Unless you sleep in your clothes,
or wear your underwear outside of your pants, you’re going to spend more time
in your shoes than in any other piece of your visible wardrobe. It makes sense
then, to take the time to love on them with regularity. Most of the advice
you’ll hear is about waterproofing or properly shining a shoe (and what the
hell is a shoe tree?), but there’s more to it than that. Sometimes a shine
turns the shoe a color you don’t like, too dark or too shiny, or makes your
broken-in pair boots look like you’re about to go to a funeral. Nobody wants to
look like they’re going to funeral, unless they’re literally going to a
funeral. So I’ll take you, step by step, through my process of taking care
of my leather shoes, show you how I get them to look the way I like them to
look, and give some pointers on how you can get the look you want.
The first step is cleaning. If
your shoe is pretty dirty and you don’t want to lock in any dirt or oil, use
saddle soap or your preferred shoe cleaner to remove all that excess grime. If
mine are muddy or heavily caked, I’ll use a stiff kitchen brush and a little
water and vinegar. It’s really good to let your shoe dry out after this step.
It usually takes about 30 minutes to an hour, but give it more, around a day,
if you want to maintain the color of your leather before you continue.
Personally I don’t like to clean
my shoes. I will remove excess grit and grime with a brush before, but I like
to lock in all the beer spills, oil stains, grit and grime. It makes the
leather show its age and its travels.
The next step and first rule in
shoe care, despite what anyone says, is conditioning. This is crucial if you
want your shoes to age with grace. You should condition your leather shoes as
soon as you buy them and before you wear them. Shoes don’t come
pre-conditioned. Sometimes that leather has been in a warehouse for a while
before it got turned into a shoe, and then that shoe sat in a warehouse, then
it sat in a store before you put them on. Wearing a shoe before it’s been
conditioned is the easiest way to get premature cracks in the leather. Once
that happens, there is no going back.
I learned this lesson after
visiting my shoe guy in Portland OR, a Ukrainian gentleman who has a shop in a
basement on NW Sandy Blvd. I took him a pair of vintage Rockports and he said
they were finished. Done. “You can’t fix,” he said. “There is tiny cracks
coming from sole.” One might read into this statement a deeper, more prophetic and
spiritual meaning, but I had made the mistake of wearing them without first
“Next time, you use this,” and he
handed me a bottle of leather conditioner.
“You put little bit on towel, and you rub, 20, 30 times,” he
said as he demonstrated on my broken shoes. “Then you do whole shoe like this. You
leave it. You let dry. This make leather soft, like skin.”
the shoe in question
He is so right. It makes the
leather soft, like skin. After applying the conditioner, you should let
them dry at least an hour, so that it doesn’t affect the shine. The conditioner
can soak some of the shine down into the pores, giving you a dull looking
The only drawback to conditioning
is that it darkens the leather. It’s not going to turn your brown shoes black,
but it will turn tan or raw leather a couple shades darker. Letting your shoes
dry longer can prevent some of this; a day or two will return them closest to
their original color.
To me, this change is a good
thing. Again, it shows the graceful age, and looks traveled, sort of like a
baseball mitt getting a good oiling. Plus, after a little wear, and a couple of
conditionings, it’ll start to feel like a good ball glove too.
The next step is the shine. This is something that varies by
technique and skill, but I’ll tell you how I do it. First I rub a terry cloth
hand towel in the tin, getting enough polish on the rag to coat a quarter to an
eighth of the shoe at a time. I like terry cloth because it’s a little course
and helps hold a little more of the polish. Then I rub the polish into the
shoe. Once applied to one shoe, I set it aside, and do the other one. Once both
shoes are polished, I wipe the first shoe down with a smooth cloth, removing
excess polish and massaging the polish into the pores. Then I use a soft brush
to buff the polish to a nice sheen. I then repeat the process on the second
shoe. If you want to get a really glaring polish, use a spritz of water or spit
and rub with another clean smooth cloth to buff up the polish before using the
Working both shoes at the same time allows me to utilize my
time better, and gives each shoe time to soak up some of the polish. I don’t do
the ‘spit shine’ step, because I like my shoes to have little glints of shine
and an oiled look, not a parade-boot gloss.
The last step, and second most important, is waterproofing.
Most water-proofers are applied the same way as polish or conditioner, but
there are also waterproofing sprays. I have tended to go with wax-based water-proofers
in the past, but I’m looking forward to trying mink oil or Otter Wax
next time I need to waterproof something. I’ve been told to avoid silicone-based
water-proofers, as it can affect the shine and ability to shine in the future
(some areas keep the silicone and others lose it, making the pores of the
leather inconsistent). The bonus with silicone: it won’t ruin the color of the
leather, because it doesn’t get absorbed into the pores.
Here at Satchel and Page, we love when things age well. We
love making things that age well. We love things that get better as they go,
and a good leather is one of the rare pieces of design that gets better with age.
You can’t really say that about most of the products we’re surrounded by on a daily basis
(skip to ~2:30 and listen to David Kelley
or watch the whole thing and get enraged by the guy with purple glasses).