Natural materials will last longer than synthetic when properly cared for, which is also why they cost more. There is not much you can do with a synthetic leather shoe. Similarly, a poorly constructed shoe has a limited life expectancy. If the pieces are glued together, they will not last nearly as long as if they were properly stitched. Also, common sense tells you that a properly fitting shoe will wear more evenly than one that is either too big or too small because it affects the way the shoe hits the ground when you walk. Though they seem simple, all of these are important to consider when making a purchase, be it shoes or otherwise.
The first two things you can do to increase the life of your shoes are also the easiest. Make sure to give your shoes time to rest. Rotate your shoes so that you don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. The more your rotate, the longer each pair will last.
This is important because not giving them time to air out and dry will likely lead to moisture becoming trapped which will not only cause your shoes to smell, it will also make the leather degrade much faster than normal. On that note, if your shoes get wet make sure to air dry them away from any heat source to avoid shrinking and drying out the leather.
Next, remember to take the time to untie and loosen the laces of your shoes before taking them off. Kicking off or sliding on your shoes will very quickly wear out both the sole and the heel seat and probably stretch out your laces.
It is also important to polish, condition, and clean your shoes on a regular basis. Keeping the leather moisturized and free from dirt will help to prevent it from prematurely degrading. As I mentioned in the Leather Care post, waterproofing treatments have their benefits and drawbacks. Carefully consider each of these before deciding on which is best for how you wear your shoes and reapply often to keep it working.
When not wearing your shoes, I recommend using both shoe trees and dust bags. While a plastic shoe tree will maintain your shoe’s shape, a cedar one will also absorb moisture and help prevent odors from developing. If your feet really sweat, sprinkle in some moisture absorbing powder after you take them off. Baby powder, baking soda, and Gold Bond are all common recommendations. Just remember to dump the powder out in the morning.
Personally, I save all of my shoe boxes because it makes it easier for me to stack and store my shoes without risking damage. In lieu of this or when traveling, dust bags will help to keep your shoes clean and dust free.
There are also other steps you can take to make sure you have your shoes for years to come. If you find that your stride causes your heels or soles to wear down very quickly there are two different avenues to pursue with your local shoe repair place. Having your shoes rubbered will give an extra layer of protection and when it wears through, just have it re-applied. The drawback to this is that if your shoes have leather soles, you may run into problems if the shoes get wet because the leather can’t breathe and properly dry out. The remedy to this is to only get half the sole rubbered, so that some leather is still exposed. Not only will this be a little cheaper, but you generally don’t need the protection on the arch where your foot doesn’t touch the ground.
The alternative to rubbering is having taps added. Like their name implies, taps are small plastic (or more rarely metal) pieces that are nailed into the heel and/or toe of your shoe. These will wear down much slower than even a rubbered shoe, but they often leave you with a clicking noise when you walk, especially when new before they wear down to being flush with your shoe.
Remember, the cobbler is your friend, but do your research to find one with experience and a good track record. If you are unsure of something, ask them. They are professionals for a reason.