Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sartorial Saturday: Polish Your Shoes

It seems like it's time for a new regular feature around here -- something other than posts about World War One and my half finished thoughts on various topics not much connected with the every day. That or, the stats would indicate, it's time to take this aging blog out to the back pasture and give it the coup de grace.

For this first time out, it's time to tackle the basic male duty of polishing leather dress shoes. I say male, because if your wife has black pumps or boots that are actually of a sort to take polish (many women's shoes are not) you should of course polish them for her. This is not only because then your wife won't have bits of black or brown polish on her hands for several days, not because she will be terribly grateful (though this may come) but simply because shoe polishing is one of those basic manly duties which has belonged to men since the days when Ogg was rubbing mastodon fat into his cracked and hairy feet. Of course, if you are a English country gentleman with a large establishment, you can employ a bootblack rather than doing this yourself. (You should also invite the Darwin clan to come stay with you for the weekend.) But what you may not do is leave your wife to polish her own shoes, much less your. It simply isn't playing the game.

Alright, so your shoes could use a little freshening up.  The first question is: Are these the sort of shoes that can take polish?  You cannot polish fake leather (look for the old "man made uppers" notation on the tag), patent leather, suede or other rough finish leathers.  You should not polish shoes that have a wax finish and/or detailing which will be ruined by being covered by colored polish.  Thus, for instance, these Allen Edmond's McTavish shoes should simply get rubbed down with a colorless leather notion -- using black polish on them would obscure the contrasting color stitching.

The shoes I'll be working with today are an old pair of Florsheim Imperials that I've had for going on nine years.  If this were a post on selecting good mens dress shoes, I would not necessarily recommend the modern successors to these.  Florsheim has gone down hill a lot in quality in recent years.  However, I bought these off Ebay for $50 a number of years ago and for many years they were my only pair of black dress shoes.  These days I mostly pull them out of the closet when it's slushy outside and I don't want my newer shoes exposed to salt and water.  These have been re-soled at least four times and the leather is starting to crack and wear through.  Having been worn almost constantly for the last month of winter weather, they're looking decidedly dingy as you can see:

Step one is to assemble your materials. You will need a tin of shoe polish of the appropriate color. Real, shoe polish paste, not the kind that you squeeze out through an applicator sponge. Not the kind that sprays out of a can as foam. Those may be good enough to polishing up your kids Stride Rites, but they're not right for your mens dress shoes. Here I've got Kiwi polish. You'll also need an applicator brush (that's the small one). Use a different applicator brush for each color of shoe polish you use -- don't mix black and brown. Then a buffing brush (the large one.) I think it's also a good idea to have a different one for each color -- which unless you're an over-achieve means one for black and one for brown. Finally you'll need a rag for polishing (and old bit of towel or undershirt can do) and some newspaper to keep the mess off the floor. I recommend the financial section since it makes boring reading anyway.

Wipe off any dust and grime with the rag. Then use the applicator brush to apply polish over the whole shoe. Make sure to rub it in especially well on any areas that are in really bad shape. In my case, this is the right heel where the shoe rubs against the old matting of the car while I drive. The shoe will darken up as you apply the polish, but it won't look at all shiny now. Indeed, those areas that retained shine will go matte. You don't want to apply so much that you see gobs of it on the shoe (you'll just end up wiping it off if you apply too much) but you definitely want enough for coverage.

Let the shoes sit for a few minutes (5-10 at most) to give the polish a chance to dry on a bit.
Now put a shoe on your hand and give it a vigorous buffing with the buffing brush. The purpose here is to buff the polish into the leather, and produce a smooth, shiny finish. Work around the shoe slowly. It's going to take a good bit of vigorous buffing to get a good polish. I spent 10 minutes or so on the pair of them. The more brushing, the better the polish. On that troublesome heel area I actually put on a second coat of polish and buffed it again. Depending on how good a polish you get with your brushwork, you can buff further with the cloth. Usually I end up doing that, but in this case I felt like I got a good enough polish just using the brush that I skipped buffing with the cloth. Here's the result:
Still definitely an old pair of shoes, but much more respectable looking.

3 comments:

Jennifer Fitz said...

I approve of this post. Though it makes me nervous handing over my boots to a stranger. Like the one I married. Eminently trustworthy in all things . . . but my boots? Mmmn . . . I dunno.

bearing said...

My Doc Martens are getting a bit dinged up. Maybe I should share your FB notification on my husband's wall.

Otepoti said...

Kiwi! Kiwi! Kiwi!

(An Australian brand, but at least an acknowledgement that we do things properly here.)