I needed a pair of brown Florsheim Imperial 93602 long wing bluchers but with a rubber heel. Okay, it was more of a want than a need. I already owned a pair of these shoes and liked them but their original v-cleat/suicide heel made them terrible in wet weather. And I live in Seattle. So instead of putting a new heel on my existing shoes, I decided to find a second pair. Yes, that was my plan.
The shoes pictured are a pair of Florsheim Royal Imperial 97625 shoes which are a close cousin of the ones I was looking for. In the listing photos, the leather was in good condition, there was minimal wear on the sole and the shoes had my sought after rubber heel. But whoa – look at that curl! That doesn’t look good. Shoe trees were obviously not used in these shoes and they must have been stuffed into a box. A small box. But the price was good ($50) and I ended up bidding and being the only bidder. I had hope.
The “Shoe Snob” has an excellent blog and has a great article on restoring shoes. In his blog post, he recommends submersing shoes in water followed by heating them to reshape the leather. That sounded wrong (I try to avoid soaking shoes), but I couldn’t find any other advice on the topic. Plus he is the Shoe Snob. So that’s what I did.
I sprayed the inside of the shoes with some isopropyl alcohol to kill any bacteria that might enjoy a wet environment. I also cleaned the outside with damp cloth and brushing. Then I threw them into a tub of cold water. I let them soak for about one hour. I did not put in a shoe tree in them while they were soaking.
When I pulled the shoes out of the tub, they were water logged and heavy. Very heavy. This was a bit concerning. I drained them and very gently dabbed off the excess water. You need to be careful not to rub off the finish of the shoe with the towel.
Next, I inserted adjustable cedar shoe trees and left them to air dry for 4 hours. After that I replaced the damp cedar shoe trees with fitted, hardwood shoe trees. I occasionally used a heat gun at distance (about 24 inches away) for a couple minutes to speed the drying process. Be careful with heat though, warm is okay but the leather shouldn’t get hot. The leather contracted and tightened significantly on the shoe tree as it dried. The leather was so tight that it was difficult to get the shoe trees out of the shoes after about 1 day. It took 3 days for the shoes to feel completely dry.
[*** See this updated method that doesn’t require soaking ***]
This method largely worked for me. It didn’t completely remove the wrinkles from the leather but the curl was gone. And the curl hasn’t come back even after repeated wearings. Also, this process did not damage the leather. Here are the shoes a few months later without shoe trees: