Green cowboy boots

Thrifted Clothes Are Wonderful, But Should You Wear Thrifted Shoes?

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I’ve been a huge fan of thrifted clothes for years, but friends have asked me if they should wear thrifted shoes? Let me explore how I make thrifted shoes work for me, and tips about how to clean them.

Quote of the day: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve become more conscious of the sustainability issues with our fashion choices now that I’ve been blogging about fashion. Sure, I understand all about purging items, yet the constant consumption of items can be crazy. In all honesty, I started thrifting more because we are on a tighter budget. However, the eco-friendly aspect makes it a win-win.

Insider tip: If you worry about other people having worn your thrifted items, I like to remember that many “new” items have been tried on at the stores. It’s up to you to clean anything when you get home no matter where you buy them.

The idea for this post came when Charlotte was showcasing a pair of thrifted purple flats and I also linked to a podiatrist’s article on the idea. I know this podiatrist from Instagram and she is a Walking Cradles ambassador also. So I trust her advice along with what I know from my biology background.

One of my friends, Susan, commented “Even though I consider myself an environmentally thoughtful person I avoid the shoe section of the thrift and consignment stores that I love to frequent. Would love to see a post on how you navigate thrifted shoes and how you pick what’s likely to be a good comfy usable pair of shoes.”

Related post: Shopping secondhand for special occasions

Should You Wear Thrifted Shoes?

So I will start with the question and answer with my opinion. Yes, you can wear thrifted shoes and find comfortable and stylish ones on a budget.

It’s a different method of finding thrifted shoes than you normally employ at shoe stores. AND, there is some inspection you need to do when you find the shoes.

I will share how to clean your thrifted shoes to make you feel more secure in your purchase, and I hope this information is helpful.

Of course, this is all my personal opinion. I have purchased many types of thrifted shoes over the years. The list includes sneakers, rain boots, ankle boots, tall boots, cowboy boots, sandals, heels, and flats. In fact, I counted how many pairs of thrifted shoes are in my closet at this time, and there are 25 pairs. I only preach what I believe.

I consider it a wonderful way to add a style to my closet that maybe I’m unsure that I will wear a lot since the cost is minimal. And if they aren’t as comfortable as I imagined, then I can donate them back.

Question: Who hasn’t tried on shoes in a shoe store, and thought they would be comfortable? Only to discover that when you wear them in real life, they aren’t? Even though I do try to wear my “new from retail stores” shoes inside for a day before deciding to keep them, but it’s still a crapshoot.

Thrifted shoes as heels
I found these at Goodwill. I don’t wear heels as much anymore, but I couldn’t resist the distressed material and buckle on the top. I have ended up wearing them more than I thought.

Navigate the Thrift Stores for Shoes

The biggest difference about navigating the thrift store looking for shoes is you don’t have all of the variety of sizes available if you find a pair of shoes you adore.
Some thrift stores display their shoes by size, while others have them grouped by color.

Here’s my navigation technique.
1– If they are grouped by size, I will look at both the half-size above and below what I “normally” wear as well as my size of shoes. Footwear is not always standard in its sizes, so you won’t know until you try them on. Plus, some shoes have been stretched enough to make a smaller size very comfortable. Or many times with boots, you might prefer a bigger size so that your thick socks won’t make them too tight.

2-If they are grouped by color, I look at each and every shoe on the racks. If I see one that I like, I pick it up and inspect it (see below) before I even check the size, unless it’s obviously too big or small.

3-When there are a lot of people milling around the shoes, I will take the ones I like before inspecting them and trying them on, and put them in my cart. Sometimes it’s a dog-eat-dog world in the thrift stores, so you don’t want to miss out.

4-Try to be open about the styles and colors of shoes. We have habits about what we normally wear, but some of my “best” thrifted shoes have been ones that I wasn’t sure about or are very different than my normal style. The cost risk is much more minimal with thrifted shoes, so you can take a chance on footwear you might normally bypass.

These Steve Madden flats are the type made of recycled bottles. Camoflague shoes are not one I would have paid full price for, but I love them for $5.

Inspect Your Thrifted Items

Checking out the thrifted shoes before trying them on, is important and there are a couple of things to check that will make your purchase more successful.

1– Pick up the shoe and look at the bottom. The wear on the sole can be very indicative of how much they’ve already been worn. In fact, I have found shoes that you can tell are brand new because there is no wear on the soles. However, just because they have been worn some, does not make them bad. Quality shoes are made to last a long time.

Insider tip: My friend Suzanne gives many times to figure out if thrifted shoes are quality ones or not. Personally, I have so many shoes, so I don’t worry about this issue as much. I know I will probably only wear them 10 times a year. But you need to figure out what works for you.

By the way, check the heels. If you love the rest of the shoe but the heel by itself is missing the cap, this can be an easy fix at your local shoe repair business. I have done this and it costs about $15. You may want to point this “damage” out at the thrift store and see if they will further reduce the cost.

2-My next job is to look at the outside and top of the shoes. Some stains can be cleaned and others are hard to fix.
The ones I consider easy to fix

  • White leather and sides of the soles can be cleaned with the Magic Eraser cleaner.
  • Many worn areas can be filled in with permanent marker.
  • Metallic hardware can be repainted to look new (found here on Amazon).

Insider tip: If the shoes are lighter in color, and everything else passes inspection, another thing to consider is having leather footwear dyed at your local shoe repair business. If they are canvas shoes, you could paint them with fabric paint (found here on Amazon).

3. Now you want to really check the inside of the shoe. You want to make sure the inside is intact and there’s nothing sharp or annoying. Some insoles can be removed and replaced if everything else about the shoe is good (more options on that below).

This may sound like a lot of work, but the more you do it, the faster it gets. I think it only takes me a minute to analyze these details anymore.

Trying On Thrifted Shoes

Now the important part of finding thrifted shoes that will work comes down to how they feel on your feet. If you’re anything like my friends and me, you have foot issues that will be different for everyone.

  1. Squeemish about trying on a shoe before it’s cleaned?? Then it’s good practice to have extra socks (or disposable socks like these) in your car at all times. This can be a smart practice at shoe stores also if you are worried about germs.
  2. Put on both of the shoes and walk around in them. The first few minutes, it will be obvious if they feel good or not. But just like any shoes, real comfort isn’t always known until you’ve been wearing and walking in them for a while. I call this the crap shoot part of shoe purchasing whether they are thrifted shoes or new shoes. At least with preloved shoes, you haven’t invested as much money.
Thrifted sandals
These nude sandals weren’t on my radar, but I have worn them a ton this summer. Because of the platform, the angle isn’t too steep and they are comfortable. It’s an unknown brand and a half size bigger than I normally wear. Considering our summers can be very hot, I have appreciated the extra room when my feet swell.

Cleaning Thrifted Shoes

Because Dr. Glass Slipper (my podiatrist friend) has gone into extensive detail about how to clean your thrifted shoes once you bring them home, I will just condense it here with other details that I know.

One of my friends was concerned with the possibility that someone may have peed in secondhand shoes. If you go through the steps to inspect and then clean the shoes, the history of them shouldn’t matter.

  • This Ultra Violet Shoe Sanitizer is not discussed in the podatrist’s article. However, my husband ended up using one of these to help get rid of his toenail fungus years ago. I found one similar on Amazon, but it is not inexpensive. Do you NEED this for cleaning your thrifted shoes? I would think not, but if you are truly worried about fungal spores, then this would put your mind at ease.
  • Wipe the inside of the shoes with Lysol wipes first, and then use the spray to get areas you may have missed.
  • Change out the insoles. You can find a variety on Amazon, and some are specified for certain issues:
    1-Basic insoles
    2-Arch & shock guard
    3-Thinner insoles for dress shoes
  • If the shoes seem smelly, adding the leftover silica packets that are found in many packages or baking soda can take out extra moisture. Another option is to add lavender sachets in each shoe.

See another example of an outfit wearing thrifted shoes.

Should you wear thrifted shoes?

These green cowboy boots were quite a find at Goodwill. I had to have them reheeled at my shoe repair place, but they have been worth their weight in gold. You can see ways to style them here.

Photo credit: Rob Filogomo

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