For most of us in the Western world, the buffer between ourselves and mother nature is what we put on our feet. Amongst sartorial men, shoes, and shoe repair is also one of the biggest litmus tests as to the depth of knowledge a man has in menswear. The reason is mostly that those men that love their shoes tend also to love their jeans, their suits, their shirts and ties and their sports jackets. For these men, there is one thing they universally disdain – and that is men who don’t look after their shoes. Scuffed shoes, torn shoes, cruddy soles, blotched marks in the leather, heels that have collapsed from excessive use without a shoe horn – these are all the ‘tells’ of a man who doesn’t invest product or time in shoe repair. Whether your shoes are Goodyear welted or not, there is no point restoring the soles of your shoes if you have never looked after your uppers. So here are a few tips.
Buy A Shoe Brush
Most decent cobblers will sell you a good shoe brush. Buy one because it’s the most vital shoe repair tool. It’s a very cheap investment and it will last forever. Brushing your shoes is a way to remove most of the ordinary build up dirt on your shoes but more importantly, the simple act of brushing your shoes means you have put your eyes over the shoe and you will be able to ascertain what problems you might be encountering in the near future. Personally, I like shoe brushes with horsehair – here is a good one online.
Get Some Shirting Rags
Old poplin or twill shirts make for great rags. The older the shirt the better. Go through your old shirts and cut them up neatly into squares of say 36cm. You can use shirt rags for glaçage, for cleaning off basic marks and for the use in applying leather dyes. Remember, the more you use them, the better they become so don’t chuck them away after using them!
Nourish Your Leather With Saphir Shoe Repair Renovateur
After you have brushed your shoes and run a shirting rag dipped in warm water across your shoes, it’s time to give back nutrients to the leather. Renovateur is my top recommendation. You can buy it here or on Ebay. Preferably let this lovely stuff soak in overnight but if you can’t wait then at least give it a good hour. Then brush it off with your brush. Some people will stop there and not shine the shoes. This works for matte coloured leathers. If, however, you like a shine or a bull shine (glacage/high shine), read on….
Put Colour Pigment And The First Layer Of Shine On By Using Pomades
Saphir’s Medaille D’Or cream polish is legendary in the shoe repair trade. The cream polish puts in both pigment and it forms the base layer for your high shine. Apply it with a brush and rub it into the entire shoe upper and on the side of the sole if the colour matches. You leave this until it dries on the shoe and then you brush it off again with your horsehair brush. Buy it online here or call Double Monk in Melbourne. Obviously, you want to match the colour of your pomade to that of your shoe. However, in some instances, especially if you are looking to create subtle nuances in leather as in with patina, you will use this step to put an alternating colour into the shoe.
High Shine With Bees Waxes
There are products by Collonil and the like which offer you a cream-based solution which is supposed to offer you a high shine at the end. If it does, I’ve never found it. It’s a nice cream and it goes on nicely but it will never bring you glaçage (bull shine). For a true glaçage you must use your perspiration, your shirting rags and your hot breath. Take the shirting rag and wrap it tightly around your middle and nose picking index finger (that’s right, use it for something else for once). With the tip of your cloth covered finger swab a small amount of Saphir Pate De Luxe (beeswax) on your finger (pretend you are dipping a knife in vegemite for the first time), then dip a small amount of the cloth in water, just a wee bit, and then begin in a circular motion going across the entire shoe. Once you have done this, drop the left shoe, pick up the right. Then go back to the left and so on. Now use your hot breath and breathe on the shoe. A fine mist will appear, rub it off. By this stage, you should be sweating, going over the shoe back and forth in small circular motions. You will find that the first areas to shine in a reflective manner are the heel and the toe box of the shoe. Don’t be alarmed, that’s to be expected because these part of the leather are the most tightly pulled during the making of a shoe. In fact, it’s very difficult to ever get a full glaçage across the entire shoe.
Buy some wax here or buy it here. Regardless of whether it has a brand name on it or not, most of the beeswax comes from Saphir. It’s usually very obvious by the tin it comes in and if it says ‘Made In France’.
Use Shoe Trees
When you use a shoe tree when polishing your shoes you will provide a hard surface on which to apply your circular motion and brush strokes. This will, of course, made it easier and you will find that your shoes will have fewer creases in the long run. Leather creases, you won’t stop this, however, you can mitigate the level of creasing and loss of structure in the shoe over time by using shoe trees both during restoration and when storing them. My recommendation is to search eBay for old shoe trees from reputable brands.
Beware Of Leather Dyes
Leather dyes are the best way to form what is commonly known as a patina in the shoe world. A patina is something which usually is attributed to aged antique furniture where over time the inlaid leather has marbled and aged with sunlight and wear and tear. This process can be ‘manufactured’ in leather shoes by using a combination of dyes, brushes, sprays and chemicals to apply and remove layers of dye to create a similar marbled effect. This is an enormously creative and fun area of shoe restoration but it does require some serious time and some serious forethought. Dyes can be bought from reputable cobblers, leather goods wholesalers, from Ebay and from reputable online haberdashers in the USA and Europe. However, I do not suggest using leather dyes unless you are prepared to use chemicals such as acetone and thinners to remove the existing leather dye and to ‘strip’ the shoe. These are toxic chemicals and should always be used in conjunction with protective clothing and air filtering masks.
The most important steps for lifting your shoe repair operation are purchasing a shoe brush, a pomade applicator, some pomade, some old shirting rags, some bees wax and a little tray for water. These are the essentials to restore your shoes. The more confident you get the more you will feel comfortable to experiment with colours and then perhaps adding minor effects to the leather. Finally, when you are very confident, consider the art of patina by purchasing leather dyes and the appropriate accoutrements. Now that you know how to look after your shoes there is no excuse for you to have sullied looking shoes when you head out into the city. And, everyone will know that they are dealing with a civilised man.
Feature Image from Kirby Allison’s Hanger Project. Also, a great source for all your Shoe repair needs.
By Nicholas Atgemis, founder of the bow tie company Le Noeud Papillon and author of the blog www.lenoeudpapillon.blogspot.com