Updated 6/6/17 from a post originally published 6/4/13.
Shoes and boots are your hardest working accessories. Learning how to store shoes properly, especially if you collect vintage shoes or swap seasonal styles, will help keep them supple and wearable for years.
Short-Term and Long-Term Shoe Storage
How to Keep a Shoe’s Shape
Gravity, humidity, and aridity can all take their toll on shoes. Over time, the folds and creases that naturally form in worn shoes become permanent deformations of structural elements. As materials age, they become stiff. Vintage shoes with curled leather insoles and crumpled toe boxes usually spent too long without shaping or filling.
For short-term storage, shoes only need the minor support of a shoe tree or reshaping by hand as you set them on a shelf. Kimberley Ripley of Florsheim Shoes advises careful placement when taking off your shoes: “Never simply throw shoes in a pile on the floor,” she notes. “They’ll lose their shape, and their uppers may sustain irreparable damage.”
Shoes that will be off your feet for a week or more need structure, and wooden shoehorns and stretchers are an elegant option for helping shoes keep their shape. However, you must use the correct size to avoid stretching the shoe. Adjustable versions let you customize the fit before storage. Before inserting wooden or plastic shoe frames, allow shoes to rest for at least a day after wearing to allow any residual moisture to evaporate. Otherwise, the insert could trap dampness within the shoe and lead to deterioration.
Materials to Use
Acid-free paper is absorbent and maintains shoes’ proper moisture level while protecting the shoes from soil. When using paper to stuff shoes for moderate- or long-term storage, opt for acid-free tissue instead of newsprint.
While paper may not have enough heft to fill boots and thick leather or felted shoes, unbleached muslin fabric is an excellent alternative. Like paper, muslin wicks away residual moisture, and it also protects metal buckles and fragile sequins from scratches.
Before storing shoes, clean them thoroughly and apply leather conditioner to leather soles and uppers. Stuff shoes with just enough material to smooth the toe box and heel but not enough to stretch these areas. Wrap the filled shoes with a length of muslin or acid-free paper before placing the shoes in their storage containers.
Shoe Organizers: Should I Use Boxes, Racks or Trees?
Specialized shoe storage options range from wire racks to boxes to custom cabinets, but the optimal storage solution depends on how long the shoes will go without being worn. For shoes you wear often, open storage that lets damp leather or fabric breathe keeps shoes fresh. For long-term storage, these solutions don’t provide enough support for shoes.
Shoe Storage Boxes
Boxes give your shoes the highest level of protection from dust, sunlight and temperature extremes that can sap leather shoes of their flexibility. Boxing vintage shoes and boots after stuffing and wrapping them preserves delicate leather, cork, and other organic materials. Plastic boxes are another alternative, but be sure shoes are completely clean and dry before storing to prevent mildew growth.
Jonathan Walford, author and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum, recommends replacing original shoeboxes with photograph storage boxes. In an interview with Collectors Weekly, Walford noted that people “might have a special pair for a special outfit, but not every day,” and acid-free storage is important in preserving materials for longer storage. If you decide to make the switch from shoe boxes to photograph boxes, here are some ideas for repurposing those shoe boxes to help you get organized at home.
Shoe Racks and Cabinets
For shoes you wear regularly, a rack or cabinet with an open front allows air to circulate around your footwear while keeping dust from collecting on delicate materials. Shelving with open fronts also helps you keep shoes and boots organized. Consider placing a shoe rack in a convenient place such as the garage, entryway or mudroom where family members can quickly put their shoes away where they belong on their way
Consider placing a shoe rack in a garage, entryway or mudroom. By placing the cabinet or rack in as convenient a place as possible, family members have no excuse not to put their shoes away where they belong and out of harm’s way. An organized mudroom or entryway truly goes a long way when trying to keep your shoes in good shape. If your mudroom is in need of a revamp, get inspired by our upcycled mudroom bench project.
Trees and peg boards that let you keep your shoes off the floor are excellent for keeping closets organized. But because anything that fits inside the shoe and distorts its silhouette can stretch leather and fabric uppers over time, these convenient items aren’t meant for long-term storage. Save them for running shoes, flats and other casual footwear you use frequently. To preserve your shoes’ shape, switch the way you hang shoes or the way you put them in pockets.
For more shoe organization ideas, check out our post Shoe Storage Hacks for Shoeaholics.
Seasonal Shoe Storage Tips
Climate-controlled storage is ideal for shoes as temperature and humidity extremes turn leather brittle, weaken fabrics and cause glues to loosen. Shoes left too long in attics or basements can become unusable within a season or two of harsh treatment.
Keep tall winter boots in shape with rolled inserts of acid-free cardboard for the shanks after stuffing the feet with muslin or paper. This step prevents creases from weakening materials at the ankle as the boots flop to the side.
Summer shoes are lightweight and often contain fragile materials. Espadrilles and cork soles tolerate humidity changes poorly, so add a package of silica gel to their storage container to remove dampness. Store brightly colored shoes out of direct sunlight that could bleach them.
If you decide to store your seasonal shoes in a self-storage unit, you can find one near you by searching online.