Recently I have been binge watching The Crown. It’s better than I expected. The acting is great. The Queen is sort of … uh … hot. And although you find out that everyone in the show isn’t a genius, they all sound so smart. It’s the benefit of the Queen’s English. The Queen’s English also makes the Queen’s personal secretary, Tommy Lascelles, so severe sounding and a bit ominous. It is probably why all the Star Wars Imperial officers spoke with a British accent. Smart and evil. I just watched the latest Star Wars movie recently. BTW. Worse than I expected.
What does The Crown have to do with shoes? Nothing really. I just needed to get that off my chest. I feel better now. The characters in the show do wear shoes. And I know Prince Charles has some excellent pairs. So there is that.
Prince Charles likely has some excellent shoe trees as well. So do I. One of the outcomes of buying and selling a large number of shoes is that I have developed a substantial collection of vintage shoe trees. I have bins of them. I decided I would take a number out of the bins and describe the various styles. Since Charles likely won’t. So selfish.
Shoe trees come either labelled or unlabeled with their size (I prefer “labelled” with the double L but “unlabeled” with the single L. Go figure). The labelled trees will sometimes have a standard US size like “9 D” but occasionally a cryptic size code will be imprinted on the tree instead. Usually the shoe length is the first number and the second number is the width. In the example below, the values “11 4” stands for size 11 D. The first number (“11”) is the shoe length and the second number (“4”) is the width of the shoe. For width, 1=A, 2=B, 3=C, 4=D, and 5=E.
This one is an 11 C (3=C):
A 12 2 tree (12 B):
This one requires no interpretation:
The two shoe trees below are both labelled with the number “5”. This is the width of the shoe tree – E or wide. I have others marked with a “3” or “4”. This style of shoe tree is fully adjustable so it has no true length. But a shoe’s width is relative to the shoe’s length – an 8 E pair of shoes is narrower than a 12 C pair. So a width only size 5 is a bit confusing. Also confusing is the reasoning behind the Empire building yet another Death Star in Return of the Jedi with the same flaw as the first one.
Most shoe trees are spring loaded. It’s a good design. The spring allows you to compress the shoe tree while inserting it into the shoe. Once inserted the spring expands helping to keep the shape of the shoe. Below is a spring-loaded tree.
A spring-loaded shoe tree will generally fit a range of sizes. For example, an 11 D labeled shoe tree will likely fit a 10 C to 12 D well. But don’t try to jam it into in a much smaller shoe.
A somewhat rare variety of shoe trees has a mechanical system (rack and pinion?). The knob in the back of the shoe tree turns and will extend or shorten the length of the tree. This gives you more control on the amount of pressure to apply to the shoe. The knob is substantial and helps you when carrying the shoes around. This is probably my favorite type of shoe tree. In the two photos below, I have the shoe tree fully extended and contracted.
My least favorite shoe tree is the variety pictured below. It has a mid-tree hinge that allows the heel piece to swing up or down. The tree length is adjustable by loosening and tightening the fly bolt. To get the length correct, it takes some effort since adjusting it within the shoe does not work well. It does not insert easily because it doesn’t compress. It frustrates me. But the tree (beech?) in the next photo is good looking. It’s the classic Jaguar sedan of shoe trees – good looking and frustrating.
Vintage shoe trees are generally made from the following materials: hard wood; soft wood (usually cedar); metal; or plastic. There are passionate comments on the shoe forums about whether cedar or hard wood is the best material. But most of the arguments are subjective. Opinions. It’s the internet. I don’t have a real preference but I usually use cedar versions day to day. Either variety is going to help your shoes keep their shape. You shouldn’t worry about picking the best. If you simply use a shoe tree (whatever kind), you are taking better care of your shoes than 99% of the world’s population. Yes, you are the 1% everyone talks about. The shoe Illuminati.
Wood shoe trees generally will have some type of ventilation system. In the cedar pairs below, vents have been cut through the front of the trees. Does this help the absorption of moisture from the shoe? Maybe. It does increase the surface area of the shoe tree. But moisture appears to have a limited path to escape if the tree fits snugly in the shoe.
This wood pair has an unusual ventilation system. Six holes have been drilled leading to center cavity at the bottom of the tree. What’s special about these six drill locations? Probably nothing. Do note the “10 5” label at the top of the tree, it’s likely 10 E not size 10.5.
Plastic or metal shoe trees are not very common. The metal trees below came in a pair of 1940s shoes. I believe the shoe trees were made in that era.
The pair below is a lightweight plastic and wood shoe tree intended for travel. And when I travel I do take a pair like this with me. I believe the wood is cedar. And I believe there have only been three good Star Wars movies. And I further believe I am sucker for paying for the rest of them.
After wearing a pair of shoes, keep the trees in them for at least two days. Three days preferably. The shoes should be free of foot sweat by then. I don’t see a need to keep shoe trees in the pair after three days. But there is no issue if you do. You don’t need a pair of shoe trees for every pair of shoes you own. You can rotate a few shoe trees between your (growing) shoe collection. When you don’t have shoe trees in your shoes, use the shoes to store your wads of cash. Like I do. But don’t tell anyone. Shh.
Often there is a brand imprinted on the shoe tree but I doubt the shoe company made the shoe tree. Allen Edmonds does own Woodlore but I believe most vintage USA shoe manufacturers sourced their shoe trees from a couple manufacturers of shoe trees, namely the Rochester Shoe Tree company. I am also doubtful there are many lasted shoe trees out there for USA manufacturers.
Occasionally you may encounter a handled cherry wood shoe tree like the one pictured below. And in almost all cases the shoe tree measures 7.5 D. These shoe trees were likely for in-store shoe displays and not likely for sale.
Hopefully that information was informative. Leave me comments below.