Use shoes or lose ’em

Remember the images of Imelda Marcos’s rows of shoes? I wonder how many of Marcos’s reported 3,000 pairs were ever worn.

It’s not good for shoes to be always in closets instead of on feet, not that Marcos likely cared.

But who am I to talk? I have a bad habit of saving footwear until an old pair wears out. A few years ago I wrote about expensive boots that, when I finally went to wear them, didn’t fit. Feet spread out as we age.

The lesson about wearing footwear promptly didn’t sink in. I later put away a new pair of Avia trainers because, once again, there were shoes I wanted to wear out first. I don’t remember how long the unworn shoes had been in storage when I laced them up a couple of months ago. After just a few wearings, the soles of both shoes started to separate from the uppers.

“The issue is not a result of a design or manufacturing error but deterioration from age,” an Avia customer service rep informed me. “Over time sneakers naturally deteriorate if unused.” 

I was skeptical. I’ve been jogging or exercise walking for nearly five decades and never had it happen before.

Not long thereafter I saw what looked to be barely worn Propét sneakers in my size at a resale store. I grabbed them without a thought about how long ago they were manufactured.

About a mile and a half into the first walk in the Propét shoes, my right step felt bumpy. A glance down revealed a piece of the sole lying on the sidewalk.

Now I have two pairs of walking shoes to glue back together, if it’s even worth trying.

I am finally persuaded that shoes can deteriorate if not worn. This explanation from a Fleet Feet store coowner, Kyle Stump, is on the company’s site: “Most [athletic] shoes are made with a rubber outsole, which grips pavement and adds durability, and a foam midsole to absorb shock and provide a springy feel. Neither component lasts forever; both will eventually break down, even on unworn shoes. . . . The rubber and foam age. The foam can also start to splinter on the inside. . . . It’s usually the glue that degrades first, even just sitting on a shelf.”

Start wearing shoes no later than a year after purchase, Stump said. He advises caution about buying an older model more than a few months after a new model was introduced because the manufacturer might have had it sitting around in a warehouse for a good while.

Are athletic shoes the only ones that break down if unworn? No, say online articles. On any rarely worn shoe, the glue and the sole eventually dry out. Shoes should be exposed to air, not stored in boxes, a site said. And, of course, worn now and then. There are instructions online about conditioning unworn shoes, but I can’t see myself going that far.

As for why breakdowns didn’t happen to shoes I had before, different materials are used today, more rubber and plastics.

I’m going to think twice about buying used shoes again. Wearing shoes already molded to someone else’s feet wasn’t a good choice in the first place. Buying new shoes on sale to stock up also seems like a dubious idea. Shoe shopping might be saved for special occasions or need, like for new walking shoes.

There are shoes in my closet I haven’t worn in years. If I don’t have any occasions to wear them soon, I could put them on around the house. I would prefer that they crumble in my living room instead of at someone else’s home.

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  • Thank you for an introduction to a problem I usually see the other way around. I have a great pair of Clarks walking shoes, which I bought after the more ordinary sneakers I'd been walking in finally gave up on me. I have a rare size and have left shoe stores forever when clerks tell me "We don't make that size." At least one time, I managed to mutter "God does" and walk out. My feet usually wind up hurting before I shop for shoes!

  • Interesting. Good you found a good pair of Clarks.

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