The important steps to proper dress shoe care
Picking shoes is important, but once you've done that, what's next?
This article addresses what a man should do to his new dress shoes before wearing them out and about, and how to subsequently condition them.
Men's Dress Shoes: A Solid Foundation
Shoes are the foundation of menswear. When someone sweeps you with their eyes, it starts at the face, goes down to the shoes, then back to the face.
A man's dress shoes are the rock upon which the frame (outfit) is built, leading to the picture, the face.
Well-cared for shoes can reasonably last ten, twenty, or even forty years. Assuming you've picked the proper dress shoe and are going to wear it within respectable society's guidelines, the man's dress shoes must be cared for properly.
Whether bal or blucher, slip on or monkstrap, the first thing you do to your dress shoes is as important as wearing them correctly (not meaning on the correct feet; rather, matching shoes to outfit to occasion correctly).
What follows is a guide to a simple and effective method of treating men's dress shoes before their debut on your feet.
Shoe Treatment Supplies
For the initial treatment, some simple and easy-to-find shoe care supplies are necessary to show your shoes that you love them. They are:
- Shoe leather conditioner/cleaner
- Shoe polish
- Soft cotton cloths
- Shoe brush for buffing
In addition, you might like a small shoe brush for applying polish ($3-4). Get a different brush for each different color polish you purchase so there won't be color mixing.
Shoe leather cleaner/conditioner. This can be found at shoe stores and large retailers, but don't buy the cheapest one out there. The shoe leather cleaner/conditioner can be used on any color shoe. The price likely won't exceed $10.
Shoe polish. If the shoes are black, get black. If brown or cordovan, it might be better to go with a neutral polish because over time the shoes will take on the color of the shoe polish used to shine them.
If you have more than one pair of brown shoes in slightly different colors, it would be better to use the neutral polish to maintain each pair's individuality. Tins of shoe polish can run about $3 per can, but again, don't buy the cheapest, buy a decent shoe polish.
Soft cotton cloths. No need to spend money here – old tshirts or flannel shirts will work perfectly.
Shoe brush for buffing. This is a long (about 7″) horsehair brush used to when shining dress shoes to remove excess shoe polish and buff the shoe to a shine. Just like the small brush, get one for each color polish you're using. $7-10.
There are some great shoe shining kits out there online as well.
Using The Shoe Leather Cleaner/Conditioner
Once treatment supplies are lined up, it's time to get to work. Gather shoes and supplies to a flat surface. It's best to cover the surface with newspaper, or even better, an old towel that you can designate for your shoe treatment purposes, so you're not wasting newspaper or dirtying multiple towels beyond repair.
Check the directions on the shoe leather cleaner/conditioner bottle for specific instructions, i.e., shaking the bottle.
Use one of your cloths to remove dust from the new dress shoe. Apply a small amount of shoe cleaner/conditioner to a clean cloth and rub it into the shoe leather. Work the whole shoe upper, then set the first shoe aside, and work the second. Leave the shoes alone for ten minutes. They will develop a slight haze as the leather cleaner/conditioner dries. After ten minutes, use another cloth to buff away the haze.
The shoe leather cleaner/conditioner does just what the name says: it cleans and conditions. Without this product, your dress shoes will deteriorate quicker. The leather will get hard and crack and warp, and make the shoe generally unattractive and uncomfortable. Do not skip this step!
Shoe Shining Pointers
The following is a beginner's guide by the author about treating men's dress shoes. After that, we'll look at a few tips to turn your good shine into a great one.
Use a little polish. If a little is good, is more better? Not when it comes to shoe polish. You just need to cover the surface of the shoe, not cake it. Caked-on shoe polish is frustrating to remove and won't help your shine.
Use a little water. Once you've removed the excess polish and buffed with the brush, get a spray bottle with water and another clean cloth. Remember all those movie scenes with shine boys rubbing that cloth quickly across the toe of the shoe? There's a reason: the heat generated by the friction causes the best shine the shoe will make. Spray on a little water first, and your shoes will look their best.
Use a little elbow grease. After the first shine, go back and shine the toe and heel again. These are the most visible parts of the man's dress shoe, so a second shine will tell onlookers that you really care about your shoes. Anything worth having, like good looking shoes or a custom suit is worth the work, isn't it?
Long-term Shoe Care For Men's Dress Shoes
Subsequent shoe treatment depends on how often a man wears dress shoes. If it's every day, he should shine his shoes once per week (he also shouldn't wear the same shoes more than one day at a time to extend their life).
If it's less often, once or twice a month will suffice. He should use the leather cleaner/conditioner at least once a month, no matter how often he wears the shoes; some even say to use it weekly.
The cleaner/conditioner will keep layers of old polish from gunking up what would be an otherwise pretty shine while maintaining the leather's pliability and softness.
Also, get a pair of cedar shoe trees for each pair of shoes. They're not the cheapest shoe care ingredient at around $20 a pair, but they will seriously extend the life of your dress shoes. Shoe trees maintain the shape of the shoe, but more importantly, they balance out the drying of the shoe after wear.
Because you sweat through your feet, the moisture is absorbed into the shoe, and without your foot in it, the shoe dries.
Without a shoe tree, the shoe will dry too quickly and, because of the fast loss of moisture, will de-shape and rot the shoe from the inside out. Shoe trees absorb some of the evaporating moisture as it leaves, and prevent these unpleasantries by making the shoe dry slower.
Give the shoes a whole day to rest before wearing them again. If you must wear the same shoes every day due to budget constraints (nice shoes are expensive, after all), you cannot refrain from purchasing and using shoe trees.
Also, like the video says, there is no repairing a salt stain. Shoe polish will protect shoes against salt to a degree, but not like a pair of overshoes. Overshoes aren't pretty, but they will keep salt off of your dress shoes and prevent their ruin.
Shoe repairmen can sometimes get rid of salt stains, but not always, so go ahead and get the overshoes. Get a size a little bigger than your shoe size so you don't rip them when putting them on.
These steps will bring out the best in a man's new dress shoes the first time he wears them outside his domicile. Because men's style is so dependent on the man's dress shoes, a man should take special care of them.
If a man follows this guide to treating his dress shoes the first time and every time after, he will set himself up for a beautiful relationship with style, society, and his dress shoes.