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.
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.
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.
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.
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.