Shoes and boots are your hardest working accessories. Storing them properly, especially if you collect vintage shoes or swap seasonal styles, keeps them supple and wearable for years.
Short-Term and Long-Term Storage
Gravity, humidity and aridity can all take their toll on shoes. Over time, the folds and creases that naturally form in worn shoes become permanent deformations of structural elements. As materials age, they become stiff. Vintage shoes with curled leather insoles and crumpled toe boxes usually spent too long without shaping or filling.
For short-term storage, shoes only need the minor support of a shoe tree or reshaping by hand as you set them on a shelf. Kimberley Ripley of Florsheim Shoes advises careful placement when taking off your shoes: “Never simply throw shoes in a pile on the floor,” she notes. “They’ll lose their shape, and their uppers may sustain irreparable damage.”
Shoes that will be off your feet for a week or more need structure, and wooden shoehorns and stretchers are an elegant option for helping shoes keep their shape. However, you must use the correct size to avoid stretching the shoe. Adjustable versions let you customize the fit before storage. Before inserting wooden or plastic shoe frames, allow shoes to rest for at least a day after wearing to allow any residual moisture to evaporate. Otherwise, the insert could trap dampness within the shoe and lead to deterioration.
Acid-free paper is absorbent and maintains shoes’ proper moisture level while protecting the shoes from soil. When using paper to stuff shoes for moderate- or long-term storage, opt for acid-free tissue instead of newsprint.
While paper may not have enough heft to fill boots and thick leather or felted shoes, unbleached muslin fabric is an excellent alternative. Like paper, muslin wicks away residual moisture and it also protects metal buckles and fragile sequins from scratches.
Before storing shoes, clean them thoroughly and apply leather conditioner to leather soles and uppers. Stuff shoes with just enough material to smooth the toe box and heel but not enough to stretch these areas. Wrap the filled shoes with a length of muslin or acid-free paper before placing the shoes in their storage containers.
Boxes, Racks or Trees?
Specialized shoe storage options range from wire racks to boxes to custom cabinets, but the optimal storage solution depends on how long the shoes will go without being worn. For shoes you wear often, open storage that lets damp leather or fabric breathe keeps shoes fresh. For long-term storage, these solutions don’t provide enough support for shoes.
Boxes give your shoes the highest level of protection from dust, sunlight and temperature extremes that can sap leather shoes of their flexibility. Boxing vintage shoes and boots after stuffing and wrapping them preserves delicate leather, cork and other organic materials. Plastic boxes are another alternative, but be sure shoes are completely clean and dry before storing to prevent mildew growth.
Jonathan Walford, author and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum, recommends replacing original shoeboxes with photograph storage boxes. In an interview with Collectors Weekly, Walford noted that people “might have a special pair for a special outfit, but not every day,” and acid-free storage is important in preserving materials for longer storage.
Shoe Racks and Cabinets
For shoes you wear regularly, a rack or cabinet with an open front allows air to circulate around your footwear while keeping dust from collecting on delicate materials. Shelving with open fronts also helps you keep shoes and boots organized. As HGTV’s collection of storage ideas demonstrates, an attractive storage cabinet serves a dual purpose because it “can also be utilized for decorative pieces, artwork and a collection of perfumes.”
Trees and peg boards that let you keep your shoes off the floor are excellent for keeping closets organized. But because anything that fits inside the shoe and distorts its silhouette can stretch leather and fabric uppers over time, these convenient items aren’t meant for long-term storage. Save them for running shoes, flats and other casual footwear you use frequently. To preserve your shoes’ shape, switch the way you hang shoes or the way you put them in pockets.
Seasonal Storage Tips
Climate-controlled storage is ideal for shoes as temperature and humidity extremes turn leather brittle, weaken fabrics and cause glues to loosen. Shoes left too long in attics or basements can become unusable within a season or two of harsh treatment.
Keep winter’s tall boots in shape with rolled inserts of acid-free cardboard for the shanks after stuffing the feet with muslin or paper. This step prevents creases from weakening materials at the ankle as the boots flop to the side.
Summer shoes are lightweight and often contain fragile materials. Espadrilles and cork soles tolerate humidity changes poorly, so add a package of silica gel to their storage container to remove dampness. Store brightly colored shoes out of direct sunlight that could bleach them.
If you decide to store your seasonal shoes in a self-storage unit, you can find one near you by searching online.