Unlike the freshman fifteen, the grad school thirty has been much less forgiving to my wardrobe. Recently, I purchased two pairs of beautiful leather boots – one pair in black, the other in tan. Due to the grad school thirty, I knew I would have to purchase them in wide-calf if I wanted to wear them with jeans. I am pretty frugal, but have always been willing to pay a little extra for leather boots. I have learned that spending the extra money usually pays off – the boots tend to hold their shape and look nice for several years. When the new boots arrived, I was horribly disappointed. They are beautiful, but despite the wide-calf, they were too tight to wear with jeans. Now, this could have been a lesson in better eating and exercise habits. But, I am pretty okay with my body. (To be honest, don’t we all need to be more diligent about what we put into our bodies? And really, couldn’t everyone spend just a little more time at the gym each week?) So, I went searching the interwebs looking for the best way to stretch the shaft of the boots the extra quarter of an inch I needed.
The first choice, had my graduate school student budget not been an issue (especially after spending the money on the boots in the first place), would have been to find a cobbler and have the boots professionally stretched. This should always be your first choice, as the work will be done by a professional and will most likely be guaranteed. A cobbler, or shoe repair person, will be able to take measurements of your feet, ankles, and legs to determine just how much the boot should be altered. They will then use specialized chemicals, tools, and machines to get the perfect fit. In the past, I have relied on a cobbler’s expertise to make the adjustments I needed. I have never been disappointed. Looking back, I wish I had gone with that option this time.
There are hundreds of internet blogs and articles on how to stretch boots yourself. The first option I chose was a commercial leather solution. The solution was very inexpensive ($3.85 w/tax) at my local shoe store. When I got the bottle home, and began to read the label, I was hesitant to give it a try. The warnings included: “Caution: keep away from heat, even when dry. Extremely flammable,” “Avoid contact with skin, may cause severe chemical burn,” and “Use outdoors or in a well-ventilated room. Lung irritant.” Considering my sensitive, fair Irish skin and that I have asthma, I decided against trying the solution.
The next option was stretching the leather using 50-70% Isopropyl Alcohol – the kind you can purchase at your local drug store. Most of the internet searches seemed to indicate great success with this method. So, here’s what I did:
-I purchased 70% Isopropyl Alcohol and an inexpensive spray bottle (here was my first mistake).
-I followed the directions that seemed to be consistent across the board. I tested a small spot on the black pair first. The color seemed to hold, so I proceeded to spray the inside of the boots (only in the areas I needed to stretch) until they were completely covered. Most of the directions recommended spraying the inside and outside of the boot. I chose to only spray the inside. Once the boots were both sprayed, I put them on. This is the uncomfortable part. I recommend wearing tights or leggings to save your skin. I then left them on until they were completely dry.
The black pair was a great success. The color held, they formed nicely to my calf, and I can wear them comfortably with jeans. The tan pair, however, met a much different fate.
I followed the same steps with the tan boots that I followed with the black pair. I tested a small spot on the inside of the boot to check for color-fastness. This led me to believe the whole boot would hold up to the alcohol. The problem is, I tested a spot that hadn’t been exposed to the “weathering” the rest of the boot had been subjected to. When I sprayed the inside of the boots, I noticed dark spots emerging on the outside of the leather after a few minutes. I compared the lining of the black pair to the lining of the tan pair and found that while they were the same boot from the same manufacturer, the tan lining was a thinner material than the black lining. At this point, I knew the boots were ruined. The only thing to do at this point is to take them to a cobbler and get the leather repaired, probably using a dye.
So where does this leave the practice of DIY leather boot stretching? For me, it is a fifty-fifty win/lose experience. Here’s what I learned:
Take them to a cobbler and spend the extra money to have them done right.
If number 1 just isn’t an option, try the DIY process at your own risk.
Be careful when purchasing the spray bottle you will use for the alcohol. I made the mistake of purchasing one with a very narrow stream. You will want one that provides a fine, wide stream. I believe this is responsible for the spots that appeared on the tan boots (otherwise the color would have changed over the entire boot, not just where the stream of alcohol was more concentrated). I would even recommend just spraying the alcohol on to a soft cloth and using the cloth to coat the inside of the boot.
Test the color-fastness in a place that is both inconspicuous and that matches the dye of the whole boot. The black boots had a different finish than the tan boots – they were uniform, where the tan boots had been “weathered.”
Be less impatient/frugal. I was really excited for the boots to be delivered, and I couldn’t wait to wear them. If I had exercised more patience, I could have saved for a few weeks to afford the cobbler. In the end, this would have been a better choice considering I am going to have to pay more to have the boots repaired than the stretching would have cost in the first place.
Anytime we try doing something ourselves, rather than having a professional do the work, we run the risk of things not turning out quite right. In this case, I would have to leave you with live and learn. Hopefully, my next do-it-yourself project will be more successful.