The Wall Street Journal has a feel-good story on the resurgence of Northampton-based shoemaking, which is thriving, largely driven by sales in foreign markets—many of them the very countries to which Northampton exported jobs in the 1980s.
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.
Woohoo! I finally know how wooden shoes are made! THE SECRET IS POPLAR: EASY TO CARVE AND FREE OF KNOTS!
Reader A.M. points us to this really interesting little article on Reddit, cataloging the moccasin manufacturers of Maine, and the Maine-style moccasin manufacturers of the rest of the country. They range from large (Rancourt hand-sews a thousand pairs a week) to small (like Wassookeag, whose mocs are pictured above).
(The author of the piece is a member of a new reddit community for shoe nerds: /r/goodyearwelt.)
Dealing with Salt Stains
One of the big dangers for shoes in the winter is salt stains. When roads become icy and salt gets put down, the resulting slush can seep into shoes and leave salt at the high-water mark. If this salt isn’t taken out, it can leave a permanent line in the leather, much like how scum is left after a receding tide.
If you do get salt on your shoes, you should let them dry naturally and wipe them down the next day with a 50/50 mixture of water and white vinegar. When you do, you’ll notice your shoes considerably darken. This is OK, as the leather is just soaking up the solution. Just rub along where the salt has gathered and you’ll be able to take it out before it does any real damage. Afterwards, let them dry naturally again before putting on some leather conditioner and giving them a layer of wax polish. This should give them a minimal amount of protection next time you go out.
Truthfully, as simple as this sounds, this process can become a bit of a chore if you live in an area with long winters. So the other solution is to wear shoes you don’t have to worrying about staining. Work boots are particularly good in this category, such as those made by Red Wing (the Beckman, Iron Ranger, 875, and 877 models are particularly nice), Wolverine (1000 Mile is the standard), and Chippewa (J. Crew has some models on sale right now for 30% off). I also recently picked up some brown “trench boots” from Oak Street Bootmakers. Their model is a bit more expensive, but I find the shape less clunky and the shoes easier to break-in.
Pictured above is the same trench boot model, but in Oak Street’s “natural Chromexcel” leather, which they source from Horween. These were worn through Chicago’s last winter and purposefully put through a bunch of snow and puddles in heavily salted areas. Horween’s Chromexcel is a particularly “oily” material, so it doesn’t get salt stains easily, but even here you can see that what “damage” has been done only makes the boots look better.
Of course, you can only wear work boots with certain clothes, so if you need to wear a suit everyday for work, you might just have to put a little more time into your shoe care regime. But, if you don’t, wear shoes you don’t have to worry about ruining. Some shoes look better a bit beat up.
“…even though many men won’t admit it, New Shoe Day is pretty thrilling. I buy new sneakers once a year, if that, and that first day in the new kicks is awesome. IT’S LIKE I’M WALKING ON THE MOON! You spend that day laboring under the delusion that everyone has quietly noticed and admired your new footwear. Yes, that’s right. They’re New Balances. Only cost me $60 at the DSW. SAVVY.”— Drew Magary in Deadspin on enjoying a new pair of shoes.
There was talk that Mens’ Wearhouse or Jos. A. Bank might make a play for Allen-Edmonds when the company was put on the market not long ago, but it looks like that wasn’t to be. Instead, the shoe brand will be going from private equity company to private equity company, and leadership will remain intact. And a collective exhale was heard coming from the direction of Ask Andy and Reddit.
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.
Industry analysts were shocked by recent market research reports that show that men (British men, anyway) are spending more on shoes than women, busting a prevalent stereotype. Less surprised by the news was… anyone who knows me.-Pete
My friend Oliver Wang, proprietor of the great blog Soul Sides, just sent me this picture, with the caption, “The moment when you finally ‘get’ why square-toed shoes are a bad look.”