This unprecedented time of nation-wide lockdown due to Covid-19 virus has certainly brought certain aspects/facets of our lives to a halt. With the entire population, hunkered down for several days asking what to do with all this extra time at hand, one cannot think of a better way to spend some of this time to care for that integral accoutrement in the wardrobe which most probably receives the least amount of attention of all adornments. You’re right! It is that beautiful and meticulously crafted pair of dress shoes which carry you to work, parties, weddings and all other cherished events that call for dress shoes. One has oft heard the phrase, “The most finely/perfectly tailored outfit will look ruined if the shoes worn aren’t well cared for”. It goes without saying that a well-polished shoe with a beautiful mirror shine could easily set you apart from other well-dressed men in the room. Having said that, caring for your dress shoes is not just about looks but it’s also about extending their life. Adopting a few, simple habits can make a huge the difference.
Achieving a near perfect mirror shine is usually a lengthy, time-consuming and industrious process as it may require applying several layers/coats of polish and allowing the same to dry after each application. However, with the right knowledge, that great mirror shine is less than an hour away. Without further delay, let’s look at some quick ways to care and maintain those fine pair of kicks.
What are the shoe care products needed?
Horse Hair Shoe Brush -
This is what helps you get the dirt and lint off your shoes. I’d recommend buying a brush made with a wooden handle and one hundred percent natural horse hair bristles. Shoe brush brands that I recommend at the moment are Saphir and Frank. Saphir may be more accessible as the brand has a website dedicated for its Indian customers.
Shoe cream polish -
The shoe cream polish is what conditions the leather and provides a base of soft waxes. I prefer using the Saphir Medaille D’OR Creme 1925 for this as it penetrates into the pores of the leather really well and is available in a variety of colours including the neutral. One can use a cream polish or wax polish to darken or lighten the colour of your shoes depending on the shade of polish you pick. If you want to maintain the original colour of your shoe, I recommend getting the neutral Saphir cream polish.
Shoe Wax Polish -
This contains a higher concentration of hard waxes and oils that help you cover deeper scuffs and helps achieve a greater shine than a shoe cream polish would. I suggest getting the Saphir Medaille D’OR Pate de Luxe as it doesn’t contain any petroleum by-products and is silicon free. This too should be available on Saphir’s Indian website.
Saphir Mirror Gloss-
This product contains natural turpentine oil and the highest concentration of hard waxes. This product is often used by some of the top professional shoe shiners to obtain a brilliant mirror shine.
Cotton Chamois/Selvyt Cloth -
This is what one needs to apply the aforementioned creams and polish to the leather. One can easily buy a piece of fine cotton cloth online or cut up an old cotton dress shirt. Make sure the cloth is soft, tightly woven and very smooth to touch. It is very important to get this right to accomplish a beautiful shine.
Water dispenser or Bowl -
You don’t necessarily have to spend money on a water dispenser. A bowl of warm water will suffice! Water is one of the key ingredients to achieve that high shine.
Shoe Trees -
I cannot emphasise this enough, every fine pair of shoes should be accompanied with a pair of shoe trees made either of cedar or birch wood. These are integral to keep the shoes in good shape and to absorb moisture after a day of wear. If wooden shoe trees are not used, the lining and the insoles of the shoe may wear down sooner than it would If shoe trees were used. Avoid plastic shoe trees as they do not absorb any moisture/sweat from the shoe but also suffocate the pores of the leather as they are not a natural product.
What are the steps to achieve that mirror shine?
Before you begin to polish your shoes, always remember to remove the laces as they may get in the way and prevent you from properly cleaning and polishing the tongue of the shoe. After removing the laces, make sure to use a horsehair brush to get any dust or dirt off the shoe as it may ruin your efforts in achieving that beautiful mirror shine.
Take a cotton chamois or Selvyt cloth and wrap it taut around your index and middle finger or just your index finger. Make sure the cloth is not creasing around the fingers. Scoop out a small to medium sized portion of the Medaille D’OR Creme 1925 or your desired cream polish and rub it thoroughly into the leather in small concentric circles. If at any given point you feel like the cloth is not running across the leather smoothly, take a tiny drop of warm water from the water bowl/dispenser or take some more cream polish and continue to rub across the shoe. Make sure to not go overboard with the cream polish as any excess which is not absorbed by the leather is going to be wasted. I usually begin with the toe cap, then move onto the counter heel and then the rest of the shoe. Make sure to apply the cream polish before the shoe wax polish (Saphir Pate De Luxe) and the Saphir Mirror Gloss as conditioning or moisturizing the leather won’t be possible once you have filled its pores with hard waxes. After you are done applying the cream polish, leave the shoes aside to dry for a few minutes. Once they appear to have somewhat dried, buff off the excess polish with a fine silk or cotton cloth and a horse hair brush. The point is to even or flatten out the wax all across the shoe and getting rid of the excess cream that the leather did not absorb. The process of shoe care pretty much ends at this point. You might already see some shine coming through, however, what we are looking for is a beautiful mirror or high shine which requires one to go beyond just shoe care or maintenance.
After conditioning the shoes, I recommend applying the Saphir Mirror Gloss. Now, before applying the mirror gloss on the leather, it is important to not apply it on the entire shoe but only to those parts which don’t flex and/or crease, which is the toe cap and the counter heel. On a cap toe shoe, it is easy to tell where the toe cap ends but if it is a shoe without a toe cap, make sure to inspect where the toe cap ends and the leather begins to crease or flex and avoid applying the mirror gloss in those areas of the shoe.
Now take a little amount of the Saphir Mirror Gloss wax polish and little bit of water and start massaging it into the leather with gentle pressure in continuous, brisk and circular motion. The key to getting a good shine is creating heat through friction. As you continue to rub the waxes into the leather, the surface of the leather may turn cloudy or matte and you may start to feel a little resistance. If you experience this, which you most likely will; stop rubbing the cloth on the leather as it may scrape off the existing layer of wax or polish on the shoe. Instead, get a small amount of warm water onto a different part of the cloth and begin applying it to the affected areas. Once done applying two coats of the mirror gloss to the desired areas, you can leave the shoes to dry or you could use a blow dryer to quicken the process of drying. Make sure to not put the blow-dryer to a high heat setting and also not to point the air blast in one particular area of the shoe for too long as it may burn or damage the leather. After the shoes are somewhat dried up, buff them with a fine cotton or silk cloth or brush.
You can now move onto using the Saphir Pate De Luxe which has a higher concentration of solvent than the mirror gloss which helps the existing wax on the leather to dissolve and push the already amazing shine to a phenomenal level. Take a small to medium amount of the Saphir Pate De Luxe and a tiny bit of water and rub it in the same areas as you did with the mirror gloss. Make sure to get some water on the cloth whenever you feel the surface of the leather getting dry or if you feel any kind of resistance. It is important that you create enough heat through friction to allow the waxes to melt and really get into the leather. Once complete, put the shoe aside and let it dry or use a blow dryer again to let those waxes disintegrate into the pores. Later, buff them off with a horse hair brush and a fine cotton or silk cloth. If you still aren’t happy with the shine, you can reapply some mirror gloss along with the Pate De Luxe to achieve the desired shine.
Now, we have finally managed to grasp the art of shoe care, note that there are several ways to polish dress shoes & this is just one of the many! However, this method has perfectly worked for me. Trying to teach someone to shine their shoes is like teaching someone to drive a car. One needs to invest some time to develop their skills to achieve a mirror shine.
Author: Rishabh Saurastri is a practicing Lawyer by profession & a men’s style enthusiast by heart, looking to make classic menswear/sartorial dressing relevant and cool again. A shoe aficionado, he takes pleasure in the smallest of construction details and has a penchant to observe quality, fit, proportions, patterns, colours and textures to achieve sartorial harmony. Wearing self-styled tailored clothing every day, he attempts to document his sartorial evolution through his Instagram page.