A beautifully crafted pair of shoes is a lifelong investment, but keeping them kicking requires proper upkeep. Shoe care, like organizing the garage or mending buttons, can fall into that category of chores that are put off for a rainy day—a rainy day that often doesn’t arrive. What may seem like a tedious task can be done in less time than your average Netflix episode, and the rewards are plenty. Adopting a few, simple habits can mean the difference between a pair of shoes that is relegated to the back of the closet after one season and a pair that you return to year after year.
For a definitive guide to shoe care, we turned to the experts at Crockett & Jones. Founded in 1879, the brand has been turning out some of the world’s finest footwear for close to 150 years. James Fox, Crockett & Jones’ brand director and owner of some 35 pairs of shoes, is adamant about the importance of regular maintenance: “If you buy a nice car, you give it a wash every now and then. If you appreciate looking sharp, you visit the barber every few weeks. Shoes are no different.” We spoke with Fox about the a-to-z of shoe upkeep, below.
How often should one care for their shoes?
Once a month or even bi-monthly is perfectly acceptable. Of course, it depends on the level of use and how you use them. If your look is classic and sharp, and it is your taste to keep your toes bulled to a mirror shine, this is probably a once or twice a week activity.
What are the steps for caring for a pair of standard leather shoes?
- To start, brush your shoes to remove dirt and dust. You should have a brush specifically for this job; do not use the same brush you use for polishing. If brushing does not remove all the dirt, you can use a damp cloth (without any soap or cleaning solvent) to clean away tougher dirt. Make sure you let the shoes air dry before you continue the process.
- Once dry, spread a small amount of polish or shoe cream evenly over the shoes with a cotton cloth or brush—if you use a brush, try to keep specific ones for each color of polish. Leave the polish or shoe cream to soak for 2-3 minutes, usually the time it takes to cover the other shoe.
- After the polish has had the chance to settle into the leather, brush the shoes all over with a shoe brush—preferably a horsehair one, due to its softness. Brushing will remove most of the polish or cream and even out the color of the shoes again, bringing out the leather’s natural shine.
- Finally, buff the shoes with a cotton cloth for a final shine and to remove any brush marks. Don’t buff the shoes too hard, as this produces friction and that heat can mark lighter colored leathers (this isn’t an issue with black).
Steps 3 & 4 can be repeated, depending on how much shine is desired.
How long does the whole process take?
Once you get proficient, a general polish or moisturizing should take no more than 15-20 minutes.
What shoe care products do you recommend every man have on hand?
Cheap shoe care products are for cheap shoes. If you invest in high quality footwear, spend a little more and treat them to high quality polish, shoe cream and renovator. I recommend all of the products from our recent collaboration with Saphir, the finest producer of shoe care goods in the world. We only chose the products that are strictly necessary, to make it concise: wax polish, shoe cream, renovator cream, renovator suede spray.
What about suede shoes?
Suede is far easier to care for than most people think. If you really don’t have time to care for your shoes, buy suede. I have suede boots that I haven’t cleaned all year. Most people don’t know that by hovering suede shoes over a kettle or steaming pot of water, you rejuvenate the color and nap of the suede. Give them a quick brush with a suede brush or stiffer bristle brush—never metal bristles, that’s madness!—and they’ll look as good as new. It’s an easy, 5-minute job.
And other leathers?
There is such a huge variety of leathers that it would be impossible to answer that fully. In general, grained calfskin is more robust than a smooth and waxed calf. Cordovan is a totally different beast and requires the use of a bone to bring oils to the surface and a cotton cloth to clean away fat…best left to specialists!
What are some good habits for maintaining shoes on a daily basis, between cleanings or polishings?
- Use shoe trees, preferably ones without a lacquered finish.
- Dry wet shoes on a shoe rack, allowing air to flow around them. Leather soles will not dry out if wet shoes are simply kicked off and left on a cold floor. Never dry your shoes on a direct heat source—it will dry and crack the leather in no time and is very, very bad for the shoes’ longevity.
- If your shoes are dirty or dusty, use a soft brush to give them a quick brush before you store them. If they’re wet, wait until they’re dry and then brush.
- If you can, rotate your shoes. Buy more than one pair and try not to wear the same pair on consecutive days.
Any other pieces of advice?
There is a craze for stripping shoes with spirit or solvent-based products, but we really don’t like our customers doing this. These products dry out the leather, reducing the life of the shoes, and strip all of the finish that our experts apply. Why buy a pair of Crockett & Jones shoes and then try to refinish them?
Another gem of shoe care advice: buy a chamois leather! Mine is 8-years-old and has traveled the world with me. If you polish your shoes before you travel for business, don’t use the products provided by the hotel—just take a chamois. Being leather, the friction is almost zero, so you can buff much harder and bring back a great shine without having to apply any new wax or cream.