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  • Sam

Is there any way to make a pair of shoes that are too big or too small fit properly?

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

When you’re buying shoes on the internet, it's common to get a pair that ought to fit according to the labelled sizing, but are just a bit too small, big, wide or narrow. Internet forums are rife with methods for tweaking, shrinking and stretching shoes, so which methods actually work?

Shoes too big - add insoles

Low cost / low effort / low risk

This is the simplest and generally least destructive way of changing the fit of a shoe.

Thin leather insoles will make a very small difference, but these thin insoles can also be quite slippery if not really well fitted to the shoe, causing heel and foot slip when walking that can get annoying.

For a noticeable impact you’ll need something like a filled, comfort insole. The main problem here is that noticeably thick insoles will leave less depth for your foot. Many dress shoes, particularly loafers, are simply not designed to be that deep, so it can really affect where your heels sits and push your instep against the lacing.

Shoes too big - add heel pads and tongue pads

Low cost / mid effort / low risk

Pads usually take the form of a foamy pad with a highly adhesive side that can be stuck on the heel or inner tongue of your shoes, with the idea being that they take up some space and tighten the fit a bit. You can easily get a pack of 12 pads for less than £5 online.

That’s the theory anyway. In reality, I’ve had mixed results with using pads apart from when making very minor adjustments - unless you apply several pads in the same spot it is hard to notice a difference, and stacking multiple pads will create unsightly gaps in the shoe, which can be really noticeable if it causes the tongue to bulge up from the foot or the heel to push away from the back.

You may find that pads leave a sticky residue when removed which can be washed off with a bit of soapy water - beware for the sticky surface pulling the dye off coloured linings though.

Shoes too big - wear thick socks

Low cost / mid effort / low risk

This can sometimes work - but for me, it’s too inconvenient to keep shoes in my rotation that require certain socks to be worn with. And it pretty much means you won’t be able to wear certain shoes in summer as you’d need to wear thinner socks in warm weather.

It can be effective for boots, which tend to be worn in cooler or wetter weather anyway where thick socks aren't an issue.

Shoes too big - just lace them up tighter

Low cost / low effort / low risk

This one really doesn’t work. Lacing it up too tight will just be profoundly uncomfortable if actually walked in, and all shoes obviously have a maximum effective “tightness” as far as lacing goes. If a pair of derbies are overtightened it can also deform or distort the leather facing sections.

Shoes too small - stretch them

High cost / High effort / High risk

There are lots of methods for doing this at home - most involve getting the leather wet, inserting an adjustable size shoe tree or stretching device, then letting the leather dry into a new, stretched out size.

Shoe stretching is very much possible but can be an expensive and potentially risky process. If you really love the pair, take them to a professional cobbler rather than trying this at home. They will have machinery that can do this more consistently, and will also have more knowledge of the safe tolerance for stretching the leather.

Note that shell cordovan and some exotic leather shouldn’t be stretched. They can be very prone to tearing, and even the smallest tear to cordovan leather can be catastrophic for the shoe.

Conclusion - don’t bother with any of the above

Hah, I know right, what a twist? But seriously, life is just too short to wear shoes that don’t fit you. If you have a number of shoes in your rotation, you’ll simply find that you reach for the ones that fit by default, while the ones that don't fit will just sit and gather dust.

So rather than fiddling around with the above tips, just stick them on eBay and put the money towards a new pair.

3,730 views4 comments


Jan 28, 2023

Those of us who have one foot bigger than the other have to resort to some of these methods. I'd never thought of asking a cobbler to do some stretching though. Great blog by the way - enjoying lots of the posts. Will the rankings be updated in the light of the demise of the Alfred Sargent and Tim Little brands? (P.S. I don't seem to be able to comment on or even read the comments on most of the posts)

Jan 31, 2023
Replying to

Rob, since I wrote my post, I've had to change my views on this subject. Shrinking a shoe is almost impossible. I've spent far too much time and money on experimenting. Forget it! However, stretching a shoe is very easy. I have a problem with my right foot so the shoe has to be a bit more spacious in the toe department. You can buy shoe stretchers on Amazon, though I would advise leaving them in for weeks rather than hours, and increasing the stretching very gradually. You can also improvise with these and shoe trees by putting thick socks and pieces of cardboard over them to stretch the shoes upwards if necessary. I'm in Italy and t…


Dec 20, 2021


I only just discovered this site and so glad I did. Most of my life I’ve been wearing average shoes and although I have my favourites – especially Zen, Lumberjack etc- I decided to start trying some more expensive shoes.

I bought a nice pair of Loake loafers and they’re very comfortable, though the leather heel makes such a loud noise on hard surfaces that I’m thinking of sticking a rubber heel pad on it.

Although able to afford new shoes, I was brought up to be thrifty and since I also like experimenting, I bought some second hand shoes from Ebay. So far, so good, and I’m impressed at what the Saphir products can do to rejuvenate tire…

Dec 24, 2021
Replying to

Hi Steve,

Glad you're enjoying the site. Yes, that is the last major method I missed off - I might add it in as an edit. As you say it can be pretty effective, but it's not something I'd ever dare to a pair that cost me much money!



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