If you look after your shoes as advised, the uppers stand a good chance of outlasting you (there’s that inadvertent “last” pun again … sorry). The sole and heel will, however, be worn away steadily by your use of the shoes unless you walk on your hands.
The first bit to go is generally the back of the heel. That can be replaced quickly by a good shoe repairer, provided that you get it repaired before the damage reaches the leather of the heel. Look on the left – if the damage simply affects the rubber, then all the repairer has to do is remove the rubber, fit a new one, trim it and voila – you are back in business. If you have procrastinated and the wear has got through the rubber and to the leather, repair is far from impossible, but it is a bigger job.
The sole is generally the next casualty – it may have become thin in places (generally at the toe of the ball of the foot – it depends how you walk!). Don’t be tempted to get a half-sole glued on to patch over the dodgy bit. It will throw the shoe, and therefore you, off balance. If the pair shoes is a good one, they have moulded nicely to your feet, the uppers are in good nick and you like them – brace yourself and have the shoe re-built.
Many English handmade shoemakers (The best known are Barker, Cheaney, Church, Crockett and Jones, Loake, Lobb and Trickers) will undertake repairs on the original last and the results can be spectacular. Have a look at the shoe on the top right both disassembled and then with its repair completed. The resurrection is surprising here, as the owner did not actually take terribly good care of the shoes and left the repair quite late (the damage had almost reached the insole). The re-lasting process has made this pair look better than its slightly-negligent owner deserves!
You can see a nice YouTube video of fellow Loake fan Mark Anthony celebrating the rebirth and return of his favourite brogues. There’s also a video of a Loake shoe being disassembled and put back together again. I’ll be surprised, however, if you don’t wince as the skilled repairer rips the sole off the shoe!
In closing (another cobbling pun … more apologies!), this emphasises the benefits of well-looked-after shoes. If the uppers are supple, well-cared for and both lasts, they will be in good shape (sic) for a full rebuild.