I just got a pair of nice leather shoes that I love. How can I keep them looking great forever?
Congratulations on your purchase! We’re sure your mom is really proud.
Now, while you can’t keep them looking great forever, you can get at least ten to fifteen solid years out of them if you follow these four simple rules: clean, polish, restore, rotate.
The clean part is easy. A simple horsehair shoe brush will do, and it only takes a minute or two to take off the dirt and dust. If you want to be even more thorough, use an old toothbrush to clean out hard-to-reach places like welting or under the arch.
As for polishing, you’ll want to do it at least once a month (once a week if you live in a rainy climate). The kind of polish to use depends on the kind of finish you want. For a softer leather shoe (like a driving moccasin), you want a softer finish, so stay away from hard waxes and use a cream-based polish instead. For harder leathers (like wingtips and cowboy boots), you want a shinier look, so choose a hard wax in a slightly lighter shade than the shoe. In both cases, start with a layer of cream-based conditioner -- it softens the leather and acts as a primer for the polish. And don’t worry about waterproofing products. If you polish your shoes regularly, you’ll have built up a good coat of wax that acts as a seal.
Next step: wooden shoetrees. Put them in your footwear every time you take them off. Like those “age-defying” face creams your girlfriend slathers on at night, the trees will keep your kicks looking firm and new -- and most importantly, wrinkle-free. See, every time you take off your shoes (even if you’ve only worn them for half an hour), the toe will have curled up and formed a crease in the front. Trees elongate the leather and bring the shoes back to their original shape.
Now for the most important part: rotation, rotation, rotation. You never want to wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row -- they'll wear out that much faster. Ideally, you should really keep them out of rotation for at least two days: the longer they sit with shoe trees in them, the longer they’ll keep their original shape.
One more thing: sole protectors (available at any shoe repair shop for around $30). These thin sheets of rubber cover half the sole (the part that gets the most wear and tear), preventing the original rubber from wearing out. After all, you’ve invested so much time and energy in the tops of your shoes, it would be a shame if they bottomed out.
About the Expert
Raul Ojeda is the manager of Willie’s Shoe Service in Los Angeles. Willie’s has served Hollywood’s tired soles for more than 50 years and has made custom kicks for everyone from Charlton Heston and Fred Astaire, to Johnny Depp and Jesse Jackson.
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