Here is part 4 of 10 classic English shoemakers
Part 1 of the this article “Introduction to English shoemakers” is here
Part 2 of this article “The Traditional Brands” is here
Part 2 of this article “New and revived brands” is here
“Andalusia, Southern Spain, I am gonna get me a house with a room for my shoes, one for my first editions”
Left-Ear (Mos Def)
The Italian Job, 2003
Buying good shoes is only half the equation. Invest a little time and care in them and you can bring out that inner glow that makes classic English shoes look so fine.
Stage 1: Once you have bought them
I am indebted to John Lobb for the following advice.
Immediately after you have bought your shoes they are most vulnerable. Though they look new and shiny, they will be dry, having spent the recent part of their livers in a shop storeroom. At this stage the leather uppers will mark easily, with the potential to leave permanent scars on the shoes. Treat them as follows:
Put the shoes on their shoe trees.
Open the shoe polish you intend to use on the shoes.
Take a soft cotton cloth, drape it over your hand and make a point of your fore and index fingers.
Work the shoe polish with your finger, making it warm and pliable. The softer the polish the easier the process and the better the result. Do not heat the polish, as it will warm unevenly and you will get an uneven shine on the shoe upper.
Once the polish has softened enough to work (you will get a feel for this), use your finger “point” to gather up some polish and polish it into the shoe.
Now polish the shoe all over in this way. The trick to this is to work the polish into all the seams of the shoe, especially the heal seam and the welt seam (where the upper meets the sole). Be generous here, because you want to lubricate and seal these seams against the elements. Do not worry how the shoe looks at this time, because you will polish them off later.
Continue until you have polished the whole shoe. When you are done place the shoes in a cool dry place, preferably out of direct sunlight and leave them for 24 hours, for the polish to soak into their shoes.
At the end of this time polish them off as follows:
Take a medium bristle shoe brush which is appropriate for the colour of the shoe (if you have a brush that you have used for black shoes do not use it on brown shoes, for example). Do not use a hard brush as this point.
Brush the shoes gently, to brush off the polish residue.
Get a soft cotton cloth. Do not use the cloth you applied the polish with. Once again, make sure it is appropriate; do not use a cloth that you have used for black shoes on brown shoes.
Buff the shoes gently but firmly with the cloth. Buff them across the long axis of the shoe (across the toe) and also with the long axis of the shoe, along the vamp and facing.
You will get a soft shine as the leather polishes up. This is an appropriate finish at this stage of the shoe’s life. Over time you will (if you want) be able to buff the shoes to a high shine.
This may sound like a lot of work, but you only do it once and it is important to do this for many reasons.
Firstly it will add years to the life of the shoes. By waxing the shoes and leaving them to rest you give the leather a chance to absorb the oils of the polish and become more supple. The shoes will keep their shape much better and be much less likely to tear along points of tension and especially around the stitching.
Secondly, if you do this the shoes will be so much easier to wear-in. New shoes that have been waxed properly have so much more “give” in them and are easier on the feet from the outset.
Stage 2: Wearing-in the shoes
For the first wearing, wear the shoes only for a few hours, not for a whole day. Just long enough to breakdown the stiffness of the leather. If you can, wear the shoes indoors the first time. If you wear the shoes outdoors for the first time, do not do so in the rain or snow.
The soles of your shoes will be new and slippery. This becomes less of a problem once you have worn them a few times. However there is an old British Army trick for those who want to use it. Take a reasonably sharp knife (a penknife will do) and lightly score the new soles. Score only the sole, in a cross-hatch pattern. The shoes will grip much better.
Cleaning your shoes on a regular basis
If your shoes are dirty, wipe them off with warm water and a soft cotton cloth. Never use any cleaning solvents on quality shoes, it will destroy them.
If the shoes are muddy, wait until the mud dries and brush it off with a firm-bristle brush. Never scrape the upper with metal implements.
As before, use a polishing-in cloth to polish the shoes.
Some folks recommend using a brush to polish shoes with. This puts way too much polish on the shoe and it becomes difficult to polish off. If you do this often enough the shoes get a cloudy, waxy finish which is unpleasant to look at. It is also very difficult to get rid of.
The longer you can leave the shoes waxed, the better. Once I have polished-in my shoes I leave them for 24 hours. This helps the leather absorb the polish and preserve the finish of the shoe.
Also as before, use a medium-firm brush to polish off the shoes, followed by a buffing from a soft cloth.
Shoes should be polished once every two weeks. Do it consistently and the process becomes easy, the shoes become beautiful.
Waxing shoes for storage
If you have a collection of good shoes, there will be some that you do not wear for a long period of time. I have a pair of Grenson tan oxfords that I only wear in summer. They are made of soft aniline-dyed leather and are too fine for winter wear. Now I could simply polish them and store them but my experience of this is that the uppers dry out.
I prefer to wax shoes with a leather feed which will nourish the uppers while they are in storage. For this purpose I like Chelsea Leather food. I like Chelsea because it can be applied easily (at the point of a cloth), left (it forms a protective film on the leather), and quickly polished off as necessary.
My experience is that Chelsea keeps the leather very supple and helps minimize the appearance of dings and scratches. Shoes treated with it also polish up to a very high shine.
Caution. Do not use Chelsea with combination shoes (such as canvas and leather) it is likely to stain the non-leather surfaces.
If the shoes are simply wet (the uppers are wet) put the shoes on their trees and if you have one, put the shoes on a shoe rack and let them dry. The frame allows the air to circulate around the shoe and dry out the sole, which is important.
If you do not have a shoe frame, then place the shoes on several sheets of newspaper in a well-aired place. Once again, drying out the sole is important
If the shoes are soaked (the inner linings and the inner sole of the shoe are wet) fill the shoes with newspaper, and, as before, elevate the shoes on a shoe rack. Drying out the soles is even more important if the shoes are soaked. If placed on newspaper and the nrewspaper becomes wet, change it.
If the shoes are soaked through then when dry again I would advise waxing them and resting them for 24 hoours before wearing them again.
Never heat the shoes to dry them, there is a good chance that the sudden expansion of the leather will crack the uppers. It will certainly dry them out and that is nearly as bad. If your feet sweat heavily and you heat the shoes when wet you are liable to get a salt stain which is almost impossible to remove.
Wearing your shoes
Never wear shoes for two days running. Once you have worn a pair put them back on their trees and give them at least a day to rest.
Repairing quality hand-crafted shoes.
This is a no-brainer. For all of the shoes in the articles above, take them back to the original maker and have them factory repaired.
This is important.
When the shoes go back to the factory they are re-fitted to the original last that they were make on. They will be steam-moulded back to the last, restoring the original shape that they had when they were made.
The craftsmen who repair the shoes will know the characteristics of that style of shoe and will look for damage and flaws that need to be repaired.
Finally they will put on a new sole which will be precisely fitted back to the welt it was made for.
You are getting back an almost new shoe. I have written about this before here, there is a small but distinctive joy in getting back an almost new pair of shoes. When you do this you add something to the world, to your personal armoury of culture, you become a small part of the craft tradition.
Never take your shoes to a generic repair shop and never have a half-sole repair, it destroys the shoes.
Shoe care essentials
Shoe-trees are essential. Without them the shoes will not hold their shape. Plain, unvarnished Cedarwood trees are the best.
A good beeswax-based shoe polish is best. My preference is for the polishes produced by
Crockett and Jones
Shoe Creams are good for those shoes or boots for which you do not want a high shine. I use Dasco shoe cream, which I find is good for this. However, it does tend to settle in the bottle. The problem with this is that if the cream is too thick it can collect in the creases of the shoes and leave a fine white deposit, which spoils the look of the shoe.
I suggest you use the cream as follows:
Make sure the shoe cream is at room temperature. The colder it is the harder it is to work and the harder it is keep a white film from appearing.
Shake the cream vigourously to loosen it up
Apply the cream in the point of a clean cloth. I spit onto the shoe and mix the cream into the spit, it becomes easier to work and in my opinion gives a deeper shine.
Buff vigourously with a very soft cloth.
You need these both to work the polish in and for the final buffing after the shoes are polished.
Ideally you need two sets of cloths, one for polishing in the wax and one for buffing. You also need to differentiate between those cloths that you use for black waxing and any others. This is very important, as black wax can really stain shoes of other colours and as far as I know, the damage cannot be reversed.
I use a variety of soft cotton cloths, some which are cut from old good quality t-shirts, which work very well. If you are starting from scratch I suggest that you buy a set of white dusters and use those.
I mostly use brushes for polishing off. If you have boots then you might want a brush for polishing on. For all my shoes I use a medium bristle shoe brush.
Once again, differentiating your brushes is important. If you consistently use a brush which has been used on black shoes on brown shoes, you will ruin them. Black brushes turn brown shoes into an in-between colour with a dirty muddy-looking finish
Shoe racks are invaluable. Put your shoes on a rack and let air circulate around them. Shoes on a rack will dry naturally and more quickly than shoes on a floor or flat surface.
The last word on care
Treat the shoes as you would your suits. If your suit has a stain or needs a press, you will take care of it before wearing it again. Similarly with shoes. If your shoes get dirty do not store them and put on another pair. Clean and wax the shoes as soon as possible. They will look better and last longer.
This is the end of my article on shoes for now. I do have more to say and I have several more articles in the pipeline. For now I hope that readers of my site find this article entertaining and useful. As always, comments and feedback are welcome.
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