What is a Shoe Horn?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A shoe horn is a dressing aid used to help guide feet into tight-fitting dress shoes, sports shoes, or boots. It is made up of a long, thin piece of metal, plastic, or other material, which is is placed firmly against the back of the shoe, called the counter in footwear terminology. The user's heel slides against the smooth surface of the horn, allowing the foot to be placed into the shoe without damaging or warping the counter. Some models feature an extended handle, while others have a short blade that curves into a handle.

Typically made of metal or plastic, a shoehorn is a device used to help slip feet into tight-fitting shoes.
Typically made of metal or plastic, a shoehorn is a device used to help slip feet into tight-fitting shoes.

Back in the days when formal footwear was the norm, a shoe horn was every bit as common in the home as a hair brush or an umbrella. With advances in footwear design and a shift towards sports shoes and boots for casual use, they have become far less common. Many people who own one today are more likely to use it to avoid excessive bending following surgery or other medical situations. Putting on shoes may become challenging for the elderly as well, so health catalogs often promote this tool as a dressing aid in conjunction with other reach extenders.

Using shoe horns can help preserve the construction of the shoe.
Using shoe horns can help preserve the construction of the shoe.

A shoe horn may be constructed from metals such as aluminum, brass, or stainless steel, with an epoxy coating. Plastic is also a common material, as is bone or ivory. Really, any material that allows the user's heel to slide easily down it can be used.

A shoe horn may help the elderly more conveniently put on shoes.
A shoe horn may help the elderly more conveniently put on shoes.

One end of the device has a rounded blade that is curved to fit the interior of most shoes. The curved end is pressed against the back of the shoe, and the users heel slides along the concave side. The horn end often looks like a duck's beak. There may be a handle attached to the blade that extends close to the user's knee area. The tip may be decorative, or it may be another dressing aid designed to hook clothing.

A shoe horn has been used as a metaphor for creating extra space through force, such as a patient being "shoehorned" into an appointment book during an emergency.
A shoe horn has been used as a metaphor for creating extra space through force, such as a patient being "shoehorned" into an appointment book during an emergency.

The name for this device has also become part of common language as a metaphor for creating extra space through force. A person might say that an emergency patient was "shoehorned" into the appointment book, or a last-minute addendum was "shoehorned" into a pending piece of legislation.

A shoehorn may b e necessary to put on a pair of tight-fitting, high-heeled dress shoes.
A shoehorn may b e necessary to put on a pair of tight-fitting, high-heeled dress shoes.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

anon131447

Does anyone have some information about the history of shoehorns? And, if you were to say if a shoehorn is a male or female device, what would you say? (this may sound weird yes, but it's for a school assignment. Any answers would be very helpful!)

anon95609

I am doing health and social care in year ten and i have to write a manual about a shoe horn.

anon70790

it just came from china. it used to help women to wear the small shoes for more than 100 years.

anon48354

I am learning about what a shoe horn is and how to use it, as i am new to using a shoe horn.

anon22104

How much does a wooden shoe horn cost (with extended handle)?

anon5109

Because early shoe horns were made from animal horn.

anon2492

that's a good question. Why don't they call it a shoe hone?

anon415

where did the term shoehorn come from? why horn?

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