What a Cobbler or Shoe Repairperson Can and Can't Do for Your Shoes

Broken high heel shoe
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I love my shoe repair shop. I have brought some of the wackiest jobs imaginable to the folks that work there, and they chortle at me but I think they secretly love the challenges. Most people don't realize how many repairs and alterations a shoe repairperson can perform, though there are limits to what even the best cobbler in the universe can do. Here's a short list of repairs you should and shouldn't expect from your local shop:

YES: Re-sole Leather-bottom Shoes

We'll start basic: Most shoes with leather or faux leather soles can be re-soled when they begin to show wear. Your cobbler may suggest a sturdier sole style than the shoe came with to extend its life. Some rubber-bottom shoes and boots can be re-soled, too. Vibram soles are often recommended.

NO: Re-sole Sneakers

There will be a few exceptions, but overall sneakers are nearly impossible to re-sole. Their soles are typically integrated into their overall design and cannot be replaced. Some repairs are possible, though, so ask to be sure.

YES: Replace Heel Tips

Most high heels have hard plastic ends called heel tips and they wear out and fall off fairly frequently. You can extend their life by taking brand new shoes in and having high-quality tips put on immediately, but when any tips wear out they can be easily replaced. (You can replace heel tips yourself, too, but personally, I'd be terrified of destroying my heels with one misplaced hammer swing.

NO: Make Heels Taller or Shorter

OK, very, very occasionally heeled shoes can be made slightly shorter in the heel and capped with a new tip. But most heels are designed with the footbed at an angle that accommodates a specific heel height, and monkeying with it will make the shoe unsightly and uncomfortable.

Making heels taller is virtually impossible.

YES: Stretch Leather Shoes That Are Too Tight

If you've got a pair of leather flats or boots that are just a smidgen too tight across the bridge of your foot, this will be the best news you've heard all day. There are lots of methods and tools for stretching your shoes at home, but a cobbler can get it done at a lower risk. Leather shoes can be stretched slightly for width, very slightly for length, and tall boot shafts can be stretched a tiny bit for width. Shoes can sometimes be stretched to accommodate bunions. Some faux leather and cloth styles can be stretched, too.

NO: Make Shoes Smaller

There are a number of pads and insoles you can use to make loose shoes fit a bit tighter, but no reliable way for a shoe repair person to "take in" your shoes.

YES: Dye Light Shoes a Darker Color

Thinks those old tan boots would get more use if they were black? Many cobblers can over-dye leather shoes for you. Some leathers take dye more easily than others so this isn't always possible, but it's worth asking.

NO: Dye Dark Shoes a Lighter Color

You can take tan boots to black, but not black boots to tan.

YES: Make a Tall Boot Shaft Slightly Shorter

Some repair shops will refuse to take this on, but others are game.

So long as the boot has a zipper that can be clipped and a design that allows for an inch or two to be taken off the top, boots can be shortened. The finished edge is unlikely to look exactly the same, but, if fit is the priority, that might not matter.

NO: Make a Tall Boot Shaft Significantly Wider

Many women struggle to find tall boots wide enough to fit their calves, and boots can be stretched a bit ... but not much. Don't expect more than about 0.5". If you've got your heart set on a specific pair and they're just not wide enough, see if Boot Bands might work for you.

It's never a good idea to buy shoes brand new that don't fit well ... but we all do it once in a while. If you've got pairs that need tweaking, take them to the cobbler to see what can be done!