Vintage shoes: a buyer’s guide

Miss Thrifty7 October 23, 2008

There’s a feature in the Daily Mail about vintage shoes: the “latest celebrity fashion fad”, according to the newspaper. The piece provides a rundown of the “top six iconic shoes”, with a credit-crunchy theme:

Vintage shoes are in general still cheap compared with other items of clothing: you can pick up a pair of Chanel shoes for a fraction of the price of a blouse or a belt.

There are still plenty of retro shoes available, many of them by iconic designers, for relatively little money.

It’s an interesting read; although, being a contrary Miss, I take issue with the “latest celebrity fad” angle and the thrift argument. The great and the good have been wearing vintage shoes for yonks (I was going to write out a short list here, but refrained after realising that I would expose myself as an uber-shoe geek), and some of the featured shoes are on the dear side. Louboutins for £400 and 1960s Courreges ankle boots for £200, for example.

I do like vintage shoes and I have some much-loved pairs. My silver shoes (pictured above) are probably my favourites – I like the classic shape and the sparkles – and if you know what to look for, you can pick up some good bargains. 

So here’s my whistlestop guide for the more (ho ho) down-at-heel vintage shoe buyer: 

  1. You’ll find the best shoes and the best bargains at old-fashioned jumble sales. This has been my experience, anyway. Second-hand dress shops whack up the prices. For some reason, I’ve never found decent vintage shoes in thrift shops. I don’t know why this is, as I’ve found everything else there. Heck, I even found my boxfresh Manolo Blahniks in Oxfam. But vintage shoes? Nope. Jumble sales, on the other hand – and church sales in particular – tend to be staffed by senior gentlewomen of generous dispositions. All it takes is one cleared wardrobe, harvested of the nice footwear that’s been lurking at the back for decades, and you’ve hit paydirt.
  2. Avoid synthetic uppers. Today’s synthetic uppers may be cheap-looking, but they have nothing on the faux leather of yore. That stuff was/is nasty. Also, be really careful with fabric uppers. Rub your thumb against them, to check that it doesn’t disintegrate. The manmade fibres of the 1950s, 60s and 70s don’t always last. My silver shoes are in lovely nick, but often the glittery fabrics are the worst – disintegrating on touch.
  3. Check the leather. Is it gleaming, or is it dusty-looking and cracked in places? Most of us know that if it is not cared for, leather dries out. That’s why we care for our sofas with Leather Food (or with my money-saving alternative), to keep them soft. It’s easy to forget that leather shoes, too, will dry out over time if they aren’t looked after. They may feel “hard”, and in need of some TLC. I’ve found that the inner soles tend to dry out before the uppers.
  4. Watch those arches. In my experience, many vintage shoes are incredibly uncomfortable by today’s standards. The cheaper heels have zero arch support, and may need modifying.
  5. Buy new insoles. Those used inner soles have been left to fester for a long, long time. Sometimes the interior of the shoe will have deteriorated, and will stain your hosiery/feet. 1960s Biba boots often turn my tootsies orange. I don’t know why; perhaps it was the glue they used back then.
  6. Small sizes win. When I got married, I wore a vintage 1920s wedding dress and was determined to find a dainty little pair of shoes to match. Sadly, this was not to be – and not just because 80-year-old shoes would probably have fallen apart as I tottered down the aisle. (What can I say? I must have been Bridezilla, Clara Bow limited edition.)  As I scoured eBay on a daily basis, I discovered that shoes that old don’t come in UK size 7 (US 8.5). People were smaller back then – and so were their feet. The oldest shoes that I have been able to find in my size are those Biba boots. But looking on the bright side: if you’re a 5 (US 6.5) or below, you’re laughing. 
  7. Forget the labels. Many of the old high-end labels have been consigned to the mists of time. So if a shoe looks and feels good, please don’t dismiss it because you don’t recognise the brand.
  8. Choose your era! 1940s = poor quality, in my experience. I wouldn’t. 1950s = cute ballroom shoes and evening shoes, with round toes and bows. 1960s = Biba all the way! I love the knee-high boots, which I have in brown, black, maroon and – best of all – orange. 1970s = clumpy wedge heels and platforms. Not my favourites, but lots of people love them. 1980s = distinctive styles and prices that are bargain basement, even by bargain basement standards.

These are my experiences of vintage shoe shopping and collecting; if anyone else has tips or views on this one, please let me know!  

UPDATE: This post was selected for the 36th Money Hacks Carnival, hosted at Free From Broke.

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7 Responses to “Vintage shoes: a buyer’s guide

sharon rose says:

What a fantastic post my dear!! A girl after my own heart! I have the same problem in that I’m a size 7.5 (EUR41), you really don’t see vintage in this size 🙁 I still hunt, though!!

sharon roses last blog post..Ooh, shiny shiny!!!

October 24, 2008 at 7:35 am

Sloan says:


I found your blog through blog links of blogs I found through a search. I read this entry in particular because I am a shoe person. And I must say, this was a fantastic post! I learned many things about vintage shoe shopping.

Many thanks!!! 🙂

More power!

Sloans last blog post..Faxing instant loan no payday

October 26, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Please, can you PM me and tell me few more thinks about this, I am really fan of your blog…

February 14, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Applebees says:

I must say that you provide genuine, quality information. Thanks for this!

BTW, dpn’t you think your blog needs a better wordpress template?

February 28, 2009 at 12:35 pm

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