Footwear

The Stretching Experiment

I had a bad run a couple of years ago where I bought a few loafers that were half a size too small (the perils of buying without trying!). My first lament was a pair of Alden tassel loafers in colour #8 shell cordovan (the Brooks Brothers version). I think the Aberdeen last is just too pointy for my fat, wide toes. The length is actually fine and I get a bit of heel slippage but halfway through my day, my fourth toe feels like it’s about to fall off. My second lament was a pair of Rancourt beefroll penny loafers in natural chromexcel. The strap was painfully tight initially but I even got through that and the leather actually moulded to my feet quite well. But I think the tightness around my big toe contributed to a bit of stretching and caused a bit of a squeak with every step if I walked too fast. So about 2 months ago I ordered a cheapo shoe stretcher off eBay. 

It was supposed to take 2 weeks for this $14 wood/metal/plastic to arrive from China but after a month I contacted the seller and they sent me another one. 4 days after my stretcher arrived, the first one arrived as well. Which was just as well because it is a flimsy piece of crap. The toe and heel parts are made of pine and the shaft/handle used for adjusting the width is made of metal, but the knob for adjusting length and the threaded nut and bullet-shaped piece responsible for widening the toe are plastic. These two parts do most of the heavy-lifting so right away I could see these things aren’t going to last very long.

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My first attempt was on the Rancourts. I had heard about stretching sprays but advice on using these tended to vary and some sources say it is not very good for the leather so I just used a generous amount of conditioner on the outside and inside of the shoe. Then I cranked the widening and lengthing adjusters until there was quite a bit of pressure (more so for width than length). Then I eased off half a revolution. Chromexcel is quite a soft and stretchy leather so I had no problem widening the toebox quite significantly and stretching the length very slightly as well. You can see in the picture the shoe with the stretcher in it has a wider toebox than the unstretched shoe (it actually is much wider in real life than it seems in this picture). After 3 days, I tried on the shoes and they were much more comfortable before and the squeaking problem seemed to go away (will need to test that further with a longer period of walking). I’d say it is probably not quite a full width up but pretty close.

The attempt on the tassel loafers was not so successful. Shell cordovan doesn’t have nearly as much give. So here I am cranking away and at some point it seemed like I could just keep cranking and the leather was not budging at all. So I take the stretcher back out to see what’s happened and the metal shaft had worked its way right through the plastic widening adjuster and stripped the thread from the plastic nut! So onto my backup and I didn’t force it as much this time. After 2 days of stretching, I would say the toebox is very slightly less pointy but not really enough to make these loafers any less foot-breaking. I think I’m going to have to use a sturdier stretcher for cordovan! I did see some vintage stretchers in my travels but getting the right size can be problematic and Trimly‘s new website has a stretcher but I’m waiting to hear back from James on the materials/construction.

In the meantime, these loafers go back in their shoe bag…

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