Should You Buy Used Shoes? Experts Weigh In

When it comes to secondhand shopping, there’s undoubtedly a market for shoes. In fact, according to the area manager for Buffalo Exchange consignment stores in New York, Alyson Lutynski, footwear is one of the chain’s best-selling category of items.

“Shoes are in high demand for us year-round, from current dad sneaker trends to comfort-focused styles,” she told FN. “And sales show no signs of slowing down.”

But what truly makes them worth the purchase? Are there any health risks involved in donning a pair of shoes someone else has already worn? To get to the bottom of these questions, we consulted a handful of experts in the consumer, fashion non-profit and health industries. The result was a range of reasons why you should consider buying used shoes, as well as a few important considerations to take into account before going through with your purchase. Here’s what you need to know:

Buying Used Shoes Is a Great Way to Nab Barely-Worn Bargains

Pre-owned shoes are often priced significantly lower than brand new styles, even with little to no wear. “People often buy a pair, only to discover they don’t fit quite right or are uncomfortable,” explains Belle Bakst, a fashion and lifestyle blogger who often shares her tips for secondhand shopping with her over 52,000 followers on Instagram. “So, when they clean out their closets and put the shoes up for sale, you have the opportunity to get the shoe that’s still in great condition for a reasonable price.”

…And Designer Discounts

Bakst, who claims that nearly half of her closet is thrifted, also notes that getting a deal on luxury labels is one of the most enticing reasons to buy secondhand. One of her most recent and beloved purchases? “A pair of ’60s shoes from Dior [whose luxury styles now typically start at $650] I got for just $70.”

It’s Good for the Environment

While many brands have worked to eliminate toxic chemicals and incorporate eco-friendly materials in the production process, recycling shoes is still one of the most effective ways to limit harmful carbon emissions in the air and waste in landfills.If we consider that we are producing 150 billion garments of clothing per year, that’s approximately 53 million tons of textiles and 78 percent of this is discarded,” said Orsola de Castro in a previous interview with FN. She is the founder and creative director of UK-based non-profit Fashion Revolution (which aims to promote more ethical practices and transparency in the fashion industry). “It gives you a vague idea as to how little actually we are buying, how little reaches our wardrobe — and once it does, how much we throw away within a very short space of time.” 

Health Risks Associated With Wearing Used Shoes Are Low

The thought of slipping into another person’s shoes may seem gross to some, but according to California-based podiatrist Dr. Diane Koshimune, most shoppers have little reason to be concerned about their health being affected in doing so. The safety of wearing used shoes should be considered carefully in high-risk patients who are immunocompromised [or have a reduced ability to fight off infections],” said Koshimune. “However, gently used shoes that have been properly cleaned and deodorized should not negatively impact the foot health of a new owner.”

It’s important to note that if there is a break in the skin or toenail, the transferring of fungus, molds or yeasts can occur which can lead to infections like Athlete’s foot. Koshimune states these types of infections are treatable with over the counter anti-fungal medications, but can easily be prevented by washing your feet daily, wearing clean socks and properly cleaning and drying shoes if they get wet or soiled. 

When Shopping Secondhand, Fit Is Key

“Depending on the material that a shoe upper is made out of, the fit of the shoe can change based on the shape or structure of the foot that occupied the shoe before,” said Koshimune. “Leather, for example, has a lot of stretch and can be broken in by the first owner in a way that may not correspond to the foot shape of the new shoe owner. Styles like pumps and heels that feature the material can become stretched to the point where they no longer hold the foot in place when walking. This can cause the tendons and muscles to compensate, resulting in overuse injuries such as tendinitis.”

Shoe width is also another important consideration, “especially if there are areas of rubbing that are causing calluses or pressure points.” In order to avoid these results, Koshimune suggests doing a few laps around the store in the shoes to see if your foot is properly supported.

In some cases, pre-wear can actually help with the normal break in process. This happens when the leather is stretched and worn in areas that typically cause pressure particularly on the sides of the toes.

Always Stay Away From Styles That Show Signs of Breakdown

While pre-wear can work to your advantage, you should still avoid styles with dramatic wear on the sole. Thinning on the bottom of flat styles like sneakers or uneven heel patterns in dress shoes can result in greater pressure on the ball of the foot — and thus more pain — for a new owner.

Making Used Shoes Feel (and Smell) Brand New Is Quite Easy

If you fall in love with a pair that simply needs a little love, all hope is not lost. Arch support products or heat-molding insoles can be used to help add structure to shoes. And as far as smell is concerned, there are some handy sprays and cleaners available to decrease odor. 

All products featured have been independently selected and curated by our editorial team. If you buy something through the links included on our site, FN may earn a commission.

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