After once again receiving questions from readers about this subject this week, I felt it might be time to write a more in-depth post about how shoes are creasing – and how they should crease, at least in theory.
The diligent Shoegazing reader will probably recognise some of this, since I’ve been writing about some of it in other posts on the blog, but here it will be a bit more condensed and detailed about this particular theme. What I’m mainly highlighting here is about regular smooth calf leather. There are very many different things that affect how shoes crease, so it’s a bit to go through.
We start with the most important factor for how shoes crease: the fit. A bit simplifyed one can say that a shoe that fits perfect basically only should crease on top of the vamp, over the widest part of the foot where shoe bends, in lines that run straight over the shoe. Behind and in front of this area, the foot should not move significantly, which means that there shouldn’t be a lot of creases in the leather. Reality is rarely such, especially not with RTW shoes, which is what almost everyone wears today, which have lasts that are made to fit – read to not be uncomfortable, which in some respects is different – for as many as possible. Especially on the inside of the shoes, it is usually a lot of creasing because of the way in which the lasts for RTW are made.
Bespoke shoemakers strive to, in addition to provide the most comfortable shoes possible, also achieve minimal creasing. However, the problem is also that different people have different types of feet, and have different preferences about what is comfortable. A thicker, rounder foot generally needs a shoe that sits tighter and it’s less sensitive to this. A bony, slim foot is often more sensitive overall and can not handle tight shoes without being hurting. Shoes for the latter type of foot will crease more, they have more air pockets and sharper shapes to handle.
I can take some of my own examples here. As I’ve written on many occasions here, I have problems with a mild hallux valgus after wearing too tight shoes for a period a few years ago, especially the right foot is sensitive if the shoes are too tight at inner joint. This means that when I order bespoke, one have to make a pretty good bun here, which creates a lot of excess leather between the big toe joint and the toe stiffener. Here, there is always a stronger crease, it’s inevitable if it’s going to be comfortable. So the fit is not bad even if there is a crease, in this case, the opposite is true.
When it comes to RTW, one can not have a bunion made on the shoe in the same way (and lasting them at a cobbler is rarely enough), so I need a more spacious shoe from the start. Take my last RTW pair, a pair of adelaides from TLB Mallorca, those I have in UK11 G-widt,. If I would not have the hallux valgus issue probably UK10.5 F-width would be the best fit. The UK11 G, however, is quite comfortable, though there is a lot of space above the vamp and they will crease more than what’s ideal. But as I often return to, it’s the comfort that matters most.
Then over to the other part that affects creasing: the material. What one often learns is a straightforward explanation that cheaper leather creases a lot and ugly, nicer more expensive leather creases little and fine. It’s not entirely wrong, but it’s not quite right either. There are many things other than pure leather quality that affect how it grows. If we talk calf leather, in general thinner leather crease more and have more pronounced creases than thicker leather, when comparing leather with similar tanning and quality levels. For example, Saint Crispin’s is a manufacturer who prefer to use a thin polish crust leather which creases quite vigorously. It is still a fine material of high quality, but its features are such, and not everyone likes this.
A kind of creasing that in most cases indicates lower quality leather is what is commonly called loose grain. This happens because the different parts of the leather have different consistency, and if the quality and/or tanning is less good, the layers are separated from each other, and the top layer, the grain, comes loose with distinct creases as a result. It is more common for parts that are cut closer to the belly on the skin, and parts from here you usually try to use in places on shoes that are not as visible, like the inside quarter. Because of this, it is not that uncommon that you notice this loose grain at the inner facing where you lace the shoes, partly since you bend the leather inwards here when being laced. Generally, aniline-dyed leather, which is dyed in drums, is a bit more sensitive to loose grain than crust leather, leather that has only been dyed on the surface.
There are also other examples of leather types that naturally creases a lot, where kangaroo is perhaps the most obvious one. Even with really good fit and high quality kangaroo leather, it gets a lot of creases, but it’s interestingly it’s still a very durable leather that has can last really long.
Another issue that often arise on the subject is if you can restore creases and smooth these out. There are methods where you wet and heat the leather to get rid of creases, for example. Important to know here is that although it seems to have reduced creasing, the fibers in the leather are broken and it will be creased in exactly the same places and the same way again when used. That is why it’s important that, for example, when buying used shoes you try them on to see how they feel, because they can not change the creases that are there.
It is possible to go on about this topic for a long time, quite possible I’ll dig deeper into the issue in the future. But to summarise: Yes, ideally, a shoe should basically only crease on top of the vamp. However, reality always looks more or less different, without necessarily being wrong.