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.
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.