How to Break in Patent Leather Shoes

By Dan Ketchum

Patent leather gives your look a bit of gloss, both literally and figuratively, but it's not known for its foot-friendliness. Genuine patent leather consists of a thin, supple leather, which is lacquered to a glossy shine with a plastic or synthetic coating. While the lacquering process lends patent leather shoes their signature look and significantly ups their durability, it's also inherently stiff. Though patent leather heels or flats will never be quite as comfy as your running shoes, you can safely soften them up with a little planning and a multi-pronged attack before they make their public debut.

High Heels
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With a proper break-in, your feet need not fear patent leather.

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Work Up to Wearing

Rather than buying a brand new pair of Mary Janes or patent leather heels the day before your big event, shop in advance. Before you wear your shoes out on the town, wear them at home for a couple of days, clocking in roughly two-hour sessions each day. Around-the-house walking, checking the mail and taking out the trash, for instance, will be enough to make your patent leather kicks just a bit more comfortable, as general wear helps increase flexibility.

Room for Expansion

If you need to accelerate the break-in process or you're dealing with particularly stubborn patent leather footwear, stick some moleskin pads to the parts of your feet where the leather is most inflexible, such as the heel, during your break-in days. Doubling or tripling up on thick socks will not only make the shoes more pliable, it'll stretch the material a bit. To really bring the break-in home and give the shoes a good stretch, warm up your patent leather shoes with a hair-dryer on low heat, then stuff them with tightly-packed newspaper and leave them overnight.

More Tips

Keep in mind that patent leather takes longer to break in than most other types of footwear, due to its durable coating. On the plus side, this coating also makes them a great choice for formalwear that heartily resists rain. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Cole Haan product developer Steven Beccia recommends wearing patent leather shoes for only a few hours at a time, in an effort to maximize comfort -- just right for the duration of a party.

What Not to Do

No matter what you read online, don't soak your leather shoes in water. While patent leather holds up well in the rain, giving your shoes a soak can shrink them, putting you back at square one or worse. Likewise, excessive moisture damages patent leather. Keep the shoes in a warm, dry area between wears to allow them to thoroughly dry out, otherwise you risk cracking and brittleness. Don't put patent leather in the dryer, as the tumbling motion may cause irreparable scuffs, which is the sort of breaking-in you don't want.