High-Heel Therapy

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For many women, high heels are a treasure. Sure, they hurt your feet sometimes, but what other accessory can add an instant dose of glam – and a few slimming inches -- to your look? Because you love your high heels so much, they probably get a lot of wear, which means they’re bound to take a beating along the way. So how do you know if your heels still have some life in them or whether they’re past their expiration date? Learn to decipher when they're worth repairing -- and when it's time to say goodbye.

The more, the merrier. The more you have, the longer each one will last.

Wayne Edelman, president of Meurice Garment Care

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Before you don your shoes for their first night out, take several steps to help them live a longer – and more comfortable – life. “A shoe can last your whole lifetime if you take care of it and don’t wear it every day and do the little tiny maintenance things to keep them good,” says Lori McCravey, head buyer for FootFitter.com, a shoe and footwear care site.

The first thing you should do -- even before you actually buy a pair of high heels -- is make sure the heels fit properly and are comfortable enough to walk around in. If you need help finding the best fit for your foot, ask an associate at the shoe store or boutique. “[With] shoes, if they don’t feel good, you might as well not have them,” McCravey warns. “If they’re not comfortable, you can buy tons of little inserts or insoles or pads for the inside of your shoes to make them comfortable.”

There are an endless number of different inserts and shoe pads that work specifically for high heels, whether it’s an open-toe padded insole or a heel pad to prevent blisters. Work with the shoe store associate to figure out what you’re going to need to be comfortable in the shoes before you purchase them.

Once you’ve claimed your new shoes, take a few more measures to protect and prolong their life. First, add an extra rubber sole on the bottom of your heels to keep them from wearing down. “One thing we do with Louboutins is we put a very thin rubber sole of the bottom of the shoe -- and we happen to use a red rubber sole. That protects the actual sole, and that can be done with any shoe,” says Wayne Edelman, president of Meurice Garment Care, a high-end garment and accessories cleaner in New York.

Edelman also adds rubber heel caps to protect the original heel.

Finally, protect your new heels from water and stains by using a rain and stain repellent, which can be found at most shoe stores. This spray doesn’t make shoes waterproof, but it makes them less likely to absorb water or other liquids and makes cleaning easier, Edelman suggests.

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Lasting Power

Once you start strutting around town in your new heels, there are several things you can do to make sure they look fabulous for as long as possible. First, try not to wear your heels on rainy or snowy days, since water can damage them. If they do get wet, make sure to dry them out properly. “We recommend even stuffing some newspaper in them,” Edelman says. “And never dry them by the fireplace or the heater.” Drying them by a direct source of heat will strip the shoe’s leather of its natural oils, leaving it cracked and distorted.

If you have to wear heels in wet weather, opt for a pair made from synthetic materials, like vinyl. “There are a lot of plastics now being used in shoes,” Edelman explains. “They handle moisture better than a natural substance like suede or leather.”

Another alternative is to simply wear another pair of shoes (cute ballet flats or comfy sneakers) during your commute or your time outside, then change into your heels once you get to your destination.

If you have leather shoes, it’s important to keep them well conditioned, McCravey recommends. “If you keep your leather conditioned nicely, they’ll be more flexible and stretch with your feet more.” Make sure you’re polishing and conditioning your heels regularly, even if it means taking just a few minutes to brush the dirt off and rub in some shoe polish.

Another way you can treat your shoes nicely: “Don’t throw them in a big pile in the closet,” McCravey insisted. “If you don’t keep your shoe boxes, you might consider a shoe bag to put them in so they don’t scratch against other shoes.”

McCravey also suggests purchasing shaft shapers to slide inside your high heel boots to help them stand up straight and keep their shape. This prevents lines and cracks from forming in the leather.

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Be Flexible, Own More

If you want your shoes to treat you nicely, make some adjustments. “All shoes can be kind of uncomfortable sometimes, but those kind of things are temporary,” says McCravey. “If a shoe is absolutely pinching your toes or makes your feet ache when you take them off, you either need to adjust your shoes for your feet -- or you shouldn't wear those shoes.”

Purchase a shoe stretcher – you can get a high heel-specific stretcher on many shoe sites online – to stretch out your shoes and give your feet a bit more room. “It can make a huge difference on the wear of your shoe,” McCravey says. “It can make your shoe last much longer, and your feet will feel so much better.”

One final piece of advice: Rotate your heels. “Though you have a favorite pair, you should try to alternate several pairs,” Edelman suggests. Having multiple pairs of heels means you’ll wear each one less often, making them last much longer.

Edelman's rule to for well-heeled women to live by? "The more, the merrier: The more you have, the longer each one will last.”

Time to Say Goodbye

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How long should the average pair of high heels last? That all depends on a few factors: how well you’ve taken care of them, how often you wear them and what you’re doing when you wear them. “If you wear them, say, no more than two to three times a week, I can’t imagine – if it’s a good quality pair of shoes and they fit properly and you take care of them – that they can’t last you 20 or 30 years,” says Lori McCravey, head buyer for FootFitter.com.

But if you’re not so diligent, they won’t have such an extensive life. “It depends on the material of the shoe, the quality of the shoe, but really that also depends on how much you wear them,” she says. “If you wear them two to three times a week, I’d say they’d last you at least five years.”

So just how can you tell if your heels are ready to get the boot? Wayne Edelman, president of Meurice Garment Care, says that when certain high heel damage occurs that can’t be easily fixed, it’s time to let them go. For example, a broken heel can be easily fixed by a cobbler, but if the sole itself is broken, the shoe is past the point of repair.

Another sign is when an integral part of the shoe is missing or broken, like a strap across the front of the shoe, for example. “It’s one thing if the strap comes off the shoe at its connection point,” Edelman says. “We can fix that. “But if the strap is gone – the strap is severed in the middle – the shoe is probably gone.”

For McCravey, it’s simple to tell when your shoes’ time is up: “If they don’t feel good and they don’t look good.”