In this guide to shoe trees, we discuss all of the various types of shoe trees and their importance, not only in general but also in your wardrobe. There is a lot of opinion/speculation on shoe trees and their importance concerning footwear. Some well-known so-called ‘facts’ about shoe trees may seem like truth, but could very well be the outcome of genius marketing and branding. In this post, I will try my best to give logical reasoning to shoe trees and an objective explanation for what you really need, when it comes to their use and your shoes.
Do I really need shoe trees?
If your ‘dress shoes’ cost sub $195, then chances are you really do not have a practical need for shoe trees as there is a 95% chance that your shoes are not made from real leather. Sure, you could buy them to attempt to retain the shape of your shoes, but without knowing the material in which your shoes were made and how they react to stretching there really is no way of telling whether or not they will effectively work in retaining that shape. More likely than not, your shoes won’t last too long anyway, at least not long enough to justify spending more on something that most likely won’t increase their life.
If your shoes cost from $200-$300, then this will be very subjective upon the nature in which you purchase footwear. If you are someone who spends this amount each year to then just to replace them, then in realistic terms, the only reason that you should get them would be to keep odor out (for cedar ones) and creasing down to a minimum. You will have to decide this for yourself. But from a life-prolonging standpoint, there would be no reason to buy them.
However, if you are someone who purchases at this price point but has multiple pairs and rotates them in the hopes of prolonging their life then by all means you will want shoe trees for each pair.
Which ones do I need?
There are a lot of shoe trees out there all claiming to be the best. So how do you know which one really suits your footwear? You probably don’t. And the reality is that there is probably not one necessarily ‘better’ than the other. A good shoe tree is all about shape and how it maintains the shape of your shoes.
I think one common sense opinion would conclude that the cheaper your shoes are, the cheaper your shoe trees need to be, and the more expensive your shoes, the more expensive and elaborate your shoe trees should be. To a certain extent I agree with this, only that when you get into the upper echelons of footwear (in price), I don’t believe that a +$150 shoe tree is absolutely necessary to maintain shape, prolong life or reduce moisture. A cheaper option would do, that’s for sure and anyone telling you otherwise is just trying to sell you something.
If your shoes cost less than $300 (and you feel like using them), then you will not need to purchase anything more than the ones listed below (generally in the $20-$40 range). These do the trick of simply holding some form in your shoes, while minimal, and may slightly help in reducing odor (if cedar). Sometimes these shoe trees can deform your shoes though, particularly with the tree in the bottom picture (directly below). I have seen a shoe tree like this make a shoe’s form turn completely altered through its use, as many times it puts too much pressure on the front part of the shoe while pushing the back of the heel counter through spring pressure causing the arch region to start bending in a convex manner.
If your shoes cost from $300-$1000, and you see them as an investment to take care of then you will want to go with the ones listed below ranging in price from $50-$110. These shoe trees are the most practical, as they do the job of filling up the entire shoe, and don’t always cost that much if you look hard enough. The only downfall is that they will never fit perfectly, per se, but in reality, do you really need it to? I don’t think so, and I am a “Shoe Snob.”
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While I would prefer to have lasted shoe trees in each of my bespoke shoes, I must admit that I don’t. And I don’t worry about it, because the generic good ones do the trick. But do bear in mind, that the better a shoe tree fits, the harder it is to get in and out of the shoe. That is a fact. So the key in this price range is to find the best fitting tree at the lowest cost. You can spot a shoe tree’s good shape by closely looking at the profile of a shoe i.e. proper instep fitting, heel cup shape, sloped vamp etc.
If your shoes cost +$1000, then most likely you will be venturing into the realm of lasted shoe trees. What this means is that the shoemaker will pretty much take the last and copy it onto a shoe tree just as if they were duplicating the last. This will allow a perfect fit, which is always ideal for maintaining shape. But are these essential or practical? Not really, but neither is putting custom interiors into your Ferrari. You do it because it looks good, and completes the purchase. It’s not a make-or-break decision. You could live with the stock interior or the cheaper shoe trees. It won’t deteriorate the product, only make it less attractive.
The Big Myth: Cedar vs. Beech vs. Lime vs. Alderwood
I think that this debate was created out of great marketing, and it’s always the people who purchase cedar trees that are going to tell you that cedar is the best. The people who purchase beech wood or alder wood or lime trees know that there is no difference in reality, not at least a difference that is going to justify anything of value, except for maybe the fact that the strong odor of cedar is meant to help in countering your foot odor.
If this is a difference to buying one shoe tree over the other, then so be it, but for those that don’t have stinky feet problems, then there is no real better option. I will say that the only shoe trees that I have seen break/crack etc are cedar shoe trees. I have linked below a great thread that goes into detail about this, so I won’t divulge any more. Do have a read if you are curious as to what some experts say, like Mr. Ron Rider of Rider Boot Co.
Travel Shoe Trees
If you are a businessman who wears nice shoes and travels a lot, then you are going to need what I call ‘travel shoe trees.’ They will be plastic, hollow, and should weigh less than a few ounces. The only thing that they are good for is making sure your shoes don’t get squashed in your suitcase. They are cheap, easily replaceable, and can be found literally anywhere.
In reality, buying shoe trees is quite trivial and I hope that this guide to shoe trees has somewhat helped you in discovering that. They are probably the most important thing that you could purchase in conjunction with your nice leather shoes, but if I must be completely honest, so long as you get one that fits well in your shoe and is made out of some sort of wood, it’s going to do the trick, plain and simple. You don’t really need any fancy smancy stuff, but you don’t want to settle for the cheapos either. Get the middle-of-the-road product ($50-$110), and it will be all you need!
—Justin FitzPatrick, The Shoe Snob