A shoe care guide is the basic knowledge we all need to upkeep our shoes. Higher-end shoes are an investment and the more that you know how to look after that investment, the more valuable it will be in the long run.
Shoes aren’t free, right? Unfortunately not. Knowing that, why not maximize our investment and treat our shoes as nicely as they should be treated? If you have nice leather shoes you should be investing in the little things that can double their lifespan. They are not many and they are easy to use and store. A shoe must never simply be taken off and thrown in the closet unless you really want your shoes to deform, your leather to wrinkle, and an exponentially fast breakdown of them.
That being said, here is the list of things you need…
I have not necessarily put these in order of importance as they are all important in the long run. If there is only one thing that a person must purchase when getting a pair of good quality leather shoes, it should be shoe trees. Shoe trees alone will help add time to your shoes’ lifespan. For each one, I will explain why they are needed and how you use them to your advantage.
There are so many things that shoe trees do but in my opinion, the most important is the fact that they will help to maintain the shape of your shoes and prevent deep creasing from setting in. Deep creasing over time can crack your leather as the creasing creates weak points. Shoe trees help to push out these creases to maintain the leather’s tautness. Not only does that help to prevent them from cracking but also helps to keep an elegant shape for your footwear.
Certain shoe trees will also help to absorb moisture, although I personally believe this selling point is over-hyped and only a real issue if you sweat more than the average person. But, excess moisture left in your leather will not only stiffen your leather, increasing the chances of cracking previously mentioned but will also slowly deteriorate the integrity of your lining leather.
Some shoe trees, mainly cedar, will also act as an aid to odor prevention through the wood’s naturally strong aroma. It is advised to always have your shoe trees in your shoes when you are not wearing them. If you happen to get your shoes quite wet the most important way to dry them is to insert your trees and lay each shoe on its side. Let them sit for 1-2 hours and then rotate the shoes to lay on their opposite sides. That way there is not any uneven drying which will leave dried wet spots. Some ideologies say that using a crinkled newspaper in place of the shoe tree for a heavy soaking of the leather is actually preferable. I have no proof of this though.
There are several types of shapes and woods used for shoe trees. Depending on who you ask, many people recommend cedar shoe trees especially because they fight odor the best. Since I don’t have this problem I don’t really care what type of wood they are but care more about the shape of a shoe tree and how it corresponds to the filling-up of the shoe in question. There are really two main types of trees and those are ones that fit exactly the last of the shoe and those that are generic in shape and sizing. Obviously, the ones that fit the last exactly are better but they are harder to find, expensive, and often heavier. There are a lot of nicely shaped generic trees on the market now though. There is also a big trend toward hollowed shoe trees that are lighter in weight and good for travel.
No matter what you do, when you buy a nice pair of leather shoes, you should have a shoe tree to complement it. And each shoe should have its own shoe tree. It’s a rotation game. That doesn’t prolong the life of anything.
These will help shade the shoes from light that can harm your leather and will also keep your shoes free from dust. They will also lessen the chances of you scratching the leather of your shoes from other objects in your closet and especially when you travel. Most good shoes come with their own shoe care bags but if not, one of your trusted shoemakers might be able to sell you a set. Unless you store your shoes on custom racks, I would always suggest leaving your shoes in their shoe bag.
Leather Lotion / Shoe Conditioner
Leather is like your skin. It needs to be treated to maintain its soft looks, shape, and feel. Leather lotion/conditioner is the moisturizer that you need to use to maintain these qualities in your leather. Ideally, you should apply leather lotion to your shoes anytime that they might be looking a little scuffed and/or dry. However, if this is too much for you to do just make sure that you apply it before every polish and let it dry at least 10 minutes before applying the wax (20 minutes is better). Use an old t-shirt or soft rag to apply and do so evenly. This will buff the scuffs out and clean unseen dirt.
Not conditioning your shoes over time will cause them to crack as excess build-up of dust, rainwater and even arid climates are all things that are not great for leather over time without a counterbalance to their negative effects
Below, is a short video on how to apply leather lotion/shoe conditioner:
There are generally two types of shoe polish: cream/paste and wax. Both have their specific uses. Wax polish is more for shine and protection while cream polish is more for color rejuvenation. Wax polish creates a surface on top of your leather that helps to protect it from water i.e rain. Cream polish will help to give back the color that the leather loses over time from being subjected to sunlight, dust, rain etc. There are many brands of wax, especially new ones in the last 10 years. Some good ones that I have been using are Saphir (as shown in the photos) and Paul Brunngard. Other brands that have a good reputation are Boot Black and Pure Polish.
Old T-Shirt For Polishing
I use these to apply the leather lotion/conditioner and the wax. It is preferable to have one for each but is not absolutely necessary. I have found that a 100% cotton t-shirt works best. It allows me to feel the leather as I am applying the polish which helps when you are trying to build a mirror shine. I often simply cut up an old t-shirt or you can buy a new specific one for making these strips of cloth.
See the video below on how to make these.
Black Nylons (try-on footies for shining/cleaning)
These are the tricks to keeping your shoes clean and shiny. Working in retail, I always carried a footie (try-on size nylons) in my pocket to wipe down my shoes to clean the dust that would collect on them. You will be amazed at how fast they will clean and shine at the same time. They are also used at the end of the polishing process. Once you have applied the wax and think that your shoes are ready to go, let them sit for 10-15 minutes, and then wipe them down with black nylon to really bring out extra shine by taking away any dust particles and excess wax.
Horse Hair, Goat or Yak Hair Brush
These can be used for several different reasons. The most knowledgeable use is to bring out the shine after applying wax, however, if you know how to give a real shine you would not use it for that, just the wax, t-shirt, and nylon. Instead what I use these for is to clean the shoe and get in the cracks between the welt and the upper leather, to get that dust and dirt out. If you use these for shining make sure that you have one for black, one for dark brown, and one for lighter colors. They will collect the wax on the bristles and will stain your lighter shoes if you were to use the same brush that you used on your dark shoes. They come in different color bristles to keep it simple.
Goat Hair Brush by Paul Brunngard. Found at Arterton London
Edge Dressing / Dye
Keeping your soles tidy is not as much of a necessity for longevity but more so for appearance’s sake. There is nothing worse than a chewed-up-looking edging on your sole, especially in the toe region. But common wax and creams might not always do the trick permanently. Often for the case of black edging on your soles, you will need a black dye and/or edge dressing product that will help to keep that black color in tact.
Obviously, none of these things will make a difference if you treat your shoes poorly, so be aware of puddles and rocks. Don’t be clumsy and accidentally scrape the sides of your shoes or your toe part on the concrete. Be aware of your surroundings, especially if you spent a hefty amount on your shoes. And if you do mess them up take some ownership of it and buy yourself a new pair. Don’t try to blame the maker or return them saying that the leather just broke or magic cuts just appeared in the leather. Scuffs and scrapes do not magically appear and shoe care is 100% our own responsibility. Learn to enjoy it and you will enjoy your shoes for many years to come.
If you ever have a question on what to do, leave a comment below!