Both shoe trees and shoe stretchers are shoe inserts that are shaped like feet. You may have heard that shoe trees ‘stretch’ the leather – so what is a “shoe stretcher” then? What is the difference between a shoe tree and a shoe stretcher anyway? Which should you get?
Shoe trees keeps leather shoes in shape, reduce creases, and prolongs its lifespan
Shoe trees are shoe inserts that, like the trunks of trees, play a structural support role. Technically, a crunched ball of newspaper can be considered a ‘shoe tree’.
With each step you take, you flex the the sole of your shoes upwards, forming light creases on the vamp where it bends. When you take your shoes off after a day of walking, the sole stays slightly curled upwards, which reforms the same creases on the vamp that you get from walking. The difference now is that the leather along these crease lines stay in this folded position for a prolonged period of time throughout the night, rather than bending momentarily during each step. With time, the microscopic leather fibers along these crease lines become permanently bent or even broken, which appears as permanent, deeper creases that don’t disappear even with your feet in the shoe. The leather along these crease lines are very much weaker and will form a crack ones these weakened leather fibers give out – there is no repairing cracked leather.
Shoe trees are inserted into shoes when they’re off your feet to uncurl the sole and support the leather where the vamp bends so that the fibers throughout the leather upper of your shoe stay in their straightened position. This helps prolong the lifespan of your shoes many folds by:
- Preventing weakened crease lines from forming along the leather upper, thereby preventing any irreparable cracks.
- Preventing deep crease lines that make your shoe look old. Battered-looking shoes lose their formality and have to be replaced, even if they remain functional.
How do I choose a shoe tree?
A well-designed shoe tree has features that maximize its leather-shaping and support properties, as well as confer other benefits like preventing odor and lining rot. The best shoe trees:
- Are shaped similar to feet rather than symmetrical, though these are costlier to make.
- Consist of several spring-loaded parts to help it adjust itself for the closest fit to a variety of shoe shapes.
- Have a fully articulated heel – which means that the heel portion is shaped like a full human heel rather than a ball attached to the end of a spring-rod. This is important as a small ball places more pressure on a tiny portion of your shoe, which may distort the shape over time.
- Are made of unvarnished American Red Cedar Heartwood, which is the strongest wood from the center of the American Red Cedar tree. American Red Cedarwood is a fragrant, porous wood that prevents lining rot by absorbing sweat moisture from your shoes, as well as give the interior a refreshing pine fragrance due to its natural oils.
Will shoe trees ‘stretch’ my shoes?
You may have heard that shoe trees ‘stretches’ shoe leather, and become concerned that using shoe trees will change the size of your shoes. While shoe trees do exert some outward pressure against the leather upper to un-crease the leather fibers, the force from spring-loaded shoe trees are nowhere strong enough to extend the length of leather fibers, which is what causes a change in shoe size. To expand the size of your shoes even slightly, you’ll require a screw-action shoe stretcher and a considerable amount of strength turning it.
Shoe stretchers expand your shoes for a more comfortable fit
If you have irregularly shaped feet e.g bunions, or happened to buy an undersized pair of shoes on bargain, chances are that you have been experiencing sore toes and even blisters when wearing them. Poor fitting footwear may also affect gait, which may cause pain in other parts of your body because your load distribution is not ideal.
Shoe stretchers can expand both the length and width of your shoes, as well as stretch certain spots to fit the unique shape of your feet better. Because leather is such a strong material, they typically take days or even weeks to effect change, and the extent that leather can be stretched is also limited.
How do I choose a shoe stretcher?
Shoe stretchers exert a huge amount of force on your shoes. The best shoe stretchers:
- Allow you to control width-wise and length-wise tension separately so that you can stretch your shoes into just the right shape.
- Is made of a hardwood rather than a softwood like pine. Because of the immense amount of pressure involved, softwood can lodge microsplinters in the interior of your shoe, which act as mini ‘levers’ that break down leather fibers when you shift them around during wear.
- Has a robust adjustment mechanisms that can withstand the force of the shoe stretcher without breaking.
- Includes knobs that can stretch certain spots of the shoe to accommodate bunions.
Can I use shoe stretchers as shoe trees?
Just as you can use a ball of newspaper as a shoe tree, you can certainly use shoe stretchers as shoe trees. However, shoe stretchers were not made with a supportive role in mind, so the fit of shoe stretchers will not be as great as shoe trees, which have multiple features to ensure the closest fit. In addition, you run the danger of under-supporting or even over-stretching your shoes with a shoe stretcher due to its unyielding screw-action design, rather than the accommodating spring mechanism of a shoe tree.
Which do I need?
You should always use a good pair of shoe trees for every pair of leather shoes you own. Whether you get a shoe stretcher on top of that depends on whether you need to expand or reshape your shoe in any way. If you are looking for great quality shoe trees or shoe stretchers designed to take utmost care of your shoes, look no further than ShoeTree Project’s shop, where you’ll find that we put all the best features into our designs!