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I Ruined My Manolos at an Outdoor Wedding, Oh My God

Don't panic, your heels are not lost.

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Out, Damned Spot has long provided general tips to keep your fashions looking amazing, but now, twice a month, I'll also be answering questions about the very specific problems your new (or old!) purchases may present. Do you have questions for me? Ask away!

Jolie! SOS. 911. Seriously!

Yesterday evening I went to a friend's wedding in Long Island. The invitation said Black Tie so naturally I wore the nicest shoes I own — suede, eggshell Manolo Blahniks stilettos that were probably way overpriced at their retail value but which I bought at a sample sale, one of the very many awesome perks of being a Racked employee.

I knew the shoes would be the fairest of them all in the room. What I didn't know was THE WEDDING WAS OUTSIDE — the ceremony anyways — and so my beautiful eggshell Manolos now have grass stains and other black streaks from questionable sources on them. I was too drunk last night to realize the extent of the damage until I woke up this morning and had a good look at them. Any suggestions for how to save these ladies? I'm fine if you tell me to send it to a shoe cleaner too! — Chavie Lieber

As wedding season winds down, we must survey the damage done to our livers, wallets, and heels. While I can't help much with the livers or the wallets, one area in which I am certainly an expert is in the care and keeping of your footwear. And as a mostly-reformed Shoe Gal, I do know from taking a pair of pricey shoes out for a night on the town, or to an outdoor wedding, and that horrible feeling when the damage a banging night wrought on your shoes becomes apparent in the clear light of day. Not to worry though, this kind of damage is entirely fixable.

When to Clean Muddy Shoes

Chavie was so worried that, in not noticing the problem right away, she had created a situation that was beyond repair. Not so! Isn't that great news?!?

If you've walked on a damp lawn in a pair of heels, you're actually better off not trying to clean them immediately after taking them off. It's counterintuitive, but allowing the shoes some time to dry, especially when mud is involved, is ideal because trying to clean a pair of muddy shoes will only serve to spread the mud. With that said, don't take that as license to leave a pair of soiled shoes for weeks on end without tending to them — taking care of the problem within a week is what you want to aim for.

How to Clean Soiled Heels

It's incredibly common for the heels of our shoes to get very dirty, even when we're not tottering around on grass in stilettos. It's so easy to clean a heel, so this isn't something you need to outsource to a shoe repair shop. (You can outsource it, though, which we'll get to in a sec.)

To clean a dirt-stained heel, you need a small, light-colored rag and clear soap. When I say "clear soap" what I mean are things like baby shampoo, dish soap, Dr. Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap — "clear" doesn't necessarily refer to color-free soaps, but rather to soaps and shampoos that don't contain beads, or foam, or special moisturizers.

Chavie's shoes, before and after, as Racked staff looks on. Photo: Chavie Lieber

If the shoe has clumps of grass clinging to the heels, or a thick layer of dried-on dirt, begin by brushing that away over a trashcan. You can use your hands or a dry rag, but at this stage don't apply any moisture; water will turn the dirt back into mud and make a huge mess of things.

As simple as this sounds — and it is simple, truly! — there are some nuances to the technique you'll use that are important. The first thing is that this is a damp operation. You don't want to work with a sopping, or even slightly drippy, rag. Similarly, be sparing in your use of soap. Start by wetting a corner of the rag, then apply a pea-sized drop of soap and spread it on the rag using a finger. Next, squeeze the rag using short pumping motions, which will push out excess water and work up a bit of lather. The lather is what you'll use to clean the shoe.

Using gentle but firm pressure, rub the sudsy portion of the rag up and down the length of the heel. You'll start to see the grime coming off in sections, and just keep working at it until the heel is dirt-free. The fabric may appear slightly darkened from the soap and water and that's okay — as it dries, it will return to its original shade.

If you're reading this and still feeling nervous about trying to clean an expensive or beloved pair of shoes on your own, I feel you. Chavie was a little nervous!

Our very important content development meeting also resulted in the greatest calendar invite I've ever received.

Sending Them Out for Cleaning

If you read all of that and watched our video and you still feel nervous about the process, that's okay! Look, sending an item out to be professionally cleaned is a perfectly fine and very adult thing to do.

Here in New York, we have Leather Spa, which is a high-end shoe and leather accessories repair shop, and most major cities will have similar business that are sort of known as The Place To Take Your Good Shit. If you can't find a top-notch repair shop in your area, Leather Spa will receive your shoes by mail, which is a handy thing to know about.

When it comes to fine shoes, bags, belts, etc. it's probably worth a little extra cost to go to an above-average repair shop, which you can identify by either perusing online reviews or by asking the most stylish person you know where she takes her things. The latter approach has never served me wrong.

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