Clothing Care

Do you really need shoe trees?

By on March 20th, 2018

Do you use shoe trees? Are they currently inside your favorite dress shoes helping them to keep their shape and freshen them up? Or, do you really need shoe trees in the first place?

The short answer is yes, you should definitely use them. For your finest dress shoes, consistently putting shoe trees in them will help to maintain their shape, protect the leather by pulling out moisture, and also combat odors. A nice pair of men’s dress shoes can easily cost a couple hundred dollars, but will last for many years to come when properly cared for.

Whereas a good shoe shine will take care of the outside of your shoes, consistently using trees will maintain them from the inside out.

Personally, shoe trees are pure nostalgia for me. I remember carefully removing them from my singular pair of nice brown loafers for Sunday School as a kid. Later that afternoon, upon returning home, I would ensure that I put them back in the shoes before tucking them away into my closet until next week.

To this day, the sound of the slightly squeaky spring compressing and of the cedar knocking against itself, is oddly comforting. The feel of the wood against my hands and that slight woodsy smell always seems to remind me of the romance behind old-school menswear.

But nostalgia aside, do you really need to use these things? After all, they can be tough to handle and all too easy to confuse the right with the left.

Let’s go over each of the intended benefits and see if they hold up.

Will they help your shoes keep good form?

Absolutely. Fine leathers sometimes need a little support. They have plenty of it when you are actually wearing the shoes, but for those extended periods in the closet, a shoe tree acts as your double.

I’m fairly confident that one of the reasons my oldest pairs of Cole Haans has become so heavily wrinkled and distorted is because I rarely put a shoe tree inside them. Despite being my everyday shoe for many years, I rarely gave them the TLC they deserved and even considered throwing them out recently. Oddly enough, my shoe trees went to my “nice black dress shoes,” of which I infrequently wore.

Aside from looking good, shoes that maintain good form will also be good to your feet and therefore be more comfortable to wear. [By the way, here’s our article on why men should get pedicures, but just every now and again.]

But providing good support for your shoes is only half the equation, as they also work to protect the leather and lining.

Do you really need shoe trees or is it not worth it

How do shoe trees protect the leather?

Regardless of whether you think your feet sweat a little or a lot, they do sweat. While socks will certainly act as a barrier, the leather and lining of your shoes are still going to absorb moisture. Over time, this can lead to the rotting of your lining and potentially the leather cracking. Not to mention smelly feet.

Therefore, it is very important that you can get this moisture out of your shoes when you take them off. In order to do so, the material of your shoe tree needs to be something porous, like wood. Plastic won’t do the trick. For the same reason that we like wooden hangers for our suits, we look to cedar for our ideal shoe tree material.

There are a handful of reasons that cedar is preferred over other types of wood. Because it contains natural oils that aren’t supportive to bacterial or fungal growth, it is especially resistant to damage caused by decay or water (obviously, this is important if it’s going to be absorbing sweat!). Cedar is also a very strong wood, yet lighter than oak and less expensive than teak. So, it’s a relatively inexpensive pick for a shoe tree. Furthermore, the natural aroma of cedar is somewhat pungent and naturally repels insects, but fortunately, smells pretty good to us humans.

Will they freshen your shoes?

If you have wooden shoe trees, then yes, they will. Cedar in particular, will not only help to pull moisture out and dry your shoes, but will likely leave behind a little of that nice cedar aroma.

By the way, when the cedar aroma begins to fade over time, just lightly sand to bring them back to life.

What type should you buy?

There are certainly quite a few benefits to using shoe trees, with the biggest one of all being that you’ll be able to wear your best shoes for many years to come.

So, if you don’t already own a pair of shoe trees, what should you buy? I’d recommend beginning with an inexpensive cedar option for most of your shoes. There are quite a few options on Amazon for under $10 a pair. More costly shoe trees will consist of more wood and perhaps slots through the toe portion to aid in ventilation. And then there are the bespoke varieties that often come along with custom made dress shoes. Specifically crafted for your shoe to maintain its unique contour, it doesn’t get any better than this.

an old bespoke shoe tree

Regardless, avoid the plastic options because they won’t actively draw moisture out, and neither will the varnished wooden varieties. Although they may look nice, they won’t do much good for your shoes.

Wrap up: do you really need shoe trees?

Hopefully, it’s clear that yes, you do need shoe trees if your aim is to wear your dress shoes for many years to come. Wooden shoe trees do an incredible job of pulling moisture out of your shoes after a long day of wearing them. And because they also help to reinforce your shoes’ natural form, they will dry out optimally.


While we’re on the topic of clothing care, you might enjoy reading our guide to washing your dress shirts or learning about our favorite Denver-based shoe shine.