Shoe care is becoming more and more of a lost art. Today there are fewer and fewer artisan cobblers. This fast pace world, full of instant gratification, doesn't leave much room for the art of shoe care. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way. Through this blog there are several tips and tricks from experienced professionals that have managed to keep the soul in the art of maintaining the sole.
Buy good shoes. This is not a suggestion, it’s a plea. Buying quality shoes will change how the shoes are worn, how they look, fit, feel, and ultimately, how they are taken care of. Edward Green, Alden, Crockett & Jones-these are just a few examples of quality shoemakers. These labels have taken pride in making quality built footwear from quality materials and it shows in how they wear. Though many similar styles can be found with lesser brands, the quality of those shoes will not be even a within a stones throw of the quality of a proper shoe maker. Several factors play into this dramatic difference. Fit, comfort, unique styling, exclusivity, and construction quality are just a few, and all make a difference in how a shoe wears over time. Now it is understandable that buying a handmade pair of shoes may cost a bit more money. Remember that value is measured in the amount of time that the product can be enjoyed. Spending a little money on a pair of trendy shoes that may only be worn for a year isn't as gratifying as getting a pair of shoes that fit the way they should, have timeless style, and if taken care of properly, could be passed on to the next generation. Now that is real value.
Let's breakdown what it takes to make a decent pair of shoes become a priceless heirloom. Everything covered here from polishing to storage will help you maintain the same beauty that drew you to purchase them in the first place.
Below is a classic before/after picture of what a little TLC can do for your shoes. Beyond adding the rich color, this picture shows how crease lines in the upper can be hidden by going through the right polishing sequence. Lets get started.
Step 1: Remove Excess Polish
Shoe care is based on the principle of out with the old, in with the new. Getting started, the old wax and polish must be removed from the shoe. Reason being that stacking wax on top of wax, on top of wax, creates cracks in the different layers of wax that gives the shoe the worn and tired look. Saddle soap, nail polish remover, or Lexol Leather Cleaner are recommended products to best remove the wax from the shoe. Please note to be careful not to rub the product too vigorously on the shoe, as it can take the natural pigment from the leather. Rub the cleanser on the shoe in a small circular motion until the shine appears more dull and natural.
Step 2: Condition
Leather is, understandably, a lot like our skin. Shoes need conditioning to keep their supple feel and natural shape. Sometimes referred to as rejuvenators, leather conditioners and creams help give the shoe leather the moisture it needs to prevent cracking, and to maintain shape and fit. Using small circular motions like in step 1, apply the conditioner throughout the entire shoe. Don't forget to show the sole of the shoe some love too if it’s leather by applying the conditioner the same way. After applying the leather conditioner, let the shoe sit for 10-20 minutes to allow the shoe to dry.
Note: Conditioning is an essential step in achieving a proper shine. Although it does take a bit longer to do, the results will speak for themselves. Remember that shoe care is less about speed and more about finesse. Buy a good conditioner/rejuvenator. It really does make a difference when you apply quality product.
Step 3: Applying Cream Polish
This is the first round of two polish applications. Cream polish is applied first using an applicator brush. This will really help get the polish thoroughly into the leather and bring the richness of the original color back to the shoe. Be very frugal with applying cream polish as a little polish can go a long way. If uncertain about how the leather will react to the color, apply a small amount of the polish to the heel to test it. In case of it being too dark, quickly and lightly use a horsehair brush to spread the polish evenly across the shoe. Just like the conditioning step, when finished applying cream polish allow 10-20 minutes for the polish to dry.
Notes: The cream polish is important in maintaining and rejuvenating the color of the leather. For this pair of shoes the first coat was applied and sat over night, then brushed off with a horsehair brush. After brushing thoroughly, examine the shoe and see if the color is too standard. If not, another application of cream polish can be added to the shoe. Remember to be frugal in application of the polish as too much can lead to a lot of extra work, with uneven results.
Step 4: Applying Wax Polish
For the second round of polish application, use a soft cotton cloth, i.e. an old t-shirt. Well-renowned shoe expert, Justin FitzPatrick, who not only polishes on Savile Row but also has his own shoe line, recommends bee's wax for wax polish. Made with a turpentine base, he prefers it because it gives off the best shine. Applying the wax polish is done in small circles (noticing a trend here?) throughout the entire shoe. Don't be afraid to put a bit of pressure into it, just not too much to the point that it damages the leather. Adding just a bit of pressure will allow the wax polish to enter the pores of the leather, which will create the mirror shine. Apply 1-2 layers of wax before moving on to the next step to ensure that the pores of the leather have been filled with polish. Wait 10-20 minutes to let the shoes dry.
Notes: Be aware that this can be your final step if the desired shine has been reached. The next step is how to achieve the mirror shine, or "spit shine". Not every man is going to be keen to see his face in his shoes, but for those that are, carry on to the next step.
Step 5: Obtaining the Shine
"This next step is the hardest," according to Mr. FitzPatrick, who then recommends that experience is the best teacher. As mentioned at the beginning, this is a process, so take time in applying these steps and success will be more easily achieved. The mirror shine is obtained by applying a tiny bit of water and immediately applying bee's wax polish to the shoe. This will give the shoe a "spit shine" look, and takes time, so be patient. Experts recommend spending 1-2 hours on this step to really get that mirror shine. This video from Justin FitzPatrick helps illustrate the technique needed for the best results for this step. Allow the shoes to dry over night and apply one final layer of bee's wax with water for the icing on the cake.
Final Step: Finishing Touches
Using a nylon cloth (i.e. women's tights), rub the shoe down. This will remove any left behind dust, help to blend in residue from the polish, and put that shine to the max. Use the nylon before and after wearing the shoes, to maintain the shine.
Suede is an amazing material that gives a normal looking shoe something out of the ordinary. Though suede is appealing visually, unkempt suede can be one of the most awful looking things in the world. So how can suede be kept clean and plush?
Suede is not an easy material to maintain but it’s certainly doable. Investing in the right products and applying these tips to them each time they are worn will make a noticeable difference in the wear and longevity of your suede shoes.
Buy Multiple Pairs of Dress Shoes
Dress shoes wear much more quickly when consistently worn. The leather weakens, creases, and wears out faster. This will show in the shoe's upper and all the way to the sole. Your shoes need to rest after being worn, especially if they are worn for an entire workday. Having a decent shoe rotation will not only help your shoes last longer, but also gives more versatility to the wardrobe you have as you wear different shoes with each suit. Every man should own a pair of brown, cognac (light brown), cordovan, and black shoes. These shoes provide the most versatility so that every outfit you could put together will go brilliantly with one of those shoe colors.
Daily Basic Shoe Care
Doing a few simple things daily will increase the longevity of your shoes, and help them remain looking pristine for as long as you own them.
Shoes are one of the main catalysts in every man's outfit. They need to reflect the time and effort. Shoes say a lot about a man. They reflect how he feels about himself. Quality footwear takes quality care. Shoes are one of the strongest statements made when a man dresses himself so it's important to understand what statements you are making.
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