Shoe Shining

The best way to ruin a nice outfit or tailored suit is to wear dress shoes that look worn and old.  It also says “irresponsible”, “no attention to detail”, or “careless” to a critical eye.  And to clarify, scuffs and bruises are not what ruin a shoe – those are inevitable.  It’s the matter of how you addressed them.

And while a large number of people will get their shoes shined by a “professional” at the airport, it is much better doing it yourself.  Like knowing how to change the oil on your own car, this is not only a necessary gentleman skill to possess, but you will do a better job and the $50 you spend every time can be put to better pursuits.

You’ll Need:

The right tools are necessary if you need to want to do it right.  Traditionally, you’ll need a soft cloth, a semi-stiff brush to apply the polish (I prefer a toothbrush), a horsehair brush to remove the polish, and a chamois or rag.  Use a tool box to keep all of this together so that it can easily accessible.  Before moving on though, it is important to note that there are two kinds of polishes: wax and cream.  Wax is good for water resistance and cream helps maintain leather and keep it supple.  Alternate between the two for maximum benefit.


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First, lay out some newspaper and remove the shoes trees and shoe laces so that you can also shine the shoe tongue which most people neglect and will cause an unattractive contrast to your shoes over time.  Polish is impossible to get out of clothes so the newspaper will protect the surface you work on.  Needless to say, don’t wear something too nice when you’re doing this.

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Secondly, put one hand in shoe palm down and with the cloth that is barely damp, remove all dirt and grit from the shoe’s surface and the tongue. These will scratch your shoes when you shine if you don’t do this.

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Next, make sure the shoes are dry and apply the polish with the brush in small amounts.  Remember that it is easier to add more polish than to take it off.  Use the brush to work it into every part of the shoe including the tongue.  Some will say to apply in small circular motions but it doesn’t matter so long as you cover the every inch of the shoe surface.  I like using the toothbrush because it allows me to do so without causing a mess.  As the shoe gets more use, consider going over the heel and toe part twice because those areas tend to get the most exposure.  Also shine the area under the shoe that doesn’t touch the floor, between the toe and the heel – you want to make the sure the shoe looks good from every angle.  Once done with the first shoe, set it aside and work on the second one to allow the wax or cream to set in on the first shoe.

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Step four, use the horsehair brush to remove the polish by using rapid wrist movements to brush vigorously with medium pressure.  This will generate more heat thereby helping the polish sink in even further.  Do so for both shoes.

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Finally, when you’re done with polishing, go over each shoe with a chamois or rag to make sure you remove any additional excess polish the horsehair brush might have missed.  Pay extra attention to the top of the shoe where polish tends to gather and can stain your trouser cuffs later.  Buff the shoes to a fine shine and congratulate yourself on being able to see your reflection in the toe of the shoes.

In Closing…

Well there you go.  And in closing, now that we’ve covered the proper steps to maintaining your shoes, it is also entirely relevant and practical to acknowledge that time will not always be available for the optimal amount of tender love and care.  So if you only have 30 seconds to run a coat of polish and one pass of the brush and cloth, that is certainly better than the alternative neglect they might receive.

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