It took me longer to get into buying - and wearing - vintage shoes than any other type of item I collect. I have often read that you should never buy second-hand shoes, that they will be moulded to another person's feet and will harbour diseases. There are plenty of collectors who buy shoes never wear them, but and display them around their homes instead.
The 1930s snakeskin shoes shown in the first photograph are one of my two oldest pairs. It really is asking a lot to expect something to last that long and they are quite hard to find. These shoes came from an antiques fair, the others from a specialist vintage fair.
I look for shoes with the minimum of wear: having survived this long they can just crack and fall apart as soon as you wear them, and if they are moulded to the shape of another foot they won't be comfortable.
It's crucial to try them on: sizes have changed a lot over the years and people used to have smaller, narrower feet generally. If they don't feel comfortable in the shop/market then DON'T buy them - they are very unlikely to stretch or "give" and you will be in agony when you try to wear them!
Firstly, when I get my new (old!) shoes home, I clean them inside and out. Baby wipes work well on leather and skin shoes, a brush for suede to get the dust out and suede cleaner or dry shampoo for any small marks. Leather often hardens and dries out with age so then I have to treat them with saddle soap or "leather food". I clean the insides too and spray them with antibacterial spray.
If they need new soles or heels it's worth taking the shoes to a reputable cobbler rather than to a chain. The cobblers I use find it interesting to work on something different for a change and really take pride in what they do. I also know that I will be able to ask them to replace buckles and repair stitching.
These formal green court shoes are also from the 1970s but you can find a very similar style, with a slightly lower and more tapered heel, from the 1950s.
The red shoes (above) are late 1960s leather and snake Mod t-bar Mary Janes by Russell and Bromley. The three pairs of platform sandals shown here are typical 1970s styles, but you do sometimes see original 1930s' platforms made popular by Hollywood actresses of the time. The 70s' versions can be really heavy to wear, making them difficult to walk in and painful when (not if!) you kick yourself in the ankle - so try them on to check for this.
If you want to be head-to-foot vintage for an event or, like many collectors, you live and breathe it, you will certainly be looking at vintage shoes. If you don't like your vintage to actually LOOK too vintage, then modern shoes can still be in keeping with your outfit or a good contrast to it. If you like the look but don't like the idea of old shoes, UK chains such as Office and LK Bennett do great retro styles every year.
There are some real finds to be had if you do take the vintage route though. Amongst others:
• Fake fur or wool-lined boots with moulded weatherproof soles making the winter much warmer, cosier and drier;
• Original army surplus plimsoles and heavy leather boots;
• Proper cowboy boots;
• Glamorous 1950s and 1960s stilettoes;
• 1950s mules with lucite heels;
• 1960s brightly-coloured mod shoes and boots.