Almost all leather dress/business shoes have two support pieces built into the shoe upper. These pieces are typically made of plastic or cardboard. To create the rigid structure of the toe and allow room for your toes to move around a little bit , a support piece named a “Toe Puff” is used.
The toe puff is glued to the inside of the leather upper at the toe area and is typically covered on the inside by the shoe lining.
This is also done at the back of a shoe, where you slip in the heel of your foot, and is called a “Heel Counter”. There are actually two things on a shoe that are referred to as a heel counter:
- The internal support piece I just mentioned.
- A decorative piece of leather wrapped around the outside of the back of the shoe, as a “counter” to the toe cap on a shoe of that style.
Since the back edge of the heel of your foot protrudes farther back than the achilles tendon that attaches it to your calf, the back of a shoe has to accommodate that same curvature. This means that every time you put on your shoes your foot pushes on the back of the shoe, more so at the top (as you are pushing your foot into the shoe, than at the bottom where your foot comes to rest in the heel cup.
Using a shoehorn to help slide the heel of your foot into the shoe minimizes the damage you can cause by pushing your heel down on the top of the counter to make it flex out, and it also distributes the pressure against the heel counter better as you slide your heel down.
Not using a shoe horn when putting your shoes on will eventually break down the heel support the heel counter was designed to give, and will contribute to the shoe not fitting as well over time.
This is not a big deal on a pair of inexpensive shoes you don’t plan to keep very long, but for a nice pair of shoes you should include the routine of using a shoehorn whenever possible.
Shoe horns come in all sizes and materials, so grab a small plastic one for your suitcase and a nice metal or horn one for your closet.