Nothing rounds off an ensemble quite like the right pair of shoes. Wearing finely crafted oxfords or wingtips with a tailored suit is the sartorial equivalent of placing the cherry on a cake – pure perfection. Neglect your shoes, however, and you throw a monkey wrench into the equation. Even the finest of bespoke leather dress shoes require care for them to be worth the investment.
The adage that you can’t polish a turd holds true here, but a polished turd still looks a good deal better than one that’s seen better days. So, every man worth his salt should possess the know-how to care for his leather dress shoes. Being fastidious in shoe care not only helps to maintain its appearance but prolongs its lifespan as well. While leather is technically dead animal skin, the infused emollients and oils will gradually dry out. Replenishing these oils is key to keeping the leather supple, in turn making your shoes more comfortable too. Failing to do so can cause the leather to crack and peel, leading to the premature demise of your shoes.
Eager to rectify the situation? Let John Chung of Mason & Smith show you the ropes.
With shoe trees inserted and laces removed, you’re ready to start. First, free your shoes of dust and debris by giving them a few doffs of a horsehair brush. If you’re dealing with more textured leather (e.g. hatchgrain or leather with heavy broguing), a stiffer pig bristle brush may be required. The next step is to apply the leather cleaning lotion with a soft cotton cloth using a circular motion. Once you’ve removed any stains, the leather will be ready to absorb the subsequent applications of creams and waxes.
Leather is a lot like human skin in that it requires periodic moisturisation to maintain its lustre. A dauber brush allows you to work the leather cream all over the leather upper, but you can apply it by hand too – this allows you to “feel” your way around. Picking a shoe cream that matches the colour and shade of your leather will allow you to remove scuffs and restore vibrancy, not unlike a fresh coat of identical paint. If the hues cannot be matched, use a neutral-coloured option. Remember to move the brush (or finger) in a circular motion.
It shouldn’t take long for the leather to absorb the cream. Once it’s ready, buff the upper of the shoe with a brush and a small amount of water. Doing so helps to remove residues while allowing the cream to penetrate deeper into the leather surface. You should notice a soft shine beginning to build on the leather uppers.
As with the cream, picking a wax polish of the same colour as your shoe’s leather will make it appear richer. In a pinch, however, a neutral polish will work as well. Apply a small amount of the wax with a dauber brush (or finger), making sure to keep an even coat. If you find that your wax polish has hardened in its tin, you can warm it up by briskly swirling your applicator of choice across the surface until it softens.
Brush your shoes thoroughly once more for good measure. The heat from the friction between leather and brush will add another level of shine to your shoes while removing excess wax. You can choose to focus on prominent areas like the toe caps and heel counters to create a distinctive finish, or keep things more even for a more conventional appearance.
Achieving a mirror shine is a separate process. You will require a wax polish, cotton chamois cloth, a bit of water and large amounts of elbow grease. After applying the foundation layer of wax, proceed with the second layer of wax and a drop of water on the area you wish to build a mirror shine on. These would typically be the toe caps and heel counters. Spread that drop of water with your chamois cloth by rubbing in a circular motion. Doing so will result in a soft glaze. Continue to alternate between water and waxes until you build up your desired level of shine.