Whether trainers, ballet shoes, boots, sandalettes, loafers or high heels: the Germans love shoes, and they love buying shoes. Every German owns an average of around 15.25 pairs of shoes. This was calculated in 2017 by a survey on behalf of TextilWirtschaft – not including sports shoes and slippers. Despite the claustrophobic conditions in German shoe cupboards, the half-life of our shoes rarely extends to more than one or two seasons. There are various reasons for this.
Although once a purely protective measure, shoes today have long since advanced to become a fashion item. Their manufacture is therefore subject to exactly the same cycles as those in which large clothes retailers rotate their collections, to provide us with items that are updated to remain on trend, sometimes at weekly intervals. Those who stroll through the city centre wearing “it” pieces on their feet today may already have difficulty putting together a fashionably acceptable outfit tomorrow – unless they diligently buy replacements.
At the same time, most mass-produced shoes no longer offer what their handmade siblings used to promise: many years of robustness, protection from wind and weather, warmth and breathability – with proper care, even for a whole lifetime. With the advent of factories, thermoplastics and especially cheap gluing methods in the 20th century, shoes rapidly evolved from being companions to disposable items. This does not mean that rubber soles are to be pilloried. Above all, it comes down to the quality of the materials used and their correct handling: stitched soles last longer than glued; organic materials such as real leather or cotton are generally more breathable than synthetics such as PVC or polyethylene.
These differences are generally also reflected in the price. Shoes from discount stores often cost only around five euros to produce, as Tobias Börner from Shoepassion reports in an interview. By contrast, these days, future wearers of a fitted shoe are happy to spend sums over € 1,000. To start with – however much you love long durability – you have to be able to afford this, especially as a single pair will generally not get you far: if you turn up to a funeral in trainers, you risk unsympathetic looks, and even the finest fitted slippers will not withstand a weekend in ankle-deep festival mud. In addition, there are occasions such as work (which requires different footwear depending on your job), sports and hobbies, as well as changing weather conditions. At best, wearing the same pair every day will ensure faster wear; at worst it will ruin not only the shoes but also your feet.
So, how many pairs of shoes do you really need? As with so many things in life, there is – of course – no universal answer here, and opinions differ on the internet too. From two to twenty: all views are represented – in turn, with a weary smile, collectors and resellers are probably shaking their heads at such pathetic numbers. Nonetheless, some attempt at a list should be made at this point.
Clearly, first and foremost, it is better to have two favourite pairs of shoes for everyday use. The important factors here are function and wear comfort. Obviously, the fashion aspect must not be neglected, but it is of secondary importance in this case. Those who choose a timeless design here (loosely based on the principle of “leather jacket, jeans and T-shirt”) also have nothing to fear even from major trend changes in the world of fashion. Ideally, you should alternate between your favourite shoes every day, to reduce the strain on the other pair. This will mean, with proper care, the shoes will last longest.
In second place, we should mention your “good shoes”: this is a pair for formal occasions, such as weddings, funerals or going to the opera. Ideally, they should go with your suit or with the dress you wear most often on such occasions.
These are followed by a pair for each different season: sturdy winter boots for a trip in the snow and ice, and a pair of airy sandals or slip-ons for the summer.
Then, in the minimalist shoe cupboard, there is still space for a pair of special shoes. They may be running shoes for your evening circuit of the park, wellington boots for mudflat hiking, or handmade crocs for the stage. Work shoes are not included in the score and count as extra.
Altogether, this makes five or six pairs of shoes. That may not be the right number for everyone and, depending on your lifestyle, you may well need either more or fewer. But, at least for the everyday challenges of life, you should be armed with this standard kit. What about proper care though?
This naturally depends firstly on the material from which the shoes are made. Patent leather shoes are not the same as trainers, and suede is not the same as cotton. However, there are a few almost universal basics to mention at this point:
1. Open the laces. Even if it is sometimes more convenient: when slipping the shoes on and off, those who leave the laces done up place a huge strain on the material. Instead, it is better to take the time to undo the laces – it is definitely worth it in the long run.
2. Have breaks from wearing them. Shoes that are worn every day absorb more moisture and break more quickly. A 24-hour break from wearing them after work will ensure that they are properly aired and will help the material to maintain its shape. Equally:
3. Use a shoe stretcher. Even during short breaks, shoes that are not being worn tend to lose their shape or to form unsightly creases. A miracle shoe stretcher will counter this. Professional tip: Wooden shoe stretchers are particularly good at absorbing moisture, preventing mustiness therefore also protecting the material.
4. Dry your shoes carefully. Even after you have finished your woodland walk in the stream: please do not blow-dry your shoes or place them on a radiator, as this will cause the material to warp and make it brittle. Instead, it is better to stuff them with newspaper and leave them to dry at room temperature.
Beyond these basic rules, if you invest in good quality, in the right care for the relevant material and in repairs, you will be able to enjoy your carefully chosen collection for many years to come.