Shoe Shine Shenanigans

I realise that (for many of you regular readers) my obsession with shoe polishing and insistence on reminding all ears within a reasonable distance to fastidiously care for their shoes, might be a little overbearing. I will freely admit, unable to deny the fact, that my anger at seeing an otherwise very handsomely dressed gentleman letting down their entire outfit with dirty or unpolished shoes, is really rather intense.

I do not believe that my persistence is without reason, and I hope that any of you whom I manage to convert to the act of polishing (or improving your technique) will have reason to be glad of an article such as this; there is much to gain from adequate footwear care. That is the ideal at least, there certainly isn’t any guarantee; after reading you might find my penchant for polishing a little too much to bear. (Any sexual Innuendo is completely unintentional, it’s just you dirty buggers perceiving it in that way.)

However, there is little point in me telling you the how, without telling you the why. As I have mentioned before, the benefits greatly out way the time invested; so just how important is it to care for your shoes? What benefits do we actually receive?

NB – I understand that this slavish devotion to all things shoe care might not be applicable to all, especially in the case of shoes which are designed to have a pre-worn or vintage look (offerings from AllSaints or actual vintage shoes, for example) but there are still steps that you can take to ensure they are properly cared for and last for longer than you might expect.

The Benefits
  • Your image – There is little point in beating about the proverbial bush here; dirty shoes ruin outfits, FACT. We all know that men and women will look at your face first, feet second, so what kind of first impression will those unpolished shoes give to the lovely lady that smiled at you on the underground this morning? Shoes say an awful lot about the man wearing them; dirty paw protectors will set about all sorts of unwanted precedents, and woe betide any man that dares wear his FORMAL and SMART suit with inadequately polished shoes. In Colman’s Britain this would be punishable by 12 months hard labour.
  • Longevity – Properly cared for, high quality shoes could last for decades, and even the high street examples available from places such as Burton or Topman will last noticeably longer when provided with a little love and care. By maintaining your shoes for long periods of time they also take on their own character, they crease to the motion of your foot and become uniquely your shoes. This process enables them to add their own individuality to an outfit simply by ageing well – like George Clooney… and women love George Clooney.
  • Comfort – We all like a bit of comfort in our lives (it’s the reason we allow joggers to grace our fine forms, although never in public of course) and by polishing and conditioning the leather of our shoes it becomes softer, more supple and more water resistant; leaving your feet warmer, dryer and much, much happier.
Tools of the Trade

Shoe care is certainly not brain surgery. You don’t need a great deal of equipment to properly look after your footwear and it certainly shouldn’t cost you the earth, but as with many things in fashion; invest and you shall receive. By spending that little bit more on brushes, polishes and conditioner you will find yourself in possession of a set of tools that will last and give you better results. So get yourself a set of the following:


You will need one set (2 brushes) for each colour of shoe you have to polish; one for applying; one for buffing. You can of course use a cloth or a mixture of the two – it is entirely up to you. Personally I have found brushes perform the task admirably and at the expense of slightly less effort. Should you choose to use a cloth, again stick with two and make sure they are good quality and soft.

  • Horsehair Shoe Brush
  • Horsehair Shoe Brush (953740)
  • 2 x Deluxe Woodlore Cura Shoe Shine Brushes
Shoe Trees or Newspaper
  • John Lobb Wood Shoe Trees
  • Mens Aromatic Cedar wood shoe trees
  • Albany Lightweight Natural Shoe Tree (0630)
Leather Conditioner (Optional)
  • Punch Leather Protector, 0.1L
  • JONES SHOE CREAM A White/Neutral
  • Leather Cream (954202)
Good Quality Polish
  • Shoe Cream, Medium Brown, 50ml
  • Kiwi Shoe Polish - Black

Finally, a simple cloth for wiping away dirt.

The Preparation

While it might sound odd to prepare for shoe polishing, rest assured it will make a world of difference.

Step 1.

Step one is to support your shoes with good quality shoe trees – or for those on a budget, scrunched up newspaper will do the job admirably. This will help the leather deal with the pressure you apply when polishing or buffing and it will also straighten out any creases your shoes may have developed, allowing you achieve a better covering of polish.

Step 2.

Step two (after fully supporting the shoe) is to take a damp cloth and wipe down the leather to get rid of any dirt or old polish that might otherwise become ingrained into the material. This will also help to avoid scratches.

Step 3.

Depending on your preference, you should now apply the leather conditioner, ideally with a cloth, waiting until it is fully dried before continuing on with polishing process. This full process of clean and protect is suggested every two weeks, or whenever you deem your shoes sufficiently dirty. There is of course no detriment to cleaning and polishing your shoes as regularly as you like – however, conditioning does not need to be done every time.

It is also worth noting that leather conditioning is something that those with distressed or worn look shoes can do to help prolong the life of their footwear. Being a cream that dries clear, it won’t alter the appearance of the shoe and will make a big difference to how long they last.

The Polish
Step 1.

Once dry, take your brush or cloth and dab into the polish. Proceed to apply this in a circular motion (around the size of a fifty pence piece); first to the front, then the back and then any other damaged parts of the leather. These areas get the most wear so it’s a good idea to focus more on them.

You should then pay particular attention to the welt. By getting right into the seam you preserve the stitching and prevent splitting, which means you will most likely avoid any premature visits to the cobbler. For this stage a brush is a far more effective tool, particularly natural fibred examples as they are much better at getting right into the gaps.

Step 2.

Ensure that the entire shoe is completely and evenly covered with a thin layer (or layers) of polish. There really isn’t any need to slap on lots and lots of polish, as it is in fact detrimental to the final buffing process.

Make sure you use only a light pressure so that you don’t put any unnecessary strain on the leather. Also, remove the laces to give the shoe a proper all over clean.

Step 3.

Leave to dry overnight if possible, as this will allow the polish to properly work its way into the leather.

The Shine
Step 1.

After allowing the polish to dry, use your second brush or a clean cloth to buff and remove any excess polish. Again, use circular motions (around the size of a fifty pence piece) and continue to buff until you have achieved your desired level of shine. To achieve the highest level of shine, use the same method as above but use a damp cloth dipped in a tiny amount of polish.

Step 2.

It might seem silly to say this but it is always worth making sure you have as close a match of polish to your shoes as possible – you aren’t going to be too pleased if your flashy new expensive brogues all of a sudden become a few shades darker. If all goes well, leave you shoes to dry thoroughly before use and then proceed to wear with pride and a spiritual cheesy thumbs up from me.

Additional Shoe Care Tips
  • For those of you whom haven’t invested in or don’t already use shoe trees, there is much to be said for putting them into your shoes after every use – especially if they have been worn in the rain. Wooden shoe trees will soak up any moisture in the shoe, making them last longer and wear more comfortably. If your budget doesn’t stretch to natural wooden shoe trees, newspaper is an adequate substitute.
  • When applying polish remember this simple formula: Thin coats + Many coats = The highest of high shines.
  • Should your polishing preference refer to brushes, make sure you look out for natural fibres such as horse hair. These offer the best shine, least chance of scratching and can get into all the creases, gaps and the welt. They are also easily cleaned with a little washing up liquid.
  • We have mention them many times before, but they’re worth mentioning again; if you want to go sockless (slightly less relevant at this time of year admittedly) invest in some secret socks. No one needs stinky shoes on their feet, and that lovely lady on the underground certainly won’t be smiling at you if your feet smell like Stilton.
  • You might also be interested to know that the sartorially correct gentleman should in fact own at least 7 pairs of shoes; one for each day of the working week and two casual pairs for the weekend. How many do you have?
Product Picks
  • Paul Smith Shoe care kit
  • Ted Baker Shoe Shine Kit, Black
  • rocha john rocha Brown leather shoe shine kit
  • Loake fringe tassle loafer
  • G.H. Bass Larkin Tassle Loafers
  • G.H. Bass Larson Beefroll Leather Loafers
  • GRENSON Archie Tan Shoes
  • Ted Baker Guri 3 Oxford Brogue Shoes
  • Lanvin Oxford Leather Brogues
  • Loake Black High Polish 290 Chelsea Boots
  • Polo Ralph Lauren Chocolate Leather Hiking Boots
  • Grenson Sharp Leather Brogue Boots

As I hope you can all see, the benefits of polishing your shoes are most definitely worth the small amount of time and effort it takes to properly care for them. There is no excuse for dirty or ill managed shoes and it really does make a difference, not only to the outfit but also the man. Shiny shoes are the mark of a man who cares about himself and in our increasingly superficial world, being one step ahead can make all the difference.

As usual I would like to hear some of your opinions:

  • Do you have any dirty shoe horror stories?
  • Have you ever seen an amazing outfit let down by dirty shoes?
  • Are you guilty of being a non polisher?
  • Have you got any shoe shine tips?

Let me know in the comments below.