You will no doubt have heard of the time-worn aphorism that the measure of a man or woman can be found in his or her shoes. That expression, however cliché, may just hold true. After all, premium dress shoes are quite literally the foundation of an outfit, and are, like bags, among the savviest style investments a discerning sartorialist can make for his or her wardrobe.
Whatever their nomenclature—loafers, pumps, brogues or wedges—all shoes require a spot of tender loving care. Leather shoes are organic objects, and need tending to if they are to remain as gloriously lustrous as when you first locked eyes upon them at the boutique.
Shoes are one of those rare "essential" luxuries; choose the right pair, treat them well, and they will become reassuringly familiar companions for a long time. Here's how, starting with the basics: getting acquainted with the heart and sole of your shoe.
Know your shoe
Shoe-making savoir-faire is an esoteric art form that only reams of devoted documents could possibly do justice to. Suffice to say, one reason why you should treat your bespoke shoe with respect is the respect it was accorded while being crafted in its bottier of origin.
- Like a sandwich, a shoe consists of an upper and lower, with the welt being the sturdy layer holding the two sections together.
- The shoe upper, or body, is further divided into the front portion (the vamp) and back (the quarter), and is traditionally wrought from leather.
- Different leather types and other materials such as coated canvas or even neoprene may be mixed and matched on the upper to offer textural interest and aesthetic flair.
- The lower—commonly thought of as the heel—is in fact composed of the outsole (the bit that makes contact with the ground); the shank (a rigid intermediary which prevents the shoe from buckling with use); and the heel proper, a raised platform that cushions your feet from impact.
- The outsole of the plushest of dress shoes and stilettos may be swathed in leather.
- Berluti Démesures Collection. The Parisian artisanal label's leather shoes are famous for their lacquered, wood grain-like appearance. Always ask the boutique assistant for care advice when purchasing pieces with extraordinary finishings.
- Bottega Veneta sneakers in suede with signature intrecciato detailing. Waterproof your suede and nubuck shoes with a spray-on, and use a suede eraser to smooth off smudges. Next, use a soft bristled brush to restore the nap and lift off dirt particles.
- The Vero Cuoio stamp on this Louboutin sole is Italian for “genuine leather”, and is an assurance of quality from Consorzio Vero Cuoio Italiano, the trade organization for fine Italian tanneries.
- Mulberry patent wedge sandals. Patent leather is surprisingly easy to care for: just keep out of water, and occasionally smooth some petroleum jelly into the shoe to preserve its glamorous gloss.
- Tod’s Mocassimo Greca Nuovo white driver shoes. Prevent the sullying of the pristine color of your white shoes by storing them away from direct sunlight.
How to Clean
- Most shoe labels, like Berluti and Church's, will have in-house shoe cleaners and creams so always ask the boutique assistant for care tips and recommended products.
- First, take the laces off your shoes. Use a soft bristled brush to sweep off preliminary dirt and dust.
- Keeping your hand under the flap to keep the upper firm and flat, use your other hand to apply a suitable cleaner or saddle soap all over the leather parts of your shoe.
- Use the same brush to gently work the cleaner into the skin. Pay particular attention to any noticeable scuffs or marks.
- Let dry for about 20 minutes before proceeding to polish.
How to Polish & Condition
- Think of conditioning as moisturizer for your shoes, which will dry out over time. To prevent flaking and wrinkling, dab a dollop of conditioner on a soft cloth and rub gently all over in a circular motion.
- Choose a polish in a hue that matches your shoe. Experts generally recommend a lanoline-based beeswax polish, which will soften and protect at the same time.
- Wipe off excess polish with a soft clean cloth, and buff the shoe with—surprise!—a pair of panty hose for slick-as-a-dime shine. Well, nylon gets the job done, too.
How to Weatherproof
- A spray-on water repellent is an essential, fool-proof way to safeguard against the elements.
- Before application, use a warm sponge to prep your shoe. The gentle heat will increase the porosity of the skin, allowing for better absorption.
- Look for "breathable", water-based repellents, which will allow excess moisture to dissipate for pliable, butter-smooth shoes.
How to Store
- A quality shoe tree is a worthwhile investment. Unfinished cedar is best, because it sponges up moisture and any disagreeable odors.
- Once you're home, stuff your boot toe with butter paper, then string them up on the tree immediately.
- Regular use of a tree will maintain your shoe's original shape, and will go miles towards preventing shrinkage and creases.
Some Final Tips
- If you've been polishing your shoes for awhile, there may be residual wax build-up. Use a specialized pre-cleaner before the cleaning process outlined above.
- It may be a no-brainer, but if you've just stepped out of a shower, make sure your feet are fully dry before slipping on your shoes.
- Use a good tortoiseshell shoe-horn to ease your foot in without creasing the back—a surefire recipe for shoe breakdown.
- Every few years, head back to the boutique or trusted cobbler to re-sole your shoes, which are like the tires of your car and require regular upkeep.
- Lay your shoes on their side to dry out, if you've been unlucky enough to have been battered on by a surprise rain shower on your way home.
- Of course, this guide is by no means an exhaustive manual. Head over to our useful illustrated guide to the anatomy of a bespoke shoe.
- Look to other excellent online resources for leathercare advice, like dedicated shoe forums and the websites of international leather associations.
- Gird your Achilles' heel with these lovely books for a "shoe-in" on the sartorial arts: