When it comes to maximizing the life of your shoes, there are three cornerstones: shoe care, shoe trees and rest. In this post I go through lots of info regarding one of these: the shoe trees.
As most people know, shoe trees are used primarily to help the shoes to retain their shape, and to contribute to let the shoes dry. The latter mainly if the blocks are made of wood, which they certainly should be. But it’s not as important that they are of cedar wood, as many seem to believe, any wood has decent absorbency and other common types of wood to the shoe trees are birch and maple. The main advantage of cedar is the pleasant aroma it spreads. What wood does is to absorb some moist, but the main thing really is that it let’s the leather breath while having the correct shape, most moist goes out on the outside, so to speak. Plastic trees of course don’t absorb anything, but what’s worse is that it closes the pores in the lining leather which is quite bad in the long run. Just picture yourself putting a plastic bag against your skin and keeping it there for hours. However, what is important is that the wood isn’t coated, then its absorption capacity is taken away, if they are stained however, it’s no problem, and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference. Ask the sales person if you have any doubts.
When you use the trees, make sure to put them in straight away, since it’s when the shoes are warm and very moist that the leather will shrink as most. Let the trees stay in the resting shoes for at least 24 hours. After the shoes are completely dry, the leather won’t change shape in the same way if you remove the trees, it’s when the leather is drying that it wants to contract itself. It’s of course always good to have shoe trees in all shoes, but it’s not necessary, if you only have one pair of trees and move them around to the last shoes used, that makes a very big difference compared to not using trees at all.
If you don’t use shoe trees, no matter how good the quality of the shoes are, in time they will look awful anyway. Below a picture which is a striking evidence of this:
Different types of shoe trees
There are many different types of trees, that work in slightly different ways and in many cases are different good for your shoes. Here are a few examples.
From the left:
1. Spiral trees in wood. Possibly better than not using trees at all, but since this type of tree makes the pressure on the shoe vertical instead of horizontal they risk to damage and deform the shoe.
2. Shoe tree where the toe is divided into two equal parts, but with a smaller heel. Main disadvantage of this model is that the heel does not get help to retain the shape.
3. Shoe tree where the toe is divided into two equal parts, and with a large heel. A disadvantage is that this type of tree can not follow the shoe form further up towards the end of the tongue.
4. Shoe tree where the toe part is divided into a large solid part and one smaller. Fill up large parts of the shoe well, a con being that the small part sometimes can miss-shape the upper especially at it’s back part.
5. Lasted shoe trees. Trees that are shaped exactly the same as the lasts the shoes are built on, which has the advantage that the shoe will retain its original shape much better than with trees that are not adapted to the shoe.
6. Non-lasted full shoe trees. Trees that are similar to nr. 4 but with a full piece of wood for the front part. Works very well especially if they are similar in shape to the last of the shoes. Picture: A Fine Pair of Shoes
7. Hinged shoe trees. Here a hinge is used instead of the more common smaller spring parts. Typically only used for lasted shoe trees, since the fit needs to be very good for them to work well. Picture: Herring Shoes
8. Tree-piece shoe trees. This is the Rolls Royce of the shoe trees, which is common among bespoke manufacturers, and basically does not exist in other than lasted versions. The advantage of these is that they fill out the entire shoe, all the way to the top of the tongue. Picture: Claymoor’s List
9. Hollow shoe trees. If the ones above are the Rolls Royces, these might be called the Ferraris. Can only be hinged, so normally only lasted ones, and they probably require the highest amount of craftmanship. Pros is that they are good in helping the shoes to dry, since the moist can go through the thin amount of wood out in the air.
10. Boot trees. Here the back piece is larger and higher, to work better with boots. To be frank these are rarely especially good, since the ankle part often doesn’t fill out the boot’s ankles at all anyway, and the most important part to retain the shape will always be the lower parts of the shoes and to flatten the sole.
Straighten out the sole
The shoe trees task when it comes to restoring the shape of the shoe is partly to directly push out creasesby reasonably well by filling the shoe’s front parts, but most important is that the trees should straighten out the sole of the shoe. Both for the sole to not be bent upwards, something that is common with time, and that when the sole is stretched it also fold out the creases indirectly, so to speak, and the shoes regains its original shape. It’s therefore important to check how the shoe trees you are buying are shaped in front so that they have a good shape that flatten the shoes you will use them for(of course it is relative, some shoes have a higher toe spring from the start and is not similarly in need of “flat” shoe trees).
Shape of the heel
Another element that is important is that the heel has a good shape. As mentioned above, it is preferable that the block will fill the heel as well, but it should not be too large so that it miss-shapes it. It can eventually make the shoes loose in the heel.
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I think I recall you writing on a styleforum post that shoe trees aren’t meant /shouldn’t fill the vamp entirely, I am curious why that is? Thanks!
Ari: Not sure what this discussion was about, but apart from what’s stated in the article above maybe it was around this topic: https://shoegazing.com/2022/03/06/the-tip-expect-some-space-also-with-lasted-shoe-trees/