Do Leather Shoes Stretch or Shrink? [Complete Buyer’s Guide]


Do Leather Shoes Stretch or Shrink

If you have owned genuine leather shoes in your lifetime, you might have noticed that they do not always fit the same when you put them on. Sometimes they are too loose, and other times they are too tight. This is unique to genuine leather shoes, but there are ways to make sure your shoes fit right every time!

Do leather shoes stretch or shrink? Since they are made from animal skin, they shrink and stretch in response to the stress subjected to them. So, if you wear them, they stretch from the inside. However, if you don’t wear them for a long time, they shrink as a response to the pressure of their surroundings.

Knowing that you can expect genuine leather shoes to stretch and shrink, you may be wondering what size to buy to limit the issues you face with proper fitting. In this article, you’ll learn how to choose the best fit and how you can stretch or shrink them when necessary, among other relevant information.



Are Leather Shoes Supposed to Be Tight? How to Choose the Best Fit

buying leather shoes

Choosing your shoe size might help you when you start looking for leather shoes, but remember that there are seams and varying manufacturers to think about. The following tips should help you get leather shoes that fit you even when they stretch and shrink:

  • Get professional measurements.
  • Take note of the seams.
  • Try on the shoes in the afternoon.
  • Choose a slightly smaller size.
  • Consider the type of shoe.
  • Walk around in the new shoes.

Get Professional Measurements

3D foot scanner

You can use a foot scanner (article) or even get expert advice from shoemakers and sellers in your area. This will help you fit into any shoes regardless of the type of measurements the particular manufacturer uses. You may be able to get two different-sized shoes, split-sized shoes, (article) from some stores. 

You can get measured using a Brannock device near your home or get one of your own. A Brannock Device (AD) will help you measure your foot in all dimensions using the instructions that come with it.


Take Note of the Seams

shoe seams

Although leather stretches, seams (article) don’t. Therefore, don’t count on a leather shoe with multiple seams to stretch over time if it squeezes and hurts around the time of purchase. Even if leather stretches, too many tight-fitting seams can render the stretchability of the leather shoes useless.

For instance, if you get full brogue (article) and seamless (article) leather shoes derived from the same leather, the seamless ones will stretch more than the full brogue ones. Therefore, counting on the full brogue types to lessen their squeeze and fit like the seamless ones might lead to disappointment.

Not all leather shoe seam designs will fit you simply because the shoes are the same size. Some will squeeze too much without stretching over time, while others may overstretch if they feel too loose when new. So, keep the seam designs in mind when choosing a leather shoe.


Try on the Shoes in the Afternoon

Science states (article) that your feet reach their maximum size during the afternoon when the temperature is often at its peak. Therefore, this is the perfect moment to try on leather shoes since you’ll find those that “hug” your feet the right way. If the leather shoes fit your feet when they are at their largest size, they can fit when they are at their smallest.


Choose a Slightly Smaller Size

Man trying on shoes size

Leather shoes stretch with use over time. Therefore, choosing a bigger size than your feet will result in a loose shoe over time. That’s why you need to let the shoes “hug” you instead of providing your feet with wiggle room when they’re new. 


Consider the Type of Shoe

Are your shoes laced or not? Has the leather extended high above your ankles? Loafers need a tighter fit than laced shoes since they have nothing to enhance the grip other than the shoe fit itself. Therefore, choosing leather loafers and laced oxfords of the same size will be a bad idea. For instance, if your shoe size lies around 8, it’s best to choose a loafer that’s a size 8 and an oxford that’s a size 8.5.


Walk Around in the New Shoes

When a leather shoe is new, it can feel too tight if you choose your standard shoe size, but don’t give up just yet. Walk around (article) on a soft carpet in your new shoes to avoid scratches on the sole. This helps you adjust them around your feet and determine if they can be comfortable in the long run. (article)


Shrinking and Stretching Leather Shoes

walk in new shoes

You now know that leather shoes shrink or stretch depending on the conditions they are subjected to. Is it wise to buy big or small leather shoes (article) simply because they’re a steal and you can stretch or shrink them? Definitely not. However, sometimes it’s the only necessary measure for a perfect fit.


How to Stretch Leather Shoes

Even though the first remedy of tight leather shoes is to wear them, further stretching may be needed when long walks don’t work.


  • Let a Pro Stretch Them

If you think you’re not good at DIY practices, it’s better to leave the stretching job to a pro. Most shoemakers and repairers understand leather shoes and how to stretch particular materials in the best manner. They are the best option if you want to avoid ruining expensive leather shoes with DIY hacks gone wrong.


  • Stretch the Shoes with Professional Tools

If you’ve been wearing the shoes for days and you still get resistance from the leather walls, consider getting professional leather stretching tools to achieve a comfortable fit.

You can use a versatile shoe stretcher (AD) plus a shoe stretch spray. (AD) The shoe stretcher can be adjusted to expand the shoes in length and width while the spray helps to make the leather more workable.

Here’s how to stretch your shoes using professional shoe stretching tools:

  1. Apply the shoe stretch spray evenly to relax the leather fibers on the inside out. 
  2. Put stretching plugs in areas that squeeze most to bring discomfort and inflammations.
  3. Insert the shoe stretcher and mildly adjust its stretch size to achieve the one you desire.
  4. Wait for six to eight hours for the new stretch to settle in and check the fit.
  5. Repeat the process until you get the desired fit.

Use the Freezer Method

Shoe in the freezer

In this DIY hack, you only need a ziplock bag and water. You’ll be taking advantage of the water’s characteristic to expand by nine percent when frozen. (article)

Here’s how to stretch a leather shoe using frozen water:

  1. Fill a ziplock bag with water, leaving some space for the expansion.
  2. Insert it in your leather shoes, making sure to stuff the target areas that need stretching.
  3. Put the shoes in the freezer for at least eight hours.
  4. After the eight hours, take the shoes out of the freezer and thaw the ice.
  5. Try the shoes on for some time and repeat the process if they aren’t stretched enough.

You need to thaw the ice before pulling the ziplock bag out to avoid tearing or other damages to your leather shoes. Also, ensure that you use durable zip lock bags to avoid tearing since the water can damage the leather.


Stuff Your Leather Shoes with Socks

If your shoes need a little bit of stretching, stuffing them with socks will do the trick. Roll the socks into flexible balls and fill the shoes with them stuffing tighter in the areas that inflame your feet. You can use soft tissue or other soft and flexible materials you have.


Blow Dry the Shoes While You Have Them On

A little bit of heat can help loosen the leather fibers to fit your feet well. For this procedure, you’ll need a leather conditioner (AD) to keep your shoes from drying out. 

Here’s how to DIY leather shoes stretching with a blow dryer:

  1. Put pairs of socks in the leather shoes.
  2. Apply the leather conditioner evenly. 
  3. Pass your blow dryer at medium heat and focus more on the areas you need to loosen most.
  4. Keep the shoes on for a couple of hours as they cool down in the shape you’ve created.
  5. Repeat the above process with more socks if necessary until they mold into the perfect size for you. 

How to Shrink Leather Shoes

Woman hands hold blue hair dryer on mint blue

You may have bought new shoes that feel a little too big or maybe you have old leather shoes that have expanded over time. Either way, you can shrink them into a smaller size that helps you get a snug fit. 


Blow Dry the Leather Shoes

In this DIY hack, you’ll need a piece of cloth, water, a blow dryer, and a leather conditioner to keep the shoe skin in top shape before and after the process. Thin leather skins don’t do well with too much moisture, so this shrinking method is the best.

Here’s how to shrink leather shoes using a blow dryer:

  1. Soak the piece of cloth in water.
  2. Apply the conditioner on the shoe.
  3. Take the wet cloth and dab the shoe surface to make it moist (not wet).
  4. Pass the blow dryer in medium heat and go on and on until the shoe dries significantly.
  5. Leave it to air dry for around 8 hours.

Try the shoes on and repeat the process until you achieve the fit that you want. However, be careful not to let the water reach the inside of the shoe.


Compress Them with an Elastic Band

Shoemaker sews shoes

This method is best for thin leather shoes and can be done by anyone with the slightest knowledge of sewing. If your leather shoes are slipping off and making you uncomfortable when walking, get elastic bands, (AD) hairpins, and a sewing needle plus thread

Here are steps to shrinking leather shoes with elastic bands:

  1. Cut a few inches of the elastic band (cutting an excess length can help you get a perfect fit after which you’ll snip the rest).
  2. Fit the band onto the leather shoe skin stretching to connect with the heel.
  3. Add hairpins to hold the band for sewing.
  4. Tighten the band stretch and sew it in the position.

After trying the shoes on, they should feel like they’ve become shorter. If you notice that they haven’t become small enough for your feet, you can insert soft tissues or additional inner soles for the extra space. However, it’s best if you leave the shoes alone for a couple of days so they can maintain a permanent shrink.


Shrink the Leather Shoes with Vinegar

Vinegar is known for how well it shrinks leather products, and your leather shoes are no different. 

So, here’s how to shrink leather shoes with vinegar:

  1. Mix equal parts of white or apple cider vinegar and water in a bowl.
  2. Dip a cotton sock into the solution to make it damp.
  3. Place the damp socks in the shoes ensuring that they are touching the shoe walls without squeezing against them.
  4. Allow the shoes to absorb the vinegar by leaving the socks for one to two hours.
  5. Dry the leather shoes with medium heat.

After drying the leather shoes, they’ll feel significantly tighter on your feet. Vinegar softens the fibers and makes it easy for heat to compress them. To avoid drying out your leather shoes, apply conditioner.


Dip the Shoes in a Bucket of Water

Old dirty black and white sneakers shoes with water in wash bucket.

If you’re dealing with whole-cut leather shoes that don’t mind some water soaking, this method might be your best option for shrinking leather shoes. Also, this method works well for hard leather that’s difficult to moisturize with a wet cloth. 

Here’s how to carry out the “all-in water” method:

  1. Put water in a bucket or basin that can fit the shoes that need shrinking.
  2. Place the shoes in the water for 10 to 20 minutes.
  3. Remove the shoes from the water and wear them with thin socks on.
  4. Walk around in the shoes until they’re dry.

Leather is prone to shrinkage when wet. (article) Therefore, as you walk around in the shoes, they take the shape and size of your feet, hence shrinking. 


Leave the Shrinking to the Pros

If your DIY hacks go wrong often, it’s best to avoid doing these altogether. They may ruin your shoes that took a fortune to obtain. If you can only trust shoe professionals to shrink your shoes or merely advise you on what to do with them, visit a reputable one in your area.


How to Avoid Unnecessary Stretching or Shrinking of Your Leather Shoes

Top view of a man cleaning monk shoes

You understand that stress and tension cause stretching and shrinkage in leather shoes, right? What you might not know yet is that you can avoid this to some extent. And it all comes down to maintenance. Here are tips to help you minimize the stretching and shrinkage of your leather shoes:

  • Clean them properly.
  • Stuff them when not in use for a long time.
  • Avoid exposure to intense heat.
  • Always wear socks.
  • Give your shoes a break.
  • Use polish.

Clean Them Properly

Dirt on leather shoes promotes additional tension and stress to the shoe. That’s why you’ll notice your shoe forming a line where dirt consistently settles on. Cleaning your leather shoes with the right products helps them maintain their shape and size for a long time. If they get soiled on the inside as well, be sure to take measures that keep them clean.


Stuff Them When Not in Use for a Long Time

men's wooden shoe stretcher

It’s natural for leather to shrink if unused for a long time. That’s why your leather shoes might feel too tight after not wearing them the entire winter. This is one reason why shoe stores stuff the shoes – to keep their shape and size intact.

To maintain your foot size in your leather shoes at all times, you can stuff them with socks or tissues. You can also get adjustable shoe trees (AD) to help keep your shoe size undeterred. This way, whether you go for a three-month trip or extend it further, you’ll come back to find your shoes looking as good as new.


Avoid Exposure to Intense Heat

Although mild heat is suitable for drying your leather shoes, prolonged intense amounts have adverse effects. (article) Heat mainly contracts your shoes if nothing is in them. Therefore, you might find your shoes to have shrunk and cracked when placed under the sun, heater, or other sources of vast amounts of heat.

Instead of using heat to dry your leather shoes often, go for air drying. Moreover, store your leather boots in a cool and dry place.


Always Wear Socks

socks and leather shoes

Wearing socks is also crucial for the maintenance of the shape and size of your leather shoes over time. If you don’t wear socks, your sweat will continuously come in contact with the leather fabric, hence loosening the fibers. Since this will happen when you’re on the move, you’ll continue expanding your shoes, and in no time, they’ll stretch and not fit correctly.

Sure, some shoes look stylish when worn without socks. However, if you do so with your leather shoes, you’ll be risking unnecessary stretching, and they’ll age faster than they should. Fortunately, you can rock any style with no-show socks for women (AD) and men (AD) alike.


Give Your Shoes a Break

Your leather shoes may be irresistible, and you wish to wear them every day, but unfortunately, you’d be ruining their shape, size, and look faster than you thought. Therefore, that shoe you love most might be unwearable in a year while it could make it to three.

Leather is a natural skin and, therefore, needs to aerate now and then. Instead of suffocating your leather shoes, it’s best to let them breathe after three consecutive wear times.


Use Polish

To keep it moisturized, you need to polish your leather regularly. This helps maintain its elasticity, avoiding cracks, wrinkles, and other changes that may alter the size and shape of the shoes. You can use this Sof Sole Mink Oil, (AD) which has helped thousands of leather shoe owners in their polishing efforts by acting as a conditioner and waterproofer.


How to Choose the Best Leather Shoes

choose leather shoes

Other than the size of your leather shoes, there’s more to look into when shopping. (article) These things help you understand how to maintain the stretching and shrinking of leather shoes to your desired extent.


Leather Type

Leather types are mainly classified according to the grain or skin levels that they’re made from. However, they are sometimes classified according to the finish that makes up their final look. 

Here are leather shoe types according to the grain they’re derived from: 

  • Full-grain leather: This is the top, thick layer of animal skin and shows the scratches and all the imperfections available on an animal skin. Because of its incredible durability, it’s hard to work with. However, full-grain leather shoes are extremely durable, and with the aniline finish, they develop a patina, (article) making them prettier with age.
  • Top-grain leather: Just under the full-grain leather, you’ll find the top-grain leather. This material is highly durable but doesn’t come with the numerous imperfections full-grain leather has because of sanding and other finishing touches. Just like the full-grain type, top-grain leather is also breathable and won’t make you sweat.
  • Split grain leather: This leather is found just beneath the top-grain leather. It is hard but doesn’t have pores or marks — just the smell of real leather. Split grain leather shoes tend to have a glowy finish.
  • Bonded leather: The bonded type (article) of leather shoes are made from leather scraps mixed with other artificial components. Therefore, some manufacturers and sellers may call it genuine leather, but if the specifications don’t indicate 100% before the word genuine, then it is bonded leather.

Leather Shoes Surface Styles

Leather shoes have different styles and are, therefore, also maintained differently. They include:

Calfskin

AD

This is common in stylish dress shoes for men. They are made from the skin of calves and are extremely soft yet durable. They also feature a high gloss, making them the perfect classy dress shoe. These exquisite Clinton Cap-Toe Oxfords (AD) from Anthony Veer are some of the best calfskin leather shoes online.


Shell Cordovan

AD

These premium shoes are made from the hindquarters of a horse — also known as the “shell.” They are some of the sturdiest shoes you’ll find on this planet and are extremely expensive. They are waterproof and self-polishing so that they can last decades with proper care. (article) The Cole Haan Men’s Tassel Loafer (AD) is one of the rare cordovans available.


Roughout

AD

This leather style is common among military guys since it’s robust and doesn’t need polishing to look good. Roughout leather shoes feature the grains of the animal skin underside — soft but grainy and beautiful. The Miltec Replica (AD) is one of the best roughout leather shoes out there.


Vegetable-Tanned

AD

The vegetable-tanned leather shoes are tanned using vegetable tannins. They are known for their development of a beautiful natural patina over time. However, they don’t work well with water, so if handled inappropriately, they become brittle and wear out. These BedStu Rose Women’s Leather Slip-Ons (AD) are gorgeous pairs of vegetable-tanned leather shoes.


Suede

AD

Although closely resembling the roughout leather, suede is smoother due to sanding. It features a nappy finish that blends in scratches and blemishes like a champ. You can get cowhide, sheepskin, and rarely, pigskin suede. This Chukka boot (AD) from Clarks is a bestselling suede shoe with almost 10,000 customers loving their purchase.


Scotch Grain

AD

Scotch grain leather is one of the commonly used leather products. It shows up as numerous patterns that seem somewhat consistent. These patterns are embossed commonly on calfskin to create a style that is more weather-resistant. The Donald J Pliner Ericio Oxford Boot (AD) is one great scotch grain leather shoe.​​​


Nubuck

AD

Although it may be confused with suede, nubuck leather is made from the exterior grain part of the cattle hide. It has a soft nappy texture that slightly repels water. Since it’s from the top part of the hide, it’s extremely durable. The Rockport Men’s Northfield Oxford (AD) is one of the best-selling nubuck leather shoes.


Pull Up

AD

This style is created through aniline dyes that are heavily oiled. However, they don’t have paints or pigments that conceal the nature of real leather. Therefore, when you slightly pinch pull-up shoes, they’ll become lighter and settle to their patina gradually. Subsequently, they handle scratches and blemishes well. These clogs from Dansko are one of the best pull-up shoes online.


Patent Leather

AD

Patent leather (article) is real leather coated with a glossy finish mainly from lacquer. The coating increases its durability but beware of confusing patent leather with faux leather, so check the labels closely. They need to mention that the leather is 100% genuine. These Calvin Klein Men’s Bernard Loafer (AD) and Dansko’s Women Clogs (AD) are examples of real patent leather shoes.


Chamois

AD

This leather is commonly sourced from sheepskin and features a soft nappy look. It’s oiled and maintains its new look, so it doesn’t need regular polishing. The chamois leather is known for its water absorbency, and the heavy oiling is meant to reduce the effect. This boat shoe from Timberland (AD) is one of the best chamois leather shoes available. 


Final Thoughts

Like human skin, leather stretches and shrinks. While it isn’t advisable to buy a small or big-sized shoe with the hopes of altering its shape and size, it’s sometimes the only viable option. The rule of thumb is to know what your shoe is made of and stretch or shrink it with caution. Moreover, keeping your leather shoes in great shape will help them last longer with mild changes.

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