Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Today I want you to consider looking at shoes in thrift stores.

I know what you may be thinking. “Eeew! Somebody else’s feet have been in those!” While this is certainly true, would you feel the same if they were classic Chanel pumps, amazing Louboutin sandals or just totally sassy Halston wedges? For SEVENTEEN DOLLARS?

Maybe not.

Truth be told, we all have our breaking point. I know men who have scorned thrift stores for being what they see as “desperately low class,” who change their tunes in a heartbeat when they realize that there’s an Armani jacket on the racks!

I spoke to a friend the other day; she’s a recent thrift store convert, or what I like to call a “Second Hand Virgin.” She’s a drop dead gorgeous actress; the kind you totally envy: intelligent, calm, savvy, and always beautifully put together. Last week, she bragged to me about her experience with buying a pair of shoes at Housing Works.

She said, proudly, “I was sort of walking through the shoes, thinking, 'eew'. Then I saw a beautiful pair of Italian lambskin pumps in my size (she’s like a 6, God bless her), and I thought “how many times have I been in shows where costume designers have put me into used shoes, which I have happily worn?” She said she thought of me at that moment, and got over herself and bought the shoes! Not only did she buy them, she absolutely rocks them.

So. Down to brass tacks. How exactly do you shop for second hand shoes?

First, don’t be like me. Granted, my closet is full of Chanel, Prada, Louboutin, Blahnik and Choo, but half of the beautiful little monsters don’t quite fit. I can’t stand to see them sitting there, whimpering on the racks, so I buy them. I’m an 8, and I own more shoes than I care to admit, in sizes ranging from 7 to 9 ½! I do have a great cobbler and a (VITAL ACCESSORY) shoe stretcher, so some of them actually do work. But for the most part, they’re just window dressing, yearning for someone to take them out to play.

To begin, scout around with an open mind, bring a pair of knee highs (or grab a pair of footies next time you're in a shoe store), and see what's out there. Once a pair of little lovelies catches your eye, ask yourself these questions:

1. Are they in style? Right now, for spring, we’re looking at dressy pumps, sweet flats and wedges, in nudes, metallics and bright colors in ladylike shapes. Don’t discount vintage. They’re edgy and can pull together an outfit in a flash. Maud Frizon are some of my faves.

2. Do they fit?! Well, Duh, but you'd be surprised at the amount of pain a "nearly comfortable" pair of shoes can cause after a couple of hours. If they’re just a little tight through the instep or toes, [[[INSIDER TIP TIME!]]] Buy a shoe stretcher and a can of “shoe stretch” from your local cobbler, let them stretch overnight, and voila! New shoes. If they're too short lengthwise, move on.

However, if they’re too BIG, you’re in a tricky spot, but not impossible. If they’re peep toes or sandals, you may have to just leave them for the next savvy shopper. Short of paying $25 to have the soles shortened at the toes (which, by the way, can be done), you’re out of luck. However, if they’re only a smidge too big, Foot Petals (or your drugstore alternative) make a wide array of products, like toe, heel and strap pads, that can help out. Blisters are awful things, though, so choose carefully.

3. Are they in decent shape? Are they structurally sound but just need a little cosmetic repair? Great. I always buy scads of leather insoles (either by Tacco or when I travel to Spain) to keep on hand and just drop them into my new finds for a pair that are automatically refreshed. Heels and heel caps aren’t a big deal, and can be replaced for very little dinero. If they’re made of fabric, check to make sure there are no noticeable rips or tears. If they’re leather but look a little drab, remember that they can be shined and touched up by your friendly neighborhood cobbler for just a few bucks. But, if the heels are wobbly or the seams are coming apart, best to just move on.

4. Can you walk in them? This may seem like a fairly stupid question, but c’mon, ladies. You know you’ve shoved your feet into at least one pair of new, beautiful little monsters thinking “I’ll wear them to dinner with that little black dress!” but they never seem to make it out the door. (In your heart, you know you’ll break your ankles.) The same rules apply here. I don’t care how beautiful they are – if you can’t walk in them, and you already have a couple of pair of what I’ll discreetly call “boudoir shoes,” just pass.

5. Finally, a word for men. Men actually WEAR their shoes until they’re, well, dead. It’s rare to find a pair of men’s shoes in a second hand store that are not circling the drain. However, if you DO find those elusive Cole Haan wingtips that are in good shape, save for a shine and new heels, check the tips above, and BUY THEM. Then RUN. You’ve just gotten away with murder!

I encourage you to just start SCOUTING your local thrift store, if you haven't already. Take 20 minutes, keep an open mind, and simply peruse the racks. I can guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised at what you'll find!

More to come – thanks for reading, and be sure to share your stories and finds!

Here's lookin' at you, you savvy thing, you!
All the best,

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