Men’s Guide to Thrift Shopping for Shoes
I’m not going to start out by trying to convince you that you should buy second-hand shoes at thrift shops or online. There are strong feelings either way. It’s up to you. However, if you do want to buy thrift shop shoes you’ve come to the right place. I will show you, using my own second-hand shoe purchases as an example, the value and savings that awaits the men’s footwear thrift shopper. Let’s get started!
Clarks Dress Shoes
I do a full review of these Clarks dress shoes in this post (click here). Read this review if you seek a combination of classic dress shoe styling and athletic-shoe comfort. This is one of my favorite brands for rubber-soled dress shoes!
Goodyear-Welted Calfskin Shoes
This is a pair of second-hand goodyear-welted calfskin leather shoes made in Italy. They would sell for $280.00 if new. I purchased them on Poshmark.com for only $10.00. These shoes were well-worn but I could see in the photos that they had been recently resoled and reheeled. Long-wearing rubber protective soles were also added to protect the leather soles. No professional cobbling would be required, saving me about $100.00. Well, as with any pair of well-worn shoes, the leather uppers had small marks and imperfections that come with age and use. However, it was a high-quality leather that I knew would come to life with a bit of proper care.
I stripped off the old polish with acetone (nail polish remover) and reconditioned the leather with coconut oil. Finally, I polished the shoes with black cream polish and mirror shined the toe caps with Kiwi Black Parade Gloss wax polish. By using black polish I added depth and darker tones the original tan finish. Also, it hides the minor imperfections in the leather and gives the shoes a more elegant look (in my opinion). These shoes should not look brand new. Rather, they have the deep patina of leather that gets better with age.
Second-Hand Steve Madden Pinsen Oxfords
These are a pair of second-hand Steve Madden Pinsen Oxfords I purchased on eBay for only $14.00 (including shipping). The shoes were in excellent condition with very light wear (they appear to be store samples). If new, they would retail for about $75.00.
I did not care for their light tan color so I decided to darken them. First, I lightly cleaned the leather with a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water. Next, I applied two light coats of coconut oil to condition and darken the leather (it darkens leather naturally). Finally, I added two coats of cream shoe polish and buffed it with a shoe brush. This treatment brings out the full patina and luster of the leather. These shoes have a soft leather finish that is accentuated by this process, giving it an ‘antique’ leather look.
These shoes are perfect for pairing with a sport coat or other dressy casual wear. I always remove the insole insert in all of my shoes and replace it with a Dr. Scholls Orthotic insert for extra comfort and arch support. If you walk a lot in shoes you may find this helpful!
Thrift Shop Cap Toe Oxfords
These are a personal favorite. These leather cap toe oxfords dress shoes are made by Aston Grey. While the uppers are full-grain leather, the soles are man-made. These shoes have a sleek, classic design that looks far more refined than their price would suggest. The full-grain leather is glove soft with a beautiful tone and grain. New, these shoes should retail for just under $100.00 if new. I paid $10.00 for them on eBay in like-new second-hand condition. These are not walking shoes (I’ve got my Rockports for that). They are Sunday shoes, wedding shoes, dress up for the evening shoes that make a great presentation with a well-tailored suit. I have owned these shoes for nearly two years and wear them about three to four times per month.
On receiving the shoes, I glued rubber heel plates on the heels to prevent wear (see the photo below). These heel plates were purchased on ebay (do a search for rubber heel plates). These are a very inexpensive way (10 pairs cost about $10.00 and are shipped from China) to extend the life of your shoe heels indefinitely. The photo below shows the wear on the heel plates after more than two years of wearing the shoes about once per week. Loctite Flexible Adhesive is great for gluing the rubber heels plates.
I polish the shoes with Dollar Tree shoe polish. It is a cream polish that conditions the leather and polishes it without obscuring the fine texture of the leather. I spray the interior of the shoes with a light coat of rubbing alcohol before wearing them for the first time. That kills any bacteria. Just be sure not to get alcohol on the leather outer as it may damage the finish. Finally, I put cedar shoe trees in these shoes for 24 hours after each wear to maintain their shape and eliminate moisture and odor.
These are not ‘investment quality’ shoes. Yet. for a grand total of only $10.00 these shoes have provided two years (and still provide) of great service and stylish looks. That’s money well spent!
Thrift Shop Shoe Buying Tip
Always check the condition of the heels and soles when buying second-hand shoes. You should only buy shoes with very light to no wear. Pass by any shoes that do not show a clear photo of the condition of the heels and soles when shopping online. I never buy second-hand shoes with run-down heels. There’s no need to. There is a constant stream of shoes in good condition at every price point when shopping on online marketplaces like eBay or Poshmark.
Don’t Step On My Suede Thrift Shop Shoes!
This is a pair of Robert Wayne light grey suede shoes I paid $9.00 for on Poshmark.com. They are in like-new condition with no wear on the soles. I would never buy a pair of suede shoes at retail prices. They would not be worn enough to justify the expense. But for only $9.00, the two or three times a month I wear these shoes during the warmer months of the year is not an issue. These vintage-looking rubber-soled shoes work well with a linen safari jacket or seersucker sport coat and light-colored slacks. Classic old man style!
When the shoes arrived, a light brushing with a suede brush made them look like new. Also, I added rubber heel taps to extend the life of the shoe. The rubber taps are glued and secured with small tacks. I replace them before wear reaches the shoe heel. I use shoe trees after each wear for at least 24 hours to restore the proper shape of the shoes. Before wearing them the first time, I spray the interior of the shoe with a light coat of rubbing alcohol (just be sure not to spray the external leather) to kill any possible bacteria, and they’re ready to wear.
I decided that these light grey suede shoes made me look like a TV game-show host straight out of the 1970s. Not good! So I changed the color to the chocolate brown seen below. Get my how-to for recoloring suede shoes in this post!
A Tip for Buying Second-Hand Shoes Online
Many times poor photos cause otherwise good shoes to go unsold online. In this case, the color balance on the seller’s camera was not properly set, causing the shoes to look a rather putrid yellow in the photos. Often the price of the shoes drops because the poor photos keep them from being sold. If you have a sharp eye, you can spot these incredible bargains!
Thrift Shop Shoes … Daily Drivers!
I do not wear sneakers or athletic shoes unless I’m engaged in sports. I always wear shoes when dressing casually. Most often, the brand of shoes on my feet is Rockport. Why? They feel like comfortable sneakers on the inside and look like dress shoes on the outside. The shoes shown below are a pair of full-grain leather Rockport Dressports Luxe Captoe Oxfords that I purchased on Poshmark.com for the princely sum of $11.00 (if new they would retail for $110.00). The leather is soft and supple and responds well to a bit of mirror shine on the toe using Kiwi Parade Gloss shoe polish. These are very comfortable shoes that can pair well with a sport coat or suit.
Tip: Buying Rockport Shoes on eBay
Check eBay early in the morning when new listings are added to see what new Rockport shoes become available and look for the lowest price on shoes with minimal or no wear. Prices fluctuate wildly and the lowest prices will come from sellers looking to make a fast “Buy It Now” sale. You cannot replace the soles on a pair of Rockports so always look for the lowest price for the best condition shoes when shopping second-hand.
Where to Buy Rubber Heel Taps
The rubber taps I use on all of my shoes are purchased directly from China on eBay. I buy 60 pairs for less than $4.00 including shipping. Just be aware that shipping may take as long as a month. Loctite Flexible Adhesive is great for gluing the rubber heels taps. If the surface is a bit uneven, Shoe Goo can also work as a good adhesive.
Why I Don’t Buy Second-Hand Allen Edmonds Shoes
It suppose it would be nice to have a stable of beautifully crafted, all-leather, Goodyear welted Allen Edmonds shoes. They are very popular right now. There is one critical reason why I don’t: Cost of ownership. Hear me out. I buy second-hand shoes. If I were to purchase a pair of second-hand Allen Edmond shoes for $50.00 to $75.00 on eBay, they will be, at best, in fair to good condition. Second-hand Allen Edmonds are overpriced on eBay because of their luxury status. They will require recrafting which includes a new sole and heel to be restored to like-new condition. Typically, that will cost a minimum of $100.00 at a local cobbler, over $125.00 if it is done by Allen Edmonds Recrafting Service. That puts the actual cost of a used pair of Allen Edmonds closer to $150.00 to $175.00 total.
Allen Edmonds shoes are a luxury product with a higher cost of ownership and maintenance.
For me, leather-soled shoes wear out at a faster rate than rubber-soled equivalents. For my money, I prefer to avoid the much higher initial cost of ownership of a luxury product like Allen Edmonds as well as the higher maintenance costs. I own a pair of Goodyear welted all-leather dress shoes that I reserve for special occasions. However, for day to day wear ( I walk a lot and am hard on shoes), I prefer the much lower cost of second-hand shoes that may last two years or more with no long-term maintenance cost.
Thrift Shop Wing Tip Oxfords
This is the type of second-hand dress shoes that I prefer over luxury status Allen Edmonds because they offer better value. These full-grain leather wing-tip oxfords have leather uppers and rubber soles and are made by Hush Puppies. If purchased new, they would cost about $125.00. I paid $12.00 for them in excellent second-hand condition on Poshmark.com. They have cement construction common to shoes in this price range, so they cannot be resoled. However, at only $12.00 they should give me at least two or more years of good service. I consider that excellent value!
I glued and tacked a pair of rubber heel taps to the heels to minimize wear, and gave them a good shine. These are the type of dress shoes that I wear most often with a suit and tie to events and on special occasions. They are comfortable, stylish and best of all, only cost $12.00!
Tassel Loafers – Used Shoes Purchased on eBay
This is a pair of Florsheim Comfortech Tassel Loafers that I paid $6.00 for second-hand on eBay. They are rubber-soled and designed for comfort. As you can see, they do have some wear. However, the heels were in excellent condition so I decided that for the price they would work well as informal shoes for pairing with jeans, khakis, corduroys, and a sport coat. I polished them with my Dollar Tree cream polish which also does a good job of conditioning the leather. The full-grain leather has some uneven color that to my eye adds a bit of appealing patina.
These shoes are not perfect, but for less than the cost of lunch at McDonald’s they add timeless style to a pair of khakis or corduroys. They should easily provide two to three years of stylish service for a very modest investment!
Bass Lace-Up Loafers
This pair of dark brown Bass lace-up loafers was purchased second-hand on Poshmark.com for $8.00. They have leather uppers and rubber soles. I decided to make these my wet weather shoes by conditioning them with Sofsole Mink Oil. This product conditions and waterproofs leather, making these shoes perfect for inclement weather. Finally, I polished the shoes with shoe cream.
Stay tuned for more thrift shop shoes and tips!