So Many Ways to Ruin a Pair of Shoes...

Shit happens, especially (and sometimes literally) when it comes to shoes. Heels can get caught and ruined in the sewer grate. Standing commuters on the SkyTrain or bus stumble over your feet and scuff up your new ballerina flats. In my case, I seem to have the worst luck with good quality leather.

True story #1: A couple years ago, I went to a friend's birthday dinner party at Maurya, an upscale Indian restaurant known for its sleek decor and the only authentic tandoori oven in Vancouver. After a delicious curry and one or two cocktails, I was coming out of the restaurant when my clumsy self tripped and fell. I had skinned my knee so badly I'm sure I left about half of it behind on the pavement. I shook off the pain and kept walking and wincing, not noticing how much I was bleeding until my boyfriend at the time pointed out the blood running down my leg and onto my sandal. Crap.

True story #2: The last time I went on vacation in late February/early March, I bought a beige pair of leather heels made in Spain. I've only had them for two months and maybe worn them five times, one of which was on Friday to work. I got talked into going to the Cambie, a somewhat seedy and very dirty drinking establishment known for cheap beer, by some coworkers. Many drinks and many spilly toasts later, my shoes were soaked in beer. I didn't get a chance to assess the damage until the next day, when I realized there were what looked like dried water stains all over the front of my shoes. Crap.

(My beige heels - they definitely don't look this spiffy anymore!)

So, how do you safeguard your shoes against unfortunate mishaps such as these? Let's look at some prevention and damage control strategies.


  • Spray your leather shoes with stain repellant before you wear them for the first time. Many shoe stores carry a silicone-based stain guard spray for leather and suede shoes. Follow the package instructions and spray one coat on your shoes in a well-ventilated area, let it dry, then spray on another coat. This will protect your shoes from water, salt, and dirt stains; liquids will bead up and wipe right off. In retrospect, I really should've done this with my beige heels...but then again I didn't expect to get beer spilled on them!

  • Don't wear nice shoes to places like the Cambie. This is one of those occasions where shoes from Payless made of manmade materials that you can wipe anything off of might be preferable.
Damage Control

  • Buy an effective leather cleaner. You may have to hunt around for a good one. Surprisingly, Daiso has a great selection of leather cleaners for shoes at $2 a pop. Do a patch test before cleaning the entire shoe; the effects of cleaners vary depending on the finish of the leather, and you don't want to do more harm than good!
    Find a shoe repair shop. They can work wonders with tired soles and worn-out or broken heels.

  • If all else fails, assess the damage and decide whether the shoes are ruined to the point where you'd never wear them again, or whether you love them so much you'd wear them anyway and just own it. I had a pair of cheap canvas slip-ons from Payless that fit rather loosely once I took them home and began wearing them. One day at work I accidentally sloshed about a quarter cup of coffee onto them, and the nice white canvas dried to a brownish yellow. I threw those ones out, but I kept the sandals and I'm keeping the beige heels. The damage was pretty minimal and you can't really tell unless you're looking very closely. Nevertheless, I'm spraying the heels with stain repellant as soon as the leather cleaner dries completely. You never know what else might happen.
Update: Since I wrote this post, I've looked at my beige heels again and reconsidered; the damage was more extensive than I thought. Not only can you see the stain marks, the front of the shoes is now a completely different colour than the back. I'm torn between keeping them or not, and am unbelievably annoyed that a pair of shoes I bought less than two months ago, a lovely leather pair that I really love, is now completely ruined.

Another update: I still have the shoes and I'm considering keeping and re-dying them a different colour.

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