delicate, or worn poorly due to age, should not be put in the washing machine but cleaned by hand as necessary.
With shoes built of leather or other non-wash machine-friendly materials, it is usually a quick brushing with a coarse and fine bristle shoe brush, then a hand cleaning of all areas that need any debris removed. I typically use a leather cleaner or dish soap and water mixture if a detergent is needed. Then a coat of color matching polish or leather conditioner. Any more delicate type of dress shoe or boot, those with leather soles and/or rubber heels, I take them to a local shoe repair shop if repair is needed. One caveat is that any shoe I’m willing to invest in must be high-quality enough to warrant a repair. The shoe repair shop isn’t cheap but well worth the investment for the right shoe. With that being said, a quality thrifted pair of fine leather boots or dress shoes and a $30-$70 shoe cobbler repair bill can still yield a unique shoe and substantial savings compared to online/resale and new retail prices while creating lasting value.
Do you thrift shoes? If so, what are you looking for?