How to polish shoes: Part 1, context and cream

Monday, October 15th 2018
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For the next in our series of practical videos, I wanted to tackle shoe polishing. But, also to present it in a way that was more discursive, and explained rather than just taught.

Most videos on polishing just show one person doing what they do, and coming up with a great result.

This is fine as it goes, but it doesn’t give any consideration to alternative methods (and importantly, whether they achieve anything different). Nor does it deal with questions or problems viewers might have.

To try and address this, our contributions to shoe-polishing tutorials are split into two halves: first an interview, where we discuss techniques, and then a demonstration of them in progress (and even that, with questions).

Hopefully this provides some broader perspective.

The downside to this approach is that the coverage is long, and it is therefore split it into two films: one on products, preparation and cream; and the other on applying polish and achieving a mirror shine.

The first is published today - the second can be seen here

The techniques are demonstrated by Pete Bultitude of Gaziano & Girling, and so the points are a mix of our experiences.

Do ask questions in the comments here, or on YouTube.

Part 2 here.

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ajbjasus

Simon – haven’t had time to watch this all the way through yet – but doesn’t seem to answer my perpetual question – do you have to remove the built up layers of polish before using cream\renovateur ?

Barry Kearney-Luc

How about caring for Suede shoes? What do you recommend.

Herve

Simon

Interesting but not helping to show polishing a new one! They is no creases to the tops and so only a very smoothed leather to it!

Why not to show how you make a cirage of the real life one? And no selvyt at the end?

Cordially

Anders

I guess Simon allready has an article about this? Wet the shoes thorougly with water and brush gently with a suede (rubber or copper) brush. Dry gently with newspaper inside and spray when dry. Brush again lightly. I have done this a few times with great success.

Greg

Simon, if I remember this correctly, you mentioned something about not having a high shine/mirror gloss on a more casual shoe. Is this subjective?

Luciano B.

Hi Simon, great video.
Few questions of, I presume, general interest:
1- creams have an expiring date (at least Saphir), few people notice that. Can one use them after that date and how long ? (I generally go along for a year without observing notable changes)
2- shoes with patina should be treated differently ?
3- in the video the shoe is just brushed before applying cream. However in many other examples the shoe is cleaned and prepared either with saddle soap or with mink oil
It would be very useful to say an ultimate word on this “preparation” (right, wrong, mandatory, in case of … etc)

thanks a lot

Jamie

I agree with you on just useing cream for more casual shoes. With my boots its just cream and then a but of a buff with a soft brush.

Looking forward to the polishing film.

Ps my partner thinks im very odd watching this, but its much more enjoyable than Strictly

Ben

While decorated with all the right accoutrements—lux retail space, GG branding, a cobbler comme blacksmith—this is, in substance, a disappointing video. Brush off dirt, apply cream—not too much—with a sponge, buff with cloth or brush, and (presumably in the next video) apply polish and water to desirable level of shine: well-worn territory all, including the Saphir ad.

What would be most informative is a comparison of a wide variety of polishing products (including different applicators) across and within brands (pigmentless creams/oils/lotions are not addressed here at all), the sequence of their application, and leathers in order to determine best or even most economic practices. Even a 15-year professional admits that he’s only used Saphir and Kiwi products. There’s also some anecdotal evidence floating in the forums that some Saphir products, mostly quite good, are unsuitable for softer leathers.

Anonymous

Interesting, but why, if it is about shoes, do you head it with a picture of yourself, rather than of shoes?

James

Isn’t it about a video of Simon talking about shoes? Hence the headshot from that video

Anonymous

But my point was why not a shot of shoes from the video………

Johannes Petersson

Is it recommended to ever use leather grease on smooth leather shoes? (first stripping away all old polish and cream and then apply some dubbin grease or similar)

GONZAGUE

I think I learnt next to nothing but if you consider it the starting point to bring in readers questions, it may emerge as great.
My areas of interest:
– as stated above, the case of suede shoes, mink oil and other renovators (Dimitri told me he replaced cream with mink oil renovator).
– most of all: how does one avoid the thin line discoloration along the main pleat, both for leather and suede ? Can it actually truly been avoided, possibly fixed?
– what to do when the leather is soaked with rain? I tried to just let it dry with shoe trees and far from a heat source but it just ruined a recent pair of Olga I.
– does a shoe with a patina really need being brought back regularly for repigmentation or can that be avoided?
– I hear contradicting guidances about the various types and uses of suede brushes,
– the sole sides: do they need cream or polish, bee wax,…?
– like many of us maybe, I often do the polish with it seems proper technique and products but sometimes the ultra gloss never comes, any hint?

Oliver D

Many thanks for this video. Great idea.

If I may add to your list of questions: are there any considerations for a textured leather such as hatch grain or pebble grain?

Reuven Lax

From experience: don’t use neutral polish on textured leathers such as hatch or pebble grain, especially when using waxes. Over time the neutral will build up in the cracks, and leave white streaks. Pigmented polish will not have this problem.

Will

Here’s a thought: pay a professional to shine your shoes, and spend your time doing something more important, more enjoyable, or at least something you’re good at.

Philip

I am totally with you on this one, Simon. Your shoes can make a huge difference to the way you look. It is not difficult to see people who are well dressed, until you look at their shoes. I would go further and suggest that a good pair of well cared for shoes can ‘lift’ a whole outfit. Take care of your shoes and they will look after the rest of what you wear.

mark anderson

My personal experience is that the products (creams and waxes) from SAPHIR and BURGOL (of Switzerland) were the best. The ALDEN boot cream did also work well (for boots). For chromexcel leather I would recommend the VENETIAN shoe cream, but Saphir also have a product for that kind of leather. Pebble grain leather (for brown chukkas or shoes): I would recommend a brown cream instead of neutral for this one, because with the neutral you can get unpleasant white residues that look quite ugly.

Anonymous

I can see that we could have wanted a fuller bag of tricks. But I came out of this on a high note: What my mother taught me thirty years ago is still valid. I CAN shine shoes, which I already knew to some extent, but got it confirmed more thoroughly now. To have used Kiwi in all those years, that wonderful cover-up of irregular shoe shining, has not been a waste, it is indeed full of pigment. And I do have beautiful reddish-brown shoes that have Kiwi have converted from originally being just brown. My new acquaintance, Seraphin, is moister and easier to work with. And apperently it is better for the shoes. But I will have some boxes of Kiwi on the side, and not least for the sides of the soles.

Anonymous

Good article Simon. Couple of points; personal approach is to vacuum the shoe (with brush attachment – accepting the shoe is not covered in mud), then clean the shoe with baby wipes, (built in moisturisers, v. soft on skin therefore on shoes) use mild soap if required. Give the sole a wipe also. Apply polish then leave to absorb (an hour). Cream polish is better than hard as it is more easily absorbed. Return and buff (to remove any excess). Polish/water polish to required shine. There is some debate around cream. I prefer to use moisturising cream, (yes, the make-up type) it works marvels and produces a very soft finish. Remember leather is dried animal skin – moisturiser replenishes moisture and adds suppleness. This can be done at two stages; before polishing allows for greater moisture penetration, after polishing it enriches depth of shine and gives an extra coat of finish. Someone asks about renovator – it’s OK to use over polish but not OK if there is a wax finish. With dubbin/leather grease it should always go over the polish (it’s ultimate aim is to provide waterproofing). Should the dubbin go below the polish the polish will not absorb properly and not last. If the shoe has a patina cream or wax should be used, polishing, unless very skillfully done, will cover the patina. As someone suggests some greater detail on product types and comparisons would also be valuable. Simon, good tip on polishing to formality – high on formal shoes, dull to matte finish for casual or informal shoes.

Nick Inkster

It’s a long time since I’ve changed a nappy, but whenever I smell a baby wipe the memories come flooding back…….not in a pleasant way!!

Russ

Great video – relaxing and informative. I’m looking forward to my first set of G & G bespoke and have been impressed with the care taken by their fitter Daniel Wiegen.

‘Bultitude’ – what an unusual name – I feel a limerick coming on, perhaps ‘That nice Mr Bultitude, whose shoes do shine with pulchritude… if you watch the vid from Permanent Style etc etc

Stephan

Really nice video, quite instructional and interesting. Puts emphasis on key elements. I was also surprised that Kiwi was actually top quality (will look out for the tan one), I’d assumed as a supermarket product it was nothing special.
Too many comments though, so sorry if repeating: nothing was said on the type/quality of brush, or if more than one is needed. I guess it is not essential? I’m looking to buy a good one but don’t want to spend much on it. Is there like a minimum quality standard? Same re cloths.

Richard Jones

Re cloths I cut up spare shoe dust bags.

Anonymous

As with polish moisturisers vary. It’s not an exact science due to the wide variety of leather type, thickness, source and tanning process. The key is not to overuse – just enough to retain suppleness and finish. Of greater concern are the possibly harmful contents of some shoe products – particularly turpentine based chemicals and solvents (toxicology study by Birgit Engelund and Hanne Sorensen is worth reading). Sorry to Inkster for the wipes association (they do work well however…).

george blumfield

Dear Sir–
I’m 85 years; I had an early start shining shoes in saloons in the town where I lived in Montana. My shine kit was made by my Dad and consisted of black and brown Shinola, as they were the only colors available. I used rags of old flannel shirts, which worked quite well. The saloon cowboys paid me sometimes and sometimes not after I shined their shoes. As my Dad was a businessman, I kept his shoes shined, and he was a paying customer. I later bought and used Kiwi, Meltonian, Angeles and Lincoln wax polishes. (I didn’t see any mention of any wax products in the gentlemen’s shoes shining discussion.) I would think that a wax product may be worth while in England due to rain, but the finish is much more shiny than cremes, which I now favor. Cremes create a patina, which I favor. I now use Allen -Edmonds shoe cremes, which I feel are the best that I have ever used, or perhaps it is personal, as I favor the luster/patina look rather than the shiny (firefighter/police) look. I have never used Saphir, which I have heard, works well.
For bringing back old hard shoe paste or polish, I use mineral spirits (very, very sparingly) to bring it back.
I enjoyed your shoe treatment article very much, as well as the PERMANENT STYLE articles and the comments by readers of PERMANENT STYLE; best wishes to all.

mark anderson

I also had the carnauba wax polish from Allen Edmonds and it did work very well, in my opinion about the same level as Saphir and Burgol (now called Siegol). The ingredients of these products are very similar. I prefer wax polish for regular use and cremes sometimes (living in a colder climate than you). I think both products are useful. I like that readers share their experience here, good blog anyway.

Russ

If you decide to use Kiwi, go for Parade Gloss (favoured by my chums when I was in the army reserve). I still think, combined with a few water drops, Kiwi PG works up a better high shine than Saphir (though the latter’s cream is excellent).

The best polishing cloths by far are made by Selvyt (available on Amazon, though readers may prefer to source via another supplier paying a fairer amount of corporation tax).

Herve

I agree Russ. Look to my posting.

Selvyt finds the best cleaning cloth for the shoe after cirage.
By the long way!!

geeorge blumfield

Russ-
Thanks for the comment; I have used KIWI PARADE GLOSS, but the product, I have always thought, was high in wax content similar to ANGELES and LINCOLN shoe polish. It really does produce quite a shine. These “wax type polishes” are more appropriate for climates where it rains and there is slushy snow; i.e. more protective treatments. I currently live in the Mojave Desert (Palmdale, California), about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. I prefer shoe cremes in this environment. When I was a kid and polished shoes in saloons, the cowboys preferred a shiny shoe shine, thus wax type polishes worked better. I lived in Great Falls, Montana when I was a kid. I must try the Selvyt polish cloths, which are available from Amazon. Thanks for telling me about the cloths. Best wishes.

Russ

That jovial Mr Bultitude
Shines shoes to a state of pulchritude
By spending a while
With Permanent Style
His tips are relayed to the multitude

Anonymous

Simon, just read George Blumfield’s comments – great to read of your time George! The balance of articles and great comments is one of the things that makes PS such a good visit.

george blumfiled

I truly enjoy this site and the persons that participate in the site; I had no idea that a site of this nature would exist among the so called “designer” stuff of the present (narrow lapel suits and blazers of Chinese origin). It seems as if attempts to look nice are becoming more difficult due to classic clothing becoming scarcer.
My interest in this site came as a result of looking for a double breasted classic cut, peak lapel blazer with 4-1/4″ to 4-1/2″, 6/4 button pattern, size 46; I’m 6’3″ 215 pounds. All of the advertised blazers were of English or Italian origin, but sizes were limited to 38-42 USA sizing. Sizes 46-48 did not exits, at least from the sources that I viewed.
I emailed this to Simon Crompton, who emailed me back and suggested I try Suit Supply, but they seldom have size 46 or 48. Simon is a great spokesman to keep dressing well going as a life style, and I was surprised to see him personally email a response to my request. He is probably the best dressed person that I have ever seen, but my Dad and mother (immigrants from Glasgow) were close seconds. They told me at an early age dressing well shows a respect to others. Thanks again for your post. Best wishes to you and yours.

David

My Dad used to line up all his shoes now and again and spend some time polishing every one. I thought it was the most boring thing. When I bought my first pair of decent shoes and started polishing them I realised it’s one of the most pleasurable chores, disconnecting from all the other stuff and focusing on maintaining a crafted product.

What’s the approach to darkening shoes…I have a light tan pair of boots and want to darken them. I’ve always held off for fear or ruining them.

george blumfield

David-re: darkening of shoes
Recently I have noticed that some high end shoes have slightly darkened toes and, in some instances, heels. I wondered how the shoemakers accomplished this feature, and thought that perhaps they painted (sprayed) the shoes after the dye process. My curiosity overcame me, and I had an old pair of tan shoes, so decided to try lightly spraying (VERY LIGHT MISTING ONLY} the shoes, then polishing the shoes with Allen-Edmonds shoe cream. I must say that lightly means lightly! It worked, and the shoes looked very similar to the higher end shoes currently marketed, but I would seriously NOT recommend trying it unless you are experienced in painting and or touching up auto parts with spray cans. I used Krylon flat black paint. If you do try it, be sure to hold the can a couple of feet away! Try on old shoes only.
I apologize to SIMON for posting this for fear some readers may try this and ruin good shoes. This comment may not be correct for this site.

zohair

This is great thank you. At what point, if at all, during the polishing ritual would you use a protector spray? I don’t like using them as they matte the finish, but I hate the sight of white stains even more.

george blumfield

Hello, Zohair-
I have never used protector sprays, but perhaps the term is used differently in the USA than in the UK. I think that so called protective sprays are silicone sprays for resisting water in climates where it rains quite a bit. The spray that I used was an EXPERIMENT with spray can black misting on a pair of old shoes to accent brown shoes, but as I explained, do it VERY, VERY faintly and only to the tips and back of shoes. If you do it, I sincerely hope that it works out for you. I enjoy comments from PERMANENT STYLE very much; thank you. PS-Simon is right; the only use of spray treatment is for suede only.

J

Hi Simon

How does the Saphir Renovateur fit in a shoe shining routine? Is that something you would use every few months?

Fredrik

What about wax leather? What is the suggested regimen for that?

John

Hi Simon,

I’d like to ask you (or any other reader) for an advice. I’ve been buying black shoes only so far. Now I own also Crockett & Jones loafers in dark brown calf leather and I’m not sure what shade of Saphir cream and polish should I buy. They offer several browns – light, medium, dark, tobacco, parisian. Naturally, I wanted to choose dark brown, but since the video advises that lighter shades are a safe choice and I’ve seen brown calf shoes darker than are C & J, I’m not so sure anymore. Should I rather choose medium brown?

Thank you very much for your help!

J.

Pettersen (Norway)

Thank you for this superb blog, Simon!

Mink oil is often used in shoe care (Saphir Renovateur etc). As I guess most people in modern society know, mink oil is a left-over from the fur industry. This is an industry not exactly known for its animal welfare. As fur farming is decreasing in Europe, I guess more and more mink oil comes from Asia, where the conditions for the animals unfortunately is known for being even worse.

I wonder if there is a suitable alternative to mink oil, that both takes care of our wonderful shoes and is a bit more animal-friendly. (I am well aware that leather also comes from animals, but the fur industry is known for being extremely cruel, especially in Asia…)

After all, being a gentleman is not only about the looks, but also very much about how we treat our surroundings (animals included).

Thank you again!

H

How do you care for shoes which are not being worn at all? I have 3 pairs of black shoes that would usually be worn on a weekly basis for work, but none have been worn for 4 months now – and I’m starting to get a little worried about whether they may dry out (or whether some other strange unanticipated thing may happen to them). Given they probably won’t be worn for another few months yet, how would you store them? Would cream be advisable? Would polish dry them out further? It seems a strange question to ask but I guess these are strange times!

H

Interesting thanks – I didn’t realise about the dust so its good that I asked. What will dust do to the leather?

Martins

Actually couple days ago I learned more important reason to brush the shoes after wearing, especially every part that’s flexing/creasing. To shorten a quite long post on styleforum… Dust/dirt acts as a micro sandpaper accelerating the wear of leather, especially in creases…

Vin

Hi Simon. Do you have a preferred brand for shoe brushes? I heard Burgol are decent but haven’t seen a lot of reviews on more common brands like Saphir.
Thanks.