By Lindsey of Café Johnsonia.
A good pair of shoes that is properly cared for will last a lifetime. That may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not, I promise! Not only that, a pair of good, polished shoes is a key to feeling well-dressed when you walk out the door. It is one of those details that is easily overlooked, but makes all the difference.
Brushing away dirt and dust will help keep the leather looking good, and polishing them with good quality creams and waxes will help condition them and prolong their life by protecting against water damage, etc.
My husband is somewhat of an expert at polishing shoes — he spent years studying shoe shiners in Grand Central Station, as well as reading up about proper methods. I’ve taken my cues from him to keep my shoes looking great.
One thick cloth for applying cream polish
Big brush for buffing
Small brush for applying wax polish
One thick cloth for final buffing and shining
Mink oil or shoe grease (optional, for conditioning the sole)
Secret #1: Polishes fall into two main categories: cream and wax. They can be used interchangeably or together (cream first, followed by wax). To help you decide, know that cream polish cleans, conditions, and buffs to a moderate shine, whereas wax polish protects more and can be buffed to a high gloss if desired.
Let’s get started. First, brush any visible dirt and dust off of the surface of the shoes.
Secret #2: It is a good idea to have cloths and brushes dedicated to black and brown polishes, and not to interchange them.
Next, select a matching color of shoe polishing cream. Using a thick cloth, rub a small amount of the cream onto the shoe, paying close attention to areas where the color has been worn away.
Secret #3: Match the shade exactly. If in doubt, go with a shade lighter, NOT darker.
If the shoes have leather soles, use a little of the polish around the edge to darken them up.
Secret #4: For areas of the shoe where the color has completely worn off, dying may be necessary if shoe polish doesn’t work.
Using a large, soft brush, vigorously brush the surface of the shoe, back and forth until shiny.
For further protection against water, etc., another coat of polish can be used. This time apply a wax polish using a small brush.
Secret #5: Polishing shoes can be messy, and when you use wax polish, it may flake off a bit. Protect surfaces with sheets of newspaper so the mess doesn’t get on your clothes or the floor.
After the wax polish, once again use a brush to buff the surface of the shoe.
An optional step for shoes with leather soles is to protect them by rubbing mink oil or shoe grease (just a little bit) onto the surface.
Secret #6: Some leathers are only meant to be conditioned with mink oil or shoe grease NOT polished. (Like Doc Marten type shoes.)
Finally, for shoes with a shinier surface, the last step is to buff the shoes with a cloth. (Think: spit shine.)
Secret #7: Only polish shoes if it’s needed. Don’t use too much polish — only a thin layer. Old polish can build up over the years and crack.
Secret #8: It’s not really a polishing secret, but it is about proper shoe care — use shoe trees to store leather dress shoes. Shoes trees will help them keep their shape.
That’s it! All my secrets to perfectly polished shoes. Now walk forth with confidence! And tell me, have you ever had your shoes polished in a big city? It’s one of my favorite things to do when I’m in New York.
P.S. — You can find all the Secrets to Living Well posts here. Also. Suede shoes require a different kind of polish. Ask at any shoe repair store or reputable department store for more instructions.