The tip – Expect some space also with lasted shoe trees
For those who continue their shoe journey into finer footwear, many eventually end up with lasted shoe trees, usually for RTW shoes but perhaps later on also for MTM or bespoke shoes. An image many have is that lasted shoe trees should completely fill out the shoes so that there’s no space whatsoever, and think that something is wrong when this isn’t the case. Fear not, this is normal, here I explain why.
The key to all this is to understand how leather works, in conjunction with being pulled over and shaped on a shoe last. Usually, shoe uppers are lasted moist, which relaxes the leather’s fibres and makes it easier to stretch. It’s then pulled onto the last, basically the shape of the shoe normally made of plastic or if bespoke often of wood, either with machines or by hand with pliers. Both versions do the same thing though, to have that unshaped leather take on the shape of the last, and for this to happen one have to stretch it relatively hard. Especially in concave areas, like over the vamp, this has to be done properly (which is why high boots with an even longer concave vamp one usually block / crimp this part first, which is pre-shaping it to a concave shape). But of course you can’t stretch too hard, much depend on the leather’s tensile strength and how much stretch affects its structure, you have to have the right balance. Lasting machines have different settings for different leathers, and when lasted by hand an experienced maker can judge the right amount of pressure needed and execute this perfectly.
Then, when the leather has fully taken on the shape of the last (which don’t have to be more than a week or so, not more than that despite what some like you to believe, as I’ve written more about in this article here), the last is taken out of the shoe. Here, quite a lot will happen, due to the nature of leather. If you look at a shoe still with the last in, it will look a tad bit wider and if it has chiseled sides etc. a tad bit sharper. The leather will shrink together a tiny bit, sort of relax, and actually do loose a bit of the shape that it had on the last. This is counted for by the maker, everyone shapes the last with the final look after it is removed in mind, not how the shoe looks during production.
At this stake, it’s of course possible to insert the lasts again, to have it fully retain it’s “original” shape, but, a huge amount of work is needed, one use powder inside the shoe to reduce friction, and often leather would be moistened again for the fibres to once again relax. Imagine doing all that every time you are to insert a shoe tree, it would be a nightmare. Hence, a lasted shoe tree shouldn’t be an actual copy of the last, it always is bit smaller to make it work. Exactly how much in what way is a science in itself, that’s why the best shoe tree makers for bespoke shoes always have the actual shoes with them and work a lot on how to get the fit just right, some even with the shoes having been worn for a while and broken in. If it would have been just to copy the lasts, cut them in half and attach hinges, it would have been super easy to make lasted shoe trees.
So, since the shoe trees are supposed to be relatively easy to insert and take out (even if lasted trees often are a bit more complicated than generic ones, due to being more tight), you will end up with a small bit of excess space especially in concave areas like at the vamp just where the lacing starts. On lasted shoe trees for RTW, with all the slight differences in how various leather reacts on things, there will normally be even more so (especially since you usually only have full sizes in shoe trees so if you’re a half size you haven’t the exact right one), but this does not mean that they fit badly. They still do their job well, and do it even better than generic shoe trees, to straighten the sole and bring back the original shape of the shoe to smoothen out creases, which provides the best conditions for a good looking and long lasting pair of shoes.
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