“If you want to know if a man’s well dressed,” the saying goes, “look down.” That’s because while shoes take up a comparatively small amount of real estate on your outfit, they make a king-sized impression. Not only should good shoes be one of your wardrobe’s highest priorities (even more so than suits and sportcoats, some would argue), a gleaming shine shows elegance, professionalism and attention to detail.
Well-cared-for shoes can last for decades, as soles and heels can be replaced almost indefinitely. And quality uppers tend to get more handsome with age, kind of like you.
Here are some basic tips on preserving your favorite shoes, as well as for giving them a brilliant shine.
Shoe care really comes down to two simple but vital accessories: a shoe tree and a shoe horn. Shoe trees, which are typically made from cedar, keep a shoe’s shape, help prevent cracks in the leather, and draw moisture after wearing. And aromatic cedar wood fights foot odor.
Shoe horns are used to slide in your heel when putting on a pair of shoes and are indispensable in preserving the life of shoes, as a repeatedly scrunched heel cannot be repaired.
For a spectacular shine, we asked New York-based Raymond Chu, a fashionable young man about town (he’s been photographed by The Sartorialist) who’s written about shoe care for the elegant men’s magazine The Rake.
The first piece of equipment you’ll need is a horsehair brush. For a polishing agent, Chu recommends wax, which imparts a better shine, instead of creme, which can help soften leather but without the same luster. As for color choice for brown, burgundy and tan shoes, either match the wax as closely as possible, or go with neutral wax if you’re really concerned about preserving your shoe’s color. Hardcore sartorial guys like experimenting with different waxes on their brown shoes to create an “antiquing” effect.
After using the brush to remove any dust or dirt from your shoes, dip cotton balls (after much experimenting, Chu has settled on cotton balls as his preferred means of getting wax onto shoes) in water and then spread the wax, rubbing it deep into the leather in a circular motion.
While some guys swear by putting their waxed shoes in the freezer overnight, we’re confident in saying you can go ahead and use a shoe brush right away. But while brushing is important, high-speed buffing with a soft rag is what really brings out the shine. Add a few drops of water (or use a spray bottle, like the guys at the shoe-shine stand), and buff as hard as you can.
The final step is to use edge dressing around the heel and welt, and then step out into the world with added confidence. After all, Fred Astaire knew the spring in your step that a fresh shoe shine supplies.