Reader Request: Shoe Alterations

getting shoes altered

Hayley popped this question into the suggestion box:

I’d be interested in knowing if you’ve ever had any pair of shoes altered in any way, and if you have any tips. I’m considering getting a pair of leather boots taken in a bit at the top around the calf area.

Why yes, I have! Here in the Twin Cities we have two leather shops both owned by various members of the George family – George’s Hockey Repair in St. Paul, and George’s Shoes & Repair in Arden Hills. The latter is now my go-to – and the shop that helped with my fringe bag – since they do great work and aren’t as mobbed as the St. Paul shop. But I’ve had one pair altered at each shop. This first pair was done at the St. Paul shop.

tall boots shortened

These olive green Coclico boots were just a couple of inches taller than I’d have liked. The photos aren’t the greatest, but you can see how much more real estate that zipper takes up on the right (post-alteration) than it does on the left. And speaking of that zipper, its length and placement made these boots ideal for shortening: Since it doesn’t run the length of the boot, the zipper itself didn’t need to be lopped off at all.

boot alteration

Here you can see that the boot is lined with a different color/texture of leather. The original finish was fancy, with rolled edges on both liner and outer. I was happy to have a slightly raw-er finish for the alteration since very few people get super close-up to my feet. I believe this alteration cost about $30. These boots have been languishing in the closet for ages now, but I’m not quite ready to part with them now that I’ve shifted to a more neutral, subdued palette. We shall see.

mmm work mocs

These are a pair of Maison Martin Margiela Work Mocs that I stalked on eBay for YEARS and finally nabbed for a fraction of retail. When I ordered them they were tan. I swear they were more of a yellow tan than this, but I never remember to do “before” photos, so who knows?

work moc brown

I got them, drooled on them, and then spent several hours trying to build an outfit around them. And that’s when I remembered that tan shoes really, really don’t work for me. (Unless they are sandals. And these are definitely not sandals.) So I took them out to Arden Hills and asked if they could be dyed black. This shoe style was actually made in black, but the pair I found in my size and price range was tan and I was so excited that I bid before really considering the color. And, as it turns out, dyeing them was fairly straightforward.

can you dye leather shoes

But imperfect. I wanted the interior black, too, but with that raw, unfinished leather the experts told me I’d just end up with black dye rubbing off on my socks. And I was warned that the dye process was messy and some might end up on the soles. It did. No big, in my opinion. This alteration cost $45.

And these shoes, too, haven’t gotten much love. That heel is chunky but feels incredibly high, and I’m still tinkering with the proportions of these booties. And honestly? I’m starting to find that although I can generally get clothes and accessories altered more or less to my personal specifications, many of the ones that need drastic changes end up going unworn. Aside from a few simple shortened hems, I’ve ended up donating an awful lot of things that I’ve bought and had altered. Which isn’t to say that YOU will be the same way. Just something I’ve noticed about myself and am still mulling.

Now. In terms of having a tall boot taken in at the calf? It is possible, especially if you have a relationship with a truly skilled leather worker, but it will be costly and potentially imperfect-looking. I’ve asked for this specific change on several pairs of boots and been told they’ll look quite odd afterwards. I’ve also had leather workers just refuse to even attempt it. Curious to know if any of you have had tall boots slimmed in the calf. I imagine it will be easier on styles with lots of built-in seaming.

I also know that, in some cases, heels can be slightly shortened by a shoe repairperson. You can’t turn towering stilettos into kitten heels, but you might be able to make a 2″ heel into a 1.75″ heel.

Most of the rest fall under “maintenance and repair,” in my mind. Heel tips, resoling, replacement of buckles or eyelets, getting shoes stretched to fit, reinforcing worn-out bits of leather. But I’m sure there are things I haven’t even dreamed were possible!

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Originally posted 2015-02-17 06:15:06.

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10 Responses to “Reader Request: Shoe Alterations”

  1. Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen

    I had a pair of wide-calf boots that looked like pirate boots on me and took them to my regular cobbler to have them tapered at the top. He refused saying they would look weird, so I went to a different cobbler. He charged $50 to do it (DC area) and while the boots do look a bit odd when not worn, these boots which collected dust in my closet before are now worn at least once a week all fall and winter.

  2. Dust. Wind. Bun.

    I have large calves and little feet – I often say, size 10 calves on size 6 feet – and I’ve had several pairs of boots altered to add stretchy calf-space inserts. I’m glad I’ve done it as I would have had to give up those boots, but I find it never quite turns out right – no matter how much space they put in, the elastic for the stretch always seems stronger than my leg, so it never quite sits right anyway. So, it is definitely an option, but be cautious. I think I paid about $30 to have the priciest ones done, but it’s been years, so who knows if I’m remembering right.

  3. what not

    Funnily enough, just today I picked up two pairs of my boyfriend’s shoes from the cobbler.

    One was pretty standard repair. The other was adding full-length zippers to a pair of knee-high lace-up Fluevogs that he never wore because it was too much of a pain to put them on, which I think was about $40. While he hasn’t tried them out yet, they look great.

    A good shoe repair person is a treasure–in this case giving my bf use of a $400 item he’d otherwise rarely use.

  4. Erika

    Stretching shoes and boots for a high instep.
    Stretching boots so they fit around my calves.
    Painting sandals (one pair had about 4 different colours over the years). Probably not something I’d do if they were regular wear, but fine for occasion shoes 🙂
    And a pair of pull on Frye boots (ebayed). Too small in the calf even to stretch, an initial attempt by a professional cobbler didn’t work (zip broke), so went to a friend who works with leather and she put in a long tongue, eyelets either side and super long laces. So they lace up on the inside. And I prefer this modification!

  5. Cindy Westfall

    I’ve had things re soled, had heels re covered (why oh why is a “leather heel” on even fairly expensive shoes a thin leather skin over a white plastic core, made to look like a stack of leather pieces?!?), and have had a stretchy gore put into the top of the shank of a pair of riding boots that were too small in the calf (best $20.00 ever!).
    My local shoe repair place is pretty basic, and getting basic-er. The last time I went there, I had to argue with them about their ability to re cover a heel. ‘we can’t do anything like that!’ ‘you just did it for me on these exact shoes last Spring.’
    I have a pair of knee high burgundy suede Born boots that are juust a little tall – I look like Burgundia, Pirate Queen of the High Seas when I’m wearing them (or at least I feel that way). I took them to this shoe shop to see if they would be willing to a) take them in at the calf, since they gap, or 2) shorten the shank by a couple inches, but NOPE. If there are any skilled cobblers in the Chicago land area, I’d consider sending them there for alteration… but then I wonder if I would just be Burgundia, Pirate Queen with slightly shorter boots.

  6. Helen Maciejewski

    I just want to see what those moccasin boots look like on. How would you style them? They are very cool looking. Will you do a post featuring them? Pretty please?

  7. Kerstin

    Love this post! The shoe alteration I do the most is to have heels cut down. I can’t wear anything higher then 2 inches, preferably a bit lower and have had great success in cutting down the heels on my dress shoes, dance shoes, boots, and most recently two pairs of Crown Vintage ankle booties I loved at DSW but the heels were just too high and caused me hip and back pain by the end of the day. I go to George’s shoe repair in Shoreview, MN. They were hesitant to do the modification at first, saying it would change where my weight was when I wore the shoe and could ruin them, but I knew that wouldn’t be an issue, as with a lower heel, my weight would just shift back a bit which I preferred. I will no longer be afraid to buy shoes I love, but are too high as I can just have the heels cut down. It is the best thing EVER! So many more shoes are available to me know. It cost about $20 per pair and was worth every penny.

  8. Kerstin

    I have also had some boot shanks stretched out on some expensive Born boots and that didn’t’ go so well as they ended up bulging and puckering in a funny way around my calf after the fact. I wish I’d just given the boots away to someone who they fit better and waited until I found some that fit my calf more comfortably. Live and learn I guess. I knew it was a risk, but I couldn’t wear them anyway, but spent money I needn’t have spent.