Chances are your feet are at least a half size bigger than your mother’s. According to an informal survey of her customers, Edith Machinist, of the vintage store Edith and Daha, has found that women’s feet are almost always a half to a full size too big to cram into Mom’s awesome boots from the ’60s. Gross as the image may be, it follows that our children’s feet will be that much bigger than ours, and so on, until humans evolve into “giant, amorphous creatures.”
It’s boot season again and vintage looks are overwhelmingly in style—so what’s a girl supposed to do when it comes to finding a pair as hot as her mom’s? Since Edith & Daha has the most impressive vintage shoe collection we can think of in the city, we turned to Machinist (her great-grandfather earned the nickname “The Machinist” in his Russian village, where he was the only tailor who owned a Singer sewing machine—and Ellis Island made the surname official) for some tips.
Machinist says her customers have been recently searching for tight-fitting, square-heeled boots with round toes (think 1960s Sigerson Morrison) and anklet boots, which she has had trouble selling in the past. She always advises them to look for shoes that are a half to a full size bigger than they normally wear, since today’s seven is likely to be yesterday’s eight. But just like falling in love with the Jordan Catalano of your high school, the boots that catch your eye are likely to belong to the wrong crowd. When this inevitable love affair begins, Machinist recognizes it right away and steps in. “The first thing I ask people is to tell me where the shoe is tight. If it’s that the toe is too narrow, it can be stretched up to a full size, as long as it’s leather or suede—skin is very pliable.”
The hopeful among us—or the stubborn, in some cases—will buy the shoes either way, confident that a shoe repairman (or woman) can work endless magic. In fact, a good one often can. Vivian Chan, the owner of Angelo’s Shoe Repair, takes the business of stretching shoes very seriously, whether they’re vintage finds, brand new Jimmy Choos, or an old pair that has become stiff and needs to be adjusted. “People come here to get their shoes stretched because when they bring them somewhere else, they pick them up and it seems like nothing happened.” She says shoes can be stretched length-wise or width-wise, or around the leg on taller boots, finally giving hope to those with big calves.
Chan says it’s crucial to determine where the shoes are tight and then stretch them slowly to avoid damaging the leather. “You need to pay a lot of attention,” she explains. “At smaller stores, they just put them in the machine, close their eyes, and take them out again. They don’t really care. They just take the money and that’s it, but here, I do every shoe myself. No one understands shoes better than me.” Chan asks her customers to put the shoes on so she can determine for herself where they are pinching the foot. Her services usually cost $12 per pair, which is about twice as much as your run-of-the-mill repair shop, but if they aren’t perfect, she will keep tweaking them at no extra cost. As far as we’re concerned, she is the fairy godmother we’ve been waiting for. This is especially important when the weather turns cold and our coats cover up cute outfits. Every girl deserves the boots she’s always dreamed of—whether they were made for her or not.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 4, 2005