What Is a Shoe Horn and Is It Necessary?

If you’ve invested in a timeless pair of leather dress shoes or boots, you’ll want them to go the distance. Squishing your feet into them with sheer brute force is not the way forward. Let’s delve into the question, what is a shoe horn and is it necessary?

In this article, we will look at:

  • What is a shoe horn?
  • Why would you need a shoe horn?
  • Different types of shoe horns.
  • Reasons to use a shoe horn.
  • How to use a shoe horn.


What is a Shoe Horn?

Shoe Horn

Dating back to the 16th century, a shoe horn is a device to help your heels slide into your shoes effortlessly. You might also hear them being called shoe spoons—a name derived from their shape. This tool is smooth and beveled, so it acts as a ramp for slipping your heel into your footwear. 

They were originally made from animal horns, which is how they obtained their name.

Shoes worn by the upper echelons of society had a tendency to be very fitting, so a shoe horn was an essential tool to get them on. 

Silver, whalebone, ivory, tortoiseshell, and brass were the materials of preference for those that had money. In the modern world, you can find metal, wooden, and plastic shoe horns, but we’ll expand on that in a moment.


Why Do I Need to Use a Shoe Horn?

Forcing your foot into your shoe can damage the structure of your footwear. At the back of the shoe, the solid section encompassing the rear of your foot is called the heel counter. This helps support your feet and keep your gait as natural as possible.

It can lose its integrity, folding over at the top, or fraying on the collar, from the constant pressure of pushing your heels into your shoes. Once it’s crushed, it’s beyond repair, and your shoes might not bolster your feet in the way they used to. 

Using a shoe horn to lever your feet into place helps protect this important feature.

Different Types of Shoe Horns

We mentioned earlier that shoe horns can be made from metal, wood or plastic, and animal horns. Some are small enough for travel, and some longer for boots, or to save you bending. Here are a few of those available on the market.

Natural Shoe Horns

You can still find shoe horns made from animal horns, like this one from Lucky Franc’s. It’s handmade from ox horn and shows off the natural colors of this material. Measuring 7.25 inches by 2 inches, it’s compact enough for travel use or use at home.

Metal Shoe Horns

Strong and durable, metal shoe horns are smooth and generally don’t have any sharp edges. You could choose a set of three like these from Velette—which comprise two 7.5-inch long shoe horns and a smaller travel-size 4-inch shoe helper. 

All are made from stainless steel and feature a hole in the top so you can hang them easily from a hook. Their ergonomic design makes them straightforward to hold while you slide your feet into your shoes.

Wooden Shoe Horns

An alternative to a cold, hard metal shoe horn is wood. It can be thick enough to feel sturdy while remaining thin enough to let you slip your shoes on with ease. This model from Muso is available in beech or walnut. It’s polished to a smooth finish and shaped to fit your feet and shoes.

The longer length at 15-inches means you shouldn’t have to bend or sit to pop your shoes on unless you are very tall.  The upper section includes a leather strap for hanging, and a nicely shaped, rounded handle for ease of use. It comes with a lifetime warranty—you can request a free replacement or full refund if you aren’t happy with it.

Extra Long Shoe Horns

People who face mobility challenges due to health, age, or pregnancy might find it difficult to get their shoes on. An extra-long version, like this example, brought to us by Shacke, allows you to use a shoe horn while standing up, and without bending.

It’s made from smooth high tech plastic and is 24 inches long. The easy-grip handle makes it a breeze to hold, and you can choose from eight different colors.

Extendable Shoe Horns

If you need a shoe horn solution for the whole family, one that extends in length may appeal. It could be great for those snug knee-length boots that are tricky to get your foot into, or for dress shoes, sneakers, and pumps.

This one from Footmatters features a robust stainless steel shaft and a flexible spring, allowing you to angle it just where you need it. It’s telescopic and has three options between 16 and 31 inches in length. Simply extend to one of the preset measurements, and twist it to lock in place.

The easy-grip handle is soft and takes little effort to hold. This makes it a great option for seniors who may face challenges like arthritis in the hands.

Reasons for Using a Shoe Horn

Your only memory of seeing a shoe horn in use might be from visiting your grandparents. It seems they kind of dropped out of fashion—but if you love your shoes and want them to last, it’s an investment you should make. Here are a few reasons you might want to consider using a shoe horn.

  • Your shoes are a snug fit: It’s a bit like a round peg and a square hole—when your shoes are tight, getting your feet in can take some effort. A shoe horn will act as a slide for your heels, so they glide into your shoes. You can coax your foot in without damaging the heel counter over time.
  • Shoes that don’t get bigger when untied: Sometimes loosening the laces on certain types of dress shoes doesn’t increase the area left for you to get your foot in. Think about Oxfords with a fixed tongue or hard patent leather footwear. Using a shoe horn makes it easier to bypass this challenge.
  • Protect softer materials: Not all shoes are hard leather—suede or canvas uppers are more prone to being squished at the heels from the constant on/off. Using a shoe horn can protect the heel counter and possibly prolong the life of your shoes.
  • Help keep your shoes like they were fresh out of the box: There’s nothing quite like a new pair of shoes. To help them retain their shape and structure, and keep them looking their best, use a shoe horn from day one. If you want more handy aftercare hacks for your footwear, just head on over to our shoe care and tips section.
  • Mobility challenges: Due to health conditions, or injury, there are times when we might find it hard to bend down to put our shoes on. A long length shoe horn can be a lifesaver if you face physical challenges.

How to Use a Shoe Horn

How to Use a Shoe Horn

Using a shoe horn is quite simple. Here are the easy-to-follow steps:

  1. Take your chosen shoe horn and place it with the scoop facing up in the heel of your shoes.
  2. For short shoe horns, sit down, and long, remain standing.
  3. Place your toes into your shoes with your heel against the shoe horn.
  4. Slowly push your foot into your shoes, sliding your heel down the length of the shoe horn.
  5. As your heel slips into your shoes, pull the shoe horn out.


Make sure you loosen laces as far as you can before putting your shoes on. This will help retain the shape and integrity of your footwear.

Stepping Out

Now you know the answer to what is a shoe horn and is it necessary? Now it’s time to decide if it’s an investment worth making. 

Some shoes and boots can be an expensive purchase, so you’ll want to keep them looking brand-spanking new for as long as possible. Alternately, you may have flexibility issues that make getting your shoes on difficult.

We hope you enjoyed our insights and would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment, and don’t forget to share.


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