Five Tips For Polishing Shoes
I spent a little bit of time this weekend polishing an old pair of chukkas of mine. Though their pebble grain texture makes them feel more like fall/ winter boots, I’ve been wearing them a lot this summer. They just go too well with jeans.
Polishing shoes is simple enough. Take out the shoelaces and insert some shoe trees, so you have a hard surface to work on. Next, use an old rag to apply some leather conditioner (Saphir is nice, but I mostly use Allen Edmonds’ Conditioner and Cleaner). Then, apply your cream polish with a dauber (I use Saphir for polish, which our advertiser The Hanger Project sells, but you can also get nice results with Meltonian). Finally, brush your shoes out with a large horsehair brush to raise a shine. That, more or less, is the basic process of how to shine shoes. 
There are some things that I think can help improve your technique, however.
1. Brush your shoes down with a large horsehair brush before applying any conditioner. This will remove any specks of dust or dirt that can otherwise mar the leather.
2. I add a layer of wax polish on most of my shoes (almost everything except loafers, camp mocs, and boat shoes). This gives them a higher shine and an extra layer of protection. If you decide to use wax polish, brush down your shoes with a big horsehair brush first. This will even out your cream polish and give you a nicer surface to build a wax layer upon.
3. Also, if you use a wax polish, wipe your shoes down with a leather cleaner every once in a while, as wax can build up and make it difficult for your leather to absorb conditioner. Don’t go crazy though. Leather cleaner is powerful stuff, and you don’t want to damage your shoes’ uppers by scrubbing. Some gentle swipes with a soft cloth will do.
4. Most people try to match the color of their shoe polish as closely as possible to their shoes’ uppers. I actually often go one shade darker, as I find that helps build a bit more “depth” in the color, and makes for a more interesting patina. I’ve also heard of people using black polish for dark brown shoes and navy polish for black shoes. Choose according to your taste, but don’t be afraid to experiment a little. 
5. Finally, the most important tip of all: Always wait a while in between each of your steps. Wait for the conditioner to soak in before you apply cream polish. Wait for the cream polish to dry before you apply wax. Wait for the wax polish to settle before you buff everything out with a large brush. This is not only better for your shoes but it also makes the process of buffing much easier.
(Pictured above: Saphir cream and wax polishes, Edoya horsehair brush,  Crockett & Jones’ Brecon chukkas)

Five Tips For Polishing Shoes

I spent a little bit of time this weekend polishing an old pair of chukkas of mine. Though their pebble grain texture makes them feel more like fall/ winter boots, I’ve been wearing them a lot this summer. They just go too well with jeans.

Polishing shoes is simple enough. Take out the shoelaces and insert some shoe trees, so you have a hard surface to work on. Next, use an old rag to apply some leather conditioner (Saphir is nice, but I mostly use Allen Edmonds’ Conditioner and Cleaner). Then, apply your cream polish with a dauber (I use Saphir for polish, which our advertiser The Hanger Project sells, but you can also get nice results with Meltonian). Finally, brush your shoes out with a large horsehair brush to raise a shine. That, more or less, is the basic process of how to shine shoes. 

There are some things that I think can help improve your technique, however.

1. Brush your shoes down with a large horsehair brush before applying any conditioner. This will remove any specks of dust or dirt that can otherwise mar the leather.

2. I add a layer of wax polish on most of my shoes (almost everything except loafers, camp mocs, and boat shoes). This gives them a higher shine and an extra layer of protection. If you decide to use wax polish, brush down your shoes with a big horsehair brush first. This will even out your cream polish and give you a nicer surface to build a wax layer upon.

3. Also, if you use a wax polish, wipe your shoes down with a leather cleaner every once in a while, as wax can build up and make it difficult for your leather to absorb conditioner. Don’t go crazy though. Leather cleaner is powerful stuff, and you don’t want to damage your shoes’ uppers by scrubbing. Some gentle swipes with a soft cloth will do.

4. Most people try to match the color of their shoe polish as closely as possible to their shoes’ uppers. I actually often go one shade darker, as I find that helps build a bit more “depth” in the color, and makes for a more interesting patina. I’ve also heard of people using black polish for dark brown shoes and navy polish for black shoes. Choose according to your taste, but don’t be afraid to experiment a little. 

5. Finally, the most important tip of all: Always wait a while in between each of your steps. Wait for the conditioner to soak in before you apply cream polish. Wait for the cream polish to dry before you apply wax. Wait for the wax polish to settle before you buff everything out with a large brush. This is not only better for your shoes but it also makes the process of buffing much easier.

(Pictured above: Saphir cream and wax polishes, Edoya horsehair brush,  Crockett & Jones’ Brecon chukkas)

Q and Answer: What Shoe Care Products Should You Consider (Part Two)
Over the weekend, one of our readers asked us for our opinion on which shoe care products he should consider buying, so we started with what’s most important. Today, we’ll cover some stuff that’s less essential, but can still be kind of nice to have if you’re really getting into shoe care. 
1. Cleaners: It’s good to wipe down your shoes every once in a while with a cleaner if you use wax polishes. Doing so helps removes build-up and allows the leather to best take in conditioner. Lexol and Saphir Reno’Mat work really well as general purpose cleaners, while Saddle Soap is a bit better for rugged workboots. When using these, make sure you use a sparing amount and go gently. This stuff can be powerful. 
Saphir also makes a special cleaner for suede shoes, though much of stain prevention can be done by spraying your suede shoes down with Allen Edmonds’ Waterproofer. 
2. Welt Brush: These are handy for brushing out the dirt that accumulates in the welt (the area where the sole meets the upper). A Suitable Wardrobe sells one made from pig bristle, but you could also just use a stiff bristled toothbrush. 
3. Shoeshine Mat: Shoeshine mats are completely superfluous, but I really like them. They’re used to protect the surface of your table as you work on your shoes. Obviously, newspaper is a much cheaper solution, but if you don’t mind spending the money, La Cordonnerie Anglaise and Valmour make some really nice leather options.
4. Solvent dispensers: If you want to bull your shoes, you have to put a little bit of water on your polishing cloth to build a shine. One way is to do this is to fill up a very small cap with water and dip your cloth into it every once in a while. Another is to lightly spit (a bit gross, admittedly, but this is where the term “spit shine” comes from). I personally use this solvent dispenser, which you can see in action here. Amazon has a bunch of other options as well. 
5. Deer bone: Deer bones are used help smooth out any small, superficial scuffs on shell cordovan. I own and use one, but unless you take some kind of pleasure in obscure shoe care techniques, I think you can get equally good results with the back of a spoon. 
6. Chamois cloth: I like to dust off my shoes before putting them on. Allen Edmonds’s horsehair brush is good for this, as is Saphir’s chamois cloth. 
7. Shoe bags: Speaking of dust, shoe bags are useful for keeping shoes dust free when they’re not in use. The company that made your shoes probably provided you with a free pair, but if you need replacements, our advertiser The Hanger Project and this seller on Amazon seem to have good options. 
8. Edge dressing: The edges of soles can get pretty scuffed up from wear, so every once in a while, it’s a good idea to “repaint” them. Saphir and Allen Edmonds make some pretty good tools for this. 
9. Boxes: Finally, you might need a box to hold all this stuff. I talked about a bunch of options in this post, but since writing that, I bought this box by Gerstner & Sons. I highly recommend them if you don’t mind spending the money. 

Q and Answer: What Shoe Care Products Should You Consider (Part Two)

Over the weekend, one of our readers asked us for our opinion on which shoe care products he should consider buying, so we started with what’s most important. Today, we’ll cover some stuff that’s less essential, but can still be kind of nice to have if you’re really getting into shoe care. 

1. Cleaners: It’s good to wipe down your shoes every once in a while with a cleaner if you use wax polishes. Doing so helps removes build-up and allows the leather to best take in conditioner. Lexol and Saphir Reno’Mat work really well as general purpose cleaners, while Saddle Soap is a bit better for rugged workboots. When using these, make sure you use a sparing amount and go gently. This stuff can be powerful. 

Saphir also makes a special cleaner for suede shoes, though much of stain prevention can be done by spraying your suede shoes down with Allen Edmonds’ Waterproofer

2. Welt Brush: These are handy for brushing out the dirt that accumulates in the welt (the area where the sole meets the upper). A Suitable Wardrobe sells one made from pig bristle, but you could also just use a stiff bristled toothbrush. 

3. Shoeshine Mat: Shoeshine mats are completely superfluous, but I really like them. They’re used to protect the surface of your table as you work on your shoes. Obviously, newspaper is a much cheaper solution, but if you don’t mind spending the money, La Cordonnerie Anglaise and Valmour make some really nice leather options.

4. Solvent dispensers: If you want to bull your shoes, you have to put a little bit of water on your polishing cloth to build a shine. One way is to do this is to fill up a very small cap with water and dip your cloth into it every once in a while. Another is to lightly spit (a bit gross, admittedly, but this is where the term “spit shine” comes from). I personally use this solvent dispenser, which you can see in action here. Amazon has a bunch of other options as well. 

5. Deer bone: Deer bones are used help smooth out any small, superficial scuffs on shell cordovan. I own and use one, but unless you take some kind of pleasure in obscure shoe care techniques, I think you can get equally good results with the back of a spoon. 

6. Chamois cloth: I like to dust off my shoes before putting them on. Allen Edmonds’s horsehair brush is good for this, as is Saphir’s chamois cloth

7. Shoe bags: Speaking of dust, shoe bags are useful for keeping shoes dust free when they’re not in use. The company that made your shoes probably provided you with a free pair, but if you need replacements, our advertiser The Hanger Project and this seller on Amazon seem to have good options. 

8. Edge dressing: The edges of soles can get pretty scuffed up from wear, so every once in a while, it’s a good idea to “repaint” them. Saphir and Allen Edmonds make some pretty good tools for this. 

9. Boxes: Finally, you might need a box to hold all this stuff. I talked about a bunch of options in this post, but since writing that, I bought this box by Gerstner & Sons. I highly recommend them if you don’t mind spending the money. 

Q and Answer: What Shoe Care Products Should You Consider (Part One)
Lookyoungspeakold writes us to ask: I just watched the PTO episode on shoes and am now working on picking up some shoe care supplies. What things do you guys recommend?
It’s probably best to break this answer into parts, so you know what’s important to have, and what’s just nice to have. Today, we’ll cover the important stuff.
1. Leather conditioner: Leather needs to be conditioned every once in a while, otherwise it’ll dry out and crack. For this, Saphir Renovateur is commonly said to be the best, but I’ve gotten equally good results with Allen Edmonds’ Conditioner & Cleaner. Some say you shouldn’t mix conditioners and cleaners (just as you shouldn’t mix shampoo and conditioner), but I’ve used this stuff for years and haven’t seen any ill effects. If you’re worried about it, you can turn to Lexol, who sells them in separate bottles, or get Venetian cream. 
For workboots, I really like Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP, which you can read about here, and if you have any exotics, Saphir makes a special conditioner called Reptan. 
2. Polishes and Waxes: To hide scuffs and build a shine, you’ll need an assortment of polishes and waxes. If you want to maintain your shoes’ original color, use a polish that best approximates it or go one shade lighter. To build a slightly more antiqued look over time, go with something a touch darker. For the most part, try to avoid neutrals, as they can sometimes build a white flakey residue. 
I use cream polish on all my shoes, but for any that need an extra layer of protection (e.g. winter boots) or a higher gloss finish (e.g. oxfords), I add a finishing layer of wax polish. 
Again, Saphir here is often said to be the best, and if you’re a shoe aficionado, these can feel a bit more fancy to use. You can get them from The Hanger Project (one of our advertisers), Exquisite Trimmings, A Suitable Wardrobe, and Gentlemen’s Footwear (the last of which is offering a free Saphir chamois cloth with any $50+ purchase of shoe care products this week). If Saphir is too expensive for you, however, I’ve gotten excellent results from Meltonian cream polishes and Lincoln waxes. 
3. Brushes: Obviously, to apply the creams and waxes, you’ll need some brushes. There’s some really nice stuff here by Edoya and Abbeyhorn, but they’re expensive. Check them out if you take a special interest in this stuff, but otherwise, know that you only really need a basic dauber and large horsehair brush, both of which you can buy for $5-15 from The Hanger Project and Allen Edmonds. 
4. Suede products: If you have suede shoes, you’ll want to get a couple of special products. First is a waterproofing spray, which will not only help protect your shoes from water, but also any stains that may come their way. A suede eraser can also be good for spot cleaning, and a suede brush is useful for rebuilding a nap. Suede brushes can come in crepe or wire. I really like the wire ones from Edoya, but Allen Edmonds has a much more affordable version for $6.50
5. Shoe trees and horns: Along with the leather conditioner, I think these last two products might be the most important to buy. First are cedar shoe trees, which you should always put into your shoes when you’re not wearing them. This will help maintain your shoes’ shape and minimize creases. You can buy them for about $11 a pair from Sierra Trading Post once you apply their DealFlyer coupons (they’re out of stock at the moment, but they’ll likely bring them back). Nordstrom Rack also sometimes has them in-store for about $12 a pair, and Jos A Bank will regularly do 3-for-1 deals. For boots, you’ll need something bigger to fill up the space. I recommend these from Woodlore. 
And lastly, you’ll want to use a shoehorn whenever you put on your shoes so that you don’t crush the heel counter. Abbeyhorn makes some really nice ones. For something more affordable, these basic metal ones will serve you fine, and if you’re ever in a pinch and find yourself without a shoehorn, try using your credit card or driver’s license. If you place it at the heel, just as you would with a shoehorn, your foot should slip in pretty easily.
Check back Wednesday for part two to this answer, where I’ll go over some stuff I think is nice to have, but not as essential as what’s mentioned above.

Q and Answer: What Shoe Care Products Should You Consider (Part One)

Lookyoungspeakold writes us to ask: I just watched the PTO episode on shoes and am now working on picking up some shoe care supplies. What things do you guys recommend?

It’s probably best to break this answer into parts, so you know what’s important to have, and what’s just nice to have. Today, we’ll cover the important stuff.

1. Leather conditioner: Leather needs to be conditioned every once in a while, otherwise it’ll dry out and crack. For this, Saphir Renovateur is commonly said to be the best, but I’ve gotten equally good results with Allen Edmonds’ Conditioner & Cleaner. Some say you shouldn’t mix conditioners and cleaners (just as you shouldn’t mix shampoo and conditioner), but I’ve used this stuff for years and haven’t seen any ill effects. If you’re worried about it, you can turn to Lexol, who sells them in separate bottles, or get Venetian cream.

For workboots, I really like Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP, which you can read about here, and if you have any exotics, Saphir makes a special conditioner called Reptan.

2. Polishes and Waxes: To hide scuffs and build a shine, you’ll need an assortment of polishes and waxes. If you want to maintain your shoes’ original color, use a polish that best approximates it or go one shade lighter. To build a slightly more antiqued look over time, go with something a touch darker. For the most part, try to avoid neutrals, as they can sometimes build a white flakey residue.

I use cream polish on all my shoes, but for any that need an extra layer of protection (e.g. winter boots) or a higher gloss finish (e.g. oxfords), I add a finishing layer of wax polish.

Again, Saphir here is often said to be the best, and if you’re a shoe aficionado, these can feel a bit more fancy to use. You can get them from The Hanger Project (one of our advertisers), Exquisite Trimmings, A Suitable Wardrobe, and Gentlemen’s Footwear (the last of which is offering a free Saphir chamois cloth with any $50+ purchase of shoe care products this week). If Saphir is too expensive for you, however, I’ve gotten excellent results from Meltonian cream polishes and Lincoln waxes.

3. Brushes: Obviously, to apply the creams and waxes, you’ll need some brushes. There’s some really nice stuff here by Edoya and Abbeyhorn, but they’re expensive. Check them out if you take a special interest in this stuff, but otherwise, know that you only really need a basic dauber and large horsehair brush, both of which you can buy for $5-15 from The Hanger Project and Allen Edmonds

4. Suede products: If you have suede shoes, you’ll want to get a couple of special products. First is a waterproofing spray, which will not only help protect your shoes from water, but also any stains that may come their way. A suede eraser can also be good for spot cleaning, and a suede brush is useful for rebuilding a nap. Suede brushes can come in crepe or wire. I really like the wire ones from Edoya, but Allen Edmonds has a much more affordable version for $6.50

5. Shoe trees and horns: Along with the leather conditioner, I think these last two products might be the most important to buy. First are cedar shoe trees, which you should always put into your shoes when you’re not wearing them. This will help maintain your shoes’ shape and minimize creases. You can buy them for about $11 a pair from Sierra Trading Post once you apply their DealFlyer coupons (they’re out of stock at the moment, but they’ll likely bring them back). Nordstrom Rack also sometimes has them in-store for about $12 a pair, and Jos A Bank will regularly do 3-for-1 deals. For boots, you’ll need something bigger to fill up the space. I recommend these from Woodlore.

And lastly, you’ll want to use a shoehorn whenever you put on your shoes so that you don’t crush the heel counter. Abbeyhorn makes some really nice ones. For something more affordable, these basic metal ones will serve you fine, and if you’re ever in a pinch and find yourself without a shoehorn, try using your credit card or driver’s license. If you place it at the heel, just as you would with a shoehorn, your foot should slip in pretty easily.

Check back Wednesday for part two to this answer, where I’ll go over some stuff I think is nice to have, but not as essential as what’s mentioned above.

The Single Most Important Shoe Care Tip
I accepted some time ago that few people – including the people I know who are as interested in men’s style as I am – take the time to polish their shoes. Which is a shame because much of the value in good leather shoes is tied into how well you take care of them. The richness and depth of the leather, and the patina that builds over time, are all really brought out with routine polishing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that a well-taken pair of mid-quality, full-grain leather shoes will always look better than a neglected pair made by some world-class cordwainer.
If you’re not going to polish your shoes, however, then I encourage you to at least take one step: every once in a while, when your shoes start to look a little dry, apply a coat of leather conditioner. Routine application will do more for the health and appearance of your shoes than anything else. It will help bring out the suppleness and richness in the leather, give the color some depth, and most importantly, prevent your uppers from drying out and cracking.
Many shoe enthusiasts prefer to condition their shoes with Saphir Renovateur. Indeed, it’s pretty nice stuff, but also a bit expensive. You’d be perfectly fine, in my opinion, with many of the cheaper options on the market. I prefer Allen Edmonds’ Conditioner and Cleaner, though Lexol is also pretty good (they have it broken up into separate conditioner and cleaner bottles). I’ve used all three brands, and they all perform well. The real advantage of Saphir, from what I can tell, is that it smells a bit nicer and comes in a prettier container. Not a totally trivial thing, since it’s nice to make the activity as enjoyable as possible, but if you can’t afford it, don’t sweat it. The most important thing is that you put some conditioner on once every month or two, even if you can’t be bothered to polish.  
(Photo via The William Brown Project)

The Single Most Important Shoe Care Tip

I accepted some time ago that few people – including the people I know who are as interested in men’s style as I am – take the time to polish their shoes. Which is a shame because much of the value in good leather shoes is tied into how well you take care of them. The richness and depth of the leather, and the patina that builds over time, are all really brought out with routine polishing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that a well-taken pair of mid-quality, full-grain leather shoes will always look better than a neglected pair made by some world-class cordwainer.

If you’re not going to polish your shoes, however, then I encourage you to at least take one step: every once in a while, when your shoes start to look a little dry, apply a coat of leather conditioner. Routine application will do more for the health and appearance of your shoes than anything else. It will help bring out the suppleness and richness in the leather, give the color some depth, and most importantly, prevent your uppers from drying out and cracking.

Many shoe enthusiasts prefer to condition their shoes with Saphir Renovateur. Indeed, it’s pretty nice stuff, but also a bit expensive. You’d be perfectly fine, in my opinion, with many of the cheaper options on the market. I prefer Allen Edmonds’ Conditioner and Cleaner, though Lexol is also pretty good (they have it broken up into separate conditioner and cleaner bottles). I’ve used all three brands, and they all perform well. The real advantage of Saphir, from what I can tell, is that it smells a bit nicer and comes in a prettier container. Not a totally trivial thing, since it’s nice to make the activity as enjoyable as possible, but if you can’t afford it, don’t sweat it. The most important thing is that you put some conditioner on once every month or two, even if you can’t be bothered to polish.  

(Photo via The William Brown Project)

Saphir Shoe Polishing Kit for $45
Several years ago, my parents bought me a shoe-polishing kit for Christmas that sat unused in my closet until I finally bought a real pair of dress shoes that required polishing. Since then, it’s been a practice that I’ve found enjoyable and really ought to do more often. 
If you’re looking for a way to get a start on polishing your shoes and don’t have the basics yet, consider picking up this shoe polishing starter kit from Bespoke Post that features Saphir products. 
For $45 you get a tins of Saphir Renovateur, black and brown polish, pate de luxe neutral wax, two applicator brushes, a buffing brush, a shoe bag and some spare laces. 
The tins are the standard line of Saphir products (not the Gold Medal line, which is typically three times more expensive), but it’s more than enough to get you started. If you begin to run out, then you can always pick up Gold Medal Saphir from Hanger Project or A Suitable Wardrobe Store. And, of course, if you need a quick primer on how to shine your shoes, check out Put This On Episode 2 of Season 1.
-Kiyoshi
(Thanks to sashu for the head’s up on this deal. And thanks also to Will Boehlke for telling me the difference between the standard and Gold Medal line of Saphir.)

Saphir Shoe Polishing Kit for $45

Several years ago, my parents bought me a shoe-polishing kit for Christmas that sat unused in my closet until I finally bought a real pair of dress shoes that required polishing. Since then, it’s been a practice that I’ve found enjoyable and really ought to do more often. 

If you’re looking for a way to get a start on polishing your shoes and don’t have the basics yet, consider picking up this shoe polishing starter kit from Bespoke Post that features Saphir products. 

For $45 you get a tins of Saphir Renovateur, black and brown polish, pate de luxe neutral wax, two applicator brushes, a buffing brush, a shoe bag and some spare laces. 

The tins are the standard line of Saphir products (not the Gold Medal line, which is typically three times more expensive), but it’s more than enough to get you started. If you begin to run out, then you can always pick up Gold Medal Saphir from Hanger Project or A Suitable Wardrobe Store. And, of course, if you need a quick primer on how to shine your shoes, check out Put This On Episode 2 of Season 1.

-Kiyoshi

(Thanks to sashu for the head’s up on this deal. And thanks also to Will Boehlke for telling me the difference between the standard and Gold Medal line of Saphir.)

Shoe Project: Florsheim Imperial Longwings
When I travel, I prefer to take only one pair of dress shoes - it leaves me room for a pair of sneakers for casual wear and long walks and once in a while a pair of crepe-soled chukka boots. For the past few years, my travel shoe of choice has been a pair of vintage Florsheims. The shell cordovan leather is tough to beat in all kinds of weather, the double soles are indestructible, and they’re aesthetically at home with a suit, a sportcoat or even jeans.
The pair I wore was a little dried-out when I got them (at a thrift store some years ago), and has started to crack at the stress points. It’s a problem endemic to old shell cordovan - if it wasn’t cared for, it gets dry, and when it gets dry, it cracks. Cordovan is in many ways dramatically more durable than calf, but this is the one exception. If you buy old cordovan, condition before you wear, and watch out for crazing along the flex points.
There’s not really a way to repair cracking, so I’d had a saved eBay search for a pair in my (narrow) size. A couple of weeks ago, a pair of 12Bs showed up, and I pounced, scoring them for about $75.
You can see them above, after some Venetian Shoe Cream (the best conditioner for cordovan) and a spot of Saphir polish, plus a pair of vintage rayon shoelaces and a couple of Florsheim trees I found at an estate sale. Ready for action!

Shoe Project: Florsheim Imperial Longwings

When I travel, I prefer to take only one pair of dress shoes - it leaves me room for a pair of sneakers for casual wear and long walks and once in a while a pair of crepe-soled chukka boots. For the past few years, my travel shoe of choice has been a pair of vintage Florsheims. The shell cordovan leather is tough to beat in all kinds of weather, the double soles are indestructible, and they’re aesthetically at home with a suit, a sportcoat or even jeans.

The pair I wore was a little dried-out when I got them (at a thrift store some years ago), and has started to crack at the stress points. It’s a problem endemic to old shell cordovan - if it wasn’t cared for, it gets dry, and when it gets dry, it cracks. Cordovan is in many ways dramatically more durable than calf, but this is the one exception. If you buy old cordovan, condition before you wear, and watch out for crazing along the flex points.

There’s not really a way to repair cracking, so I’d had a saved eBay search for a pair in my (narrow) size. A couple of weeks ago, a pair of 12Bs showed up, and I pounced, scoring them for about $75.

You can see them above, after some Venetian Shoe Cream (the best conditioner for cordovan) and a spot of Saphir polish, plus a pair of vintage rayon shoelaces and a couple of Florsheim trees I found at an estate sale. Ready for action!

Bulling Shoes

Every once in a while, I like to bull my shoes. Bulling refers to a shoe polishing technique that results in a high, glossy shine. In the States, they call it spit shining.

To bull shoes, start by stripping down the leather with Lexol leather cleaner. This will give you a clean, new surface to work on. Next, go through the regular routines for any polishing technique - apply leather conditioner, buff them out, let them sit for thirty minutes, and then apply cream polish before buffing them out again.

Now, to get the high shine, you need to use a bit of wax and water. I find Saphir Pate de Luxe Wax to be the most effective. Wrap a soft cotton cloth around your fingers, swipe it in the wax, and then dab it in some water (or, if you’re an old-school American, lightly spit on it). Lightly rub this on your shoes using small, circular motions. Keep doing this until you feel the paste starting to get dry, and then add a minimal amount of water again. After a while, you’ll find that a mirror shine will start to appear, and the leather will feel very glassy and smooth. The key here is to only use a minimum amount of polish and water. You don’t want too much of either. Do this to the toe caps, heel cup, and back quarters, but not to any areas where the leather bends. If you do, you’ll get unsightly cracks in the wax. 

The whole process takes a long time. Three to five hours, depending on how well you work and how finely grained the leather is. This isn’t something you want to do if you just want smart looking shoes; you have to enjoy the process. I recommend putting on some music, sitting back, and just enjoying yourself. 

Above are three photos. I shot the top one at night, right after I finished bulling my left shoe and before I started on my right. You can see the effect it has when these two are placed side by side. The other two photos I took in the morning, after I was done polishing both of them. 

Q and Answer: How Should You Store Your Shoe Care Supplies?
Matt writes to ask: Can you suggest a kit or supply chest for shoe care products?
Ethan Desu once wrote something that I liked very much. He said that you should enjoy the process of polishing shoes, not just the results. Ethan learnt to polish shoes with a friend who liked to sit around, drink tea, and talk all afternoon. Polishing shoes was just a good excuse to do those things. 
I find a lot of truth in that. I personally polish shoes alone, but I find the process very calming and meditative. Though you don’t need a supply chest to enjoy the process, having something nice can make it feel more special. Let’s review some options, going from the highest-end to the most affordable. 
If money were no object, you can get a shoeshine kit from Ephtée (pictured above). Ephtée is a French company that specializes in handmade, customized shoe trunks and storage sets. Their supply chests cost anywhere from $600 to $1,500, depending on the box and what you get in it. A Suitable Wardrobe also has three incredibly handsome options that cost between $285 and $800. These are all very expensive, to be sure, but they’re the nicest I’ve seen anywhere and they come as complete kits. 
A bit more affordable, though still expensive, is Orvis’ Gentleman’s shoeshine kit. It’s made by Col. Littleton, a Tennessee manufacturer of upscale leather goods. I find the finishing details on the box to be very nice. Saphir also makes a great kit. Both of these cost about $200 and I think they would make for fine gifts this Christmas.  
There are many options below $200 as well. Famaco has some leather carriers in large and small sizes. The smaller one may be especially good if you travel often. There are also a number of traditional wooden boxes that can be had for under $50. Bexley has one in a natural color, and Shoe Shine Kit, Shoe Care Supplies, and Shoe Tree Marketplace have some with various finishes and engraving options. For even more affordable buys, do a search on eBay for shoe shine box, shoe shine kit, and shoe shine stand. You can also browse Etsy for the same terms. There are literally hundreds of options on those sites, many of which cost about $25 or so. 
Finally, though it’s nice to have a fancy box specially designed for shoe supplies, don’t forget you can use almost any container. Jesse recently won this auction for a vintage sport-and-field shell carrier. It was made by Abercrombie and Fitch back when they were a fantastic, upscale sporting goods store and not disturbingly bad, teen apparel merchandiser. The carrier was originally meant to hold shotgun shells, but I think it would be perfect for shoe care supplies. If you live near good flea markets, you can probably find something just as great for not too painful of a price. 

Q and Answer: How Should You Store Your Shoe Care Supplies?

Matt writes to ask: Can you suggest a kit or supply chest for shoe care products?

Ethan Desu once wrote something that I liked very much. He said that you should enjoy the process of polishing shoes, not just the results. Ethan learnt to polish shoes with a friend who liked to sit around, drink tea, and talk all afternoon. Polishing shoes was just a good excuse to do those things. 

I find a lot of truth in that. I personally polish shoes alone, but I find the process very calming and meditative. Though you don’t need a supply chest to enjoy the process, having something nice can make it feel more special. Let’s review some options, going from the highest-end to the most affordable. 

If money were no object, you can get a shoeshine kit from Ephtée (pictured above). Ephtée is a French company that specializes in handmade, customized shoe trunks and storage sets. Their supply chests cost anywhere from $600 to $1,500, depending on the box and what you get in it. A Suitable Wardrobe also has three incredibly handsome options that cost between $285 and $800. These are all very expensive, to be sure, but they’re the nicest I’ve seen anywhere and they come as complete kits. 

A bit more affordable, though still expensive, is Orvis’ Gentleman’s shoeshine kit. It’s made by Col. Littleton, a Tennessee manufacturer of upscale leather goods. I find the finishing details on the box to be very nice. Saphir also makes a great kit. Both of these cost about $200 and I think they would make for fine gifts this Christmas.  

There are many options below $200 as well. Famaco has some leather carriers in large and small sizes. The smaller one may be especially good if you travel often. There are also a number of traditional wooden boxes that can be had for under $50. Bexley has one in a natural color, and Shoe Shine Kit, Shoe Care Supplies, and Shoe Tree Marketplace have some with various finishes and engraving options. For even more affordable buys, do a search on eBay for shoe shine box, shoe shine kit, and shoe shine stand. You can also browse Etsy for the same terms. There are literally hundreds of options on those sites, many of which cost about $25 or so. 

Finally, though it’s nice to have a fancy box specially designed for shoe supplies, don’t forget you can use almost any container. Jesse recently won this auction for a vintage sport-and-field shell carrier. It was made by Abercrombie and Fitch back when they were a fantastic, upscale sporting goods store and not disturbingly bad, teen apparel merchandiser. The carrier was originally meant to hold shotgun shells, but I think it would be perfect for shoe care supplies. If you live near good flea markets, you can probably find something just as great for not too painful of a price.