How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wear

Like anyone who feels guilty about how much they’ve spent on their shoes, I’m fairly good at taking care of my footwear. I apply cream and wax polishes every few weeks, and leather conditioner even more frequently. Before any pair goes out for wearing, it gets brushed down to remove any dust or dirt.

I’ve learned, however, that some shoes look better the less you take care of them. This includes work boots, engineer boots, camp mocs, boat shoes, and almost anything that’s considered extremely casual. These still get treated to leather conditioner, just not that often (maybe once every six months to a year). Things such as cream and wax polishes, however, never get used, and shoe trees never get inserted. If you’ve ever wondered whether these things really make a difference, just try going without them for a year. You’ll see that creases develop more quickly and set on deeper when they do. Scuffs and scars will also show up more without the “cover-up” of polish. 

For certain shoes, however you want this kind of “damage” to appear. It gives them character and makes them more lived-in. This gets back to a very fundamental idea that nothing looks good when it’s too new or too stiff. That doesn’t just go for certain styles of footwear – it goes for things such as tweed jackets, briefcases, and almost all kinds of outerwear. It’s perhaps for this reason why there are stories about how Fred Astaire used to throw his new bespoke suits up against the wall before wearing them, and how Charlie Davidson of The Andover Shop won’t even wear a new jacket until it’s been sitting on a hanger for a year. 

Of course, with dressier shoes, careful polishing, edge dressing, and even the occasional bulling can be great. Those will give your shoes a certain kind of luster that’s in keeping with the style. With everything else, however, all you need really is the occasional treatment of leather conditioner. As you can see in the last photo, as long as you buy shoes of good quality - and keep the leather supple so it doesn’t crack - they can be repaired to good effect. And why would you want to recraft an old pair of boat shoes when new ones can be bought for not much more money? Because the old ones look a lot better.   

(Photos via Andrew Chen of 3sixteen, Mister Freedom, Oak Street Bootmakers, and Rancourt)

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)

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.)

Boning Up on Shells
My go to shoes for rainy days are these shell cordovan boots by Brooks Brothers. Shell cordovan is wonderful at keeping your feet dry. The leather is thick and naturally water resistant, so it won’t soak through even in the most torrential of downpours. When you couple them with studded Dainite soles, they can make for the perfect pair of rain shoes. 
To wear shell cordovan in the rain, you only need to remember to give it a wax polishing every month or two. Unwaxed shell will still keep your feet dry, but the harsher elements can damage the leather. Which is what I found happened to mine after I wore them last week unprotected. I went out for three hours in the rain, and when I came home, I noticed small welts all over the vamps and sides. This happens every once in a while to a pair of calf chukkas I wear in the snow, and I usually fix them by polishing over the welts with the curved side of a metal spoon.
This time, however, I thought I’d try using this deer bone I bought from A Suitable Wardrobe. I brushed off the dirt with a horsehair brush, wiped the shoes down with Allen Edmonds leather conditioner, and then rubbed the bone over the leather in circular motions. To my pleasant surprise, with a bit of work, the welts came down and a few minor scuffs were even taken out. According to this video, the bone is also infused with essential oils that help restore the leather. To be honest, mine seems perfectly dry, and it were oily, I’m not sure I would keep it around the house. Nonetheless, while I’m not sure any oils were imparted, it did its job of smoothing the uppers. 
Now, I usually say shoe care supplies are things every man should own, but a deer bone isn’t one of those essentials. If you’re just trying to take care of welts or minor scuffs, you can probably achieve the same results using a spoon, horsehair brush, some leather conditioner, and a bit of wax polish. If you enjoy polishing, however, a deer bone is nice in that it allows you to do things the old fashioned way. Sometimes, these things are just as much about the process as they are about the results. 

Boning Up on Shells

My go to shoes for rainy days are these shell cordovan boots by Brooks Brothers. Shell cordovan is wonderful at keeping your feet dry. The leather is thick and naturally water resistant, so it won’t soak through even in the most torrential of downpours. When you couple them with studded Dainite soles, they can make for the perfect pair of rain shoes. 

To wear shell cordovan in the rain, you only need to remember to give it a wax polishing every month or two. Unwaxed shell will still keep your feet dry, but the harsher elements can damage the leather. Which is what I found happened to mine after I wore them last week unprotected. I went out for three hours in the rain, and when I came home, I noticed small welts all over the vamps and sides. This happens every once in a while to a pair of calf chukkas I wear in the snow, and I usually fix them by polishing over the welts with the curved side of a metal spoon.

This time, however, I thought I’d try using this deer bone I bought from A Suitable Wardrobe. I brushed off the dirt with a horsehair brush, wiped the shoes down with Allen Edmonds leather conditioner, and then rubbed the bone over the leather in circular motions. To my pleasant surprise, with a bit of work, the welts came down and a few minor scuffs were even taken out. According to this video, the bone is also infused with essential oils that help restore the leather. To be honest, mine seems perfectly dry, and it were oily, I’m not sure I would keep it around the house. Nonetheless, while I’m not sure any oils were imparted, it did its job of smoothing the uppers. 

Now, I usually say shoe care supplies are things every man should own, but a deer bone isn’t one of those essentials. If you’re just trying to take care of welts or minor scuffs, you can probably achieve the same results using a spoon, horsehair brush, some leather conditioner, and a bit of wax polish. If you enjoy polishing, however, a deer bone is nice in that it allows you to do things the old fashioned way. Sometimes, these things are just as much about the process as they are about the results. 

Can you wear suede shoes in the rain? Yes. Namor treated his suede loafers with Red Wing’s silicone spray, and shows us how waterproof they are now. I personally use Allen Edmonds’ Spray Waterproofer, but the effect is the same. Note that Allen Edmonds’ isn’t silicone based. There’s some controversy over whether silicone products can damage your leathers, but I’m not sure there’s any conclusive evidence either way. 

Addendum: I don’t recommend using these waterproofers on any smooth calf, but I’ve done it to all my suede shoes without any harm. 

Go Easy on the Wax
I recently bought a new pair of Crockett and Jones Belgraves from a seller I found online. I was able to get them at a nice discount, but when they arrived, they had thin white creases in certain parts of the leather. I figured the leather must have been just dry, so I treated it with some conditioner. Even after a few treatments, however, they didn’t go away. In fact, when I worn them around a bit, awful white lines would appear wherever the leather would bend. 
Then it occurred to me - the seller must have caked on a bunch of neutral shoe polish wax. He didn’t know how to properly shine shoes. The result is something like the picture you see above, even though the shoes were new. 
The best way to get rid of heavy wax build-up is to use Lexol leather cleaner. “Mixed” solutions such as Allen Edmonds conditioner and cleaner won’t be enough (though they’re still good for regular maintenance). If the build-up is especially bad, you might even have to run your fingernail over the stitches and around the pinking (the zig zag detailing). That’s what I found myself doing last night for about an hour.
The problem with having so much wax build-up is that it not only creates ugly creases (particularly if you use a neutral wax), but it also prevents the leather from absorbing any conditioner, which means it will eventually dry out. To avoid this, go easy on the wax, and every once in a while, use some Lexol leather cleaner to wipe away any build-up. Remember that a little wax goes a long, long way.
Or, if you prefer, just stick to cream polish. You won’t get as much protection from the elements, or perhaps even as high of a shine, but at least your shoes will never look like the ones above. 

Go Easy on the Wax

I recently bought a new pair of Crockett and Jones Belgraves from a seller I found online. I was able to get them at a nice discount, but when they arrived, they had thin white creases in certain parts of the leather. I figured the leather must have been just dry, so I treated it with some conditioner. Even after a few treatments, however, they didn’t go away. In fact, when I worn them around a bit, awful white lines would appear wherever the leather would bend. 

Then it occurred to me - the seller must have caked on a bunch of neutral shoe polish wax. He didn’t know how to properly shine shoes. The result is something like the picture you see above, even though the shoes were new. 

The best way to get rid of heavy wax build-up is to use Lexol leather cleaner. “Mixed” solutions such as Allen Edmonds conditioner and cleaner won’t be enough (though they’re still good for regular maintenance). If the build-up is especially bad, you might even have to run your fingernail over the stitches and around the pinking (the zig zag detailing). That’s what I found myself doing last night for about an hour.

The problem with having so much wax build-up is that it not only creates ugly creases (particularly if you use a neutral wax), but it also prevents the leather from absorbing any conditioner, which means it will eventually dry out. To avoid this, go easy on the wax, and every once in a while, use some Lexol leather cleaner to wipe away any build-up. Remember that a little wax goes a long, long way.

Or, if you prefer, just stick to cream polish. You won’t get as much protection from the elements, or perhaps even as high of a shine, but at least your shoes will never look like the ones above. 

“Van Gogh painted a beautiful picture of an old, shapeless pair of boots; and I don’t think any more models are required. He made his boots look wistful and neglected; and so appear to me all shoes and boots without trees. In a well-kept shoe cupboard you should not be able to see the wood for the trees.” — Hardy Amies, ABC of Men’s Fashion (1964)
Q and Answer: Suede and Water
Avi writes:  I recently picked up a pair of Clarks Dessert Boots, of the Oakwood  Suede variety. Continuing your recent shoe care theme, how do I go  about keeping suede shoes clean and unmarked? Can I waterproof shoes of  this type? I’ve noticed a few minor watermarks already—am I stuck with  these discolorations?
Suede is extremely difficult to keep clean and unmarked, particularly if it’s a lighter color.  Even water can leave a spot and ruin the nap of the leather. 
There are a couple of paths you can follow.
When your shoes are new, you can spray them with a silicone-based water sealant.  These are available in the shoe section of your local drugstore, or from your shoe repair shop.  A few coats (let them dry thoroughly in between) won’t turn them into galoshes, but it will help if you get caught out there. 
You can also buy a suede kit.  Most are two tools and a stain remover.  The tools are essentially a gum eraser, for rubbing the soil off, and a brush, for bringing up the nap.  If you get a spot, this can really help.
The third course of action is probably the best, though.  Just accept that they’ll get dinged up.  It’s pretty much the nature of the beast.

Q and Answer: Suede and Water

Avi writes:  I recently picked up a pair of Clarks Dessert Boots, of the Oakwood Suede variety. Continuing your recent shoe care theme, how do I go about keeping suede shoes clean and unmarked? Can I waterproof shoes of this type? I’ve noticed a few minor watermarks already—am I stuck with these discolorations?

Suede is extremely difficult to keep clean and unmarked, particularly if it’s a lighter color.  Even water can leave a spot and ruin the nap of the leather. 

There are a couple of paths you can follow.

When your shoes are new, you can spray them with a silicone-based water sealant.  These are available in the shoe section of your local drugstore, or from your shoe repair shop.  A few coats (let them dry thoroughly in between) won’t turn them into galoshes, but it will help if you get caught out there. 

You can also buy a suede kit.  Most are two tools and a stain remover.  The tools are essentially a gum eraser, for rubbing the soil off, and a brush, for bringing up the nap.  If you get a spot, this can really help.

The third course of action is probably the best, though.  Just accept that they’ll get dinged up.  It’s pretty much the nature of the beast.

I went thrifting in Palm Springs the other day.  Didn’t buy much, but I did pick up a couple new (old) pairs of shoe trees.

Q and Answer: Episode 2 Followups
Amar writes: Where can I get some of the shoe care items (like polish and conditioner) that you show in the video?  Also, where can I get the different types of brushes you used? I have a  cloth for buffing/polishing and I’m wary of taking a brush to the fine  leather instead.  Finally, I have one pair of shoe trees but 4 pairs of shoes on rotation.  Does this mean I should get an additional 3 pairs of shoe trees, one  for each shoe? Or is one fine to use after wearing a pair?
That’s a lot of questions, Amar.  Luckily, they’re pretty easy to answer.
Any shoe repair shop will have a wide range of colors and types of shoe polish, leather cleaner and conditioner.  If for some reason you live in a place with no shoe repair shops (underwater city?), there’s usually a pretty fully stocked shoe section in any large grocery store or pharmacy.  You can also order online from any number of shops, though shipping charges can be as much as the cost of the item being shipped.  The usual brands are Kiwi and Meltonian, and while some have fancier preferences, I don’t see much difference.  Brushes can be found in the same places - usually a grocery store will have one dauber and one larger brush, while a shoe repair store may have a few more choices.  They certainly won’t harm your leather.
Good shoes should be stored with shoe trees in them at all times.  You can buy shoe trees at most decent shoe stores or department stores, or at closet shops like The Container Store or Bed, Bath & Beyond.  At full retail, they usually run about $15 or $20 a pair.  They sometimes pop up for a discounted price at Costco, as well.  If you live near a Nordstrom Rack, they always sell discounted cedar shoe trees that are of very good quality for about $10 a pair.  I buy most of my trees at thrift stores and estate sales - usually they don’t cost more than about $4 a pair that way. 

Q and Answer: Episode 2 Followups

Amar writes: Where can I get some of the shoe care items (like polish and conditioner) that you show in the video?  Also, where can I get the different types of brushes you used? I have a cloth for buffing/polishing and I’m wary of taking a brush to the fine leather instead.  Finally, I have one pair of shoe trees but 4 pairs of shoes on rotation. Does this mean I should get an additional 3 pairs of shoe trees, one for each shoe? Or is one fine to use after wearing a pair?

That’s a lot of questions, Amar.  Luckily, they’re pretty easy to answer.

Any shoe repair shop will have a wide range of colors and types of shoe polish, leather cleaner and conditioner.  If for some reason you live in a place with no shoe repair shops (underwater city?), there’s usually a pretty fully stocked shoe section in any large grocery store or pharmacy.  You can also order online from any number of shops, though shipping charges can be as much as the cost of the item being shipped.  The usual brands are Kiwi and Meltonian, and while some have fancier preferences, I don’t see much difference.  Brushes can be found in the same places - usually a grocery store will have one dauber and one larger brush, while a shoe repair store may have a few more choices.  They certainly won’t harm your leather.

Good shoes should be stored with shoe trees in them at all times.  You can buy shoe trees at most decent shoe stores or department stores, or at closet shops like The Container Store or Bed, Bath & Beyond.  At full retail, they usually run about $15 or $20 a pair.  They sometimes pop up for a discounted price at Costco, as well.  If you live near a Nordstrom Rack, they always sell discounted cedar shoe trees that are of very good quality for about $10 a pair.  I buy most of my trees at thrift stores and estate sales - usually they don’t cost more than about $4 a pair that way.