No matter how well your suit fits or how many folds there are in your hand-made Neapolitan tie, it will all be in vain if your shoes are dirty. Well-cared for and polished footwear is the simplest way to improve your appearance. Handmade shoes are expensive but their value will be eroded if they are not properly cared for. On the other hand, a well-polished pair of shoes from the High Street will look significantly more expensive. If you value your appearance, you must take care of your shoes.
You need time, patience and the right kit.
Good quality polish is vital and I strongly recommend the products by Saphir. These are significantly more expensive than the usual supermarket brands but you are buying the absolute best and, compared to new shoes, they are a worthy investment. Also, these polishes will last a long time. Even when they appear to dry-out and there is little left, you will still be able to use and get many more shines from it. Never use “hi-shine” sponges….these contain silicon and will ultimately dry your shoes out. You will also need shoe cream, again Saphir produce some good ones but I also like the ones by Meltonian. To apply the polishes, I like an old poly-cotton t-shirt…the older the better. You also need brushes. I do not see the value in expensive brushes and use entry-level versions although some swear by horsehair.
To polish your shoes, make sure they are clean and dry. Remove the laces and either put in shoe trees or stuff with old newspaper. Brush vigorously and then apply shoe cream with your rag. Creams come in various colours but you could get by using black and neutral. Once the cream is applied, allow to dry before polishing with your wax polish. It is important that both products are used. You should think of shoe cream as moisturiser and wax polish as make-up.
By applying small amounts of polish with a slightly dampened piece of cloth, you can obtain a mirror shine. Keep applying small amounts of the polish in small anti-clockwise movements and see the shine develop. To “finish” off, you could buff with a selvyt cloth. Selvyt is a specialist polishing textile and is not cheap but will last years. It can also be used to revive the shine between polishing. Do not neglect the heel or welt (where the upper is attached to the sole) and specialist welt brushes are available…but an old toothbrush works just as well. For cleaning heel the and side of the sole, you can buy “edge cream”…or you can use a black marker pen.
If your shoes are scuffed or scratched, they can be repaired by using “mirror gloss” by Saphir (I am not sponsored!). Mirror gloss is a harder wax that when mixed with water creates a hard finish, ideal for filling in small flaws. It can also be used, as the name suggests, to create military-grade shines. Once you get into the habit of polishing shoes, you will start to quite enjoy the process as it can be quite therapeutic and you will also enjoy the admiring glances your shined shoes will attract. But you might want to take it to the next level. You can experiment with brown shoes by using different coloured polishes…I would always suggest using a little black on your brown or burgundy shoes to give them an “antiqued” finish. But to really make an impression with your footwear, you need to seek the services of a “patina artist”. Not to be confused with the bootblacks you sometimes see (although they also offer a valuable service), the patina artist can re-colour your shoes and add all sorts of depth to the leather.
The Jaunty Flaneur on London’s Savile Row is one such service. For a small fee they can give your shoes a military shine or a full re-colour. To try the service, I gave them a pair of old Edward Green brogues I purchased back in 1992. I paid £95 for them back then but to replace them with a similar quality would cost me nearer £950 today! The result was impressive and I have gained a few more years wear out of them. I would highly recommend the service. Tom and PJ are both passionate about shoe-polishing and will happily pass on their knowledge and expertise. They also stock the right kit to maintain at home. This isn’t a quick service, so be prepared to wait a few days but the results are worth the wait. They will often strip-off old layers of polish, this can be achieved at home but something I would prefer to leave to the professionals.
If you have a special occasion such as a wedding, an artisan-level shine will take your outfit to the next level.