The Lost Art of Shoe Shining

With the rise of heritage shoe brands and the access we have to the world’s greatest shoe brands, there’s never been a better time to be a beardsman with a shoe fetish. As you build out your collection of wingtips, wholecuts and derbys, it’s important to know how to take care of them. Polishing your shoes not only keeps you looking sharp on a day-to-day basis, it also protects your investments and ensures that your leather uppers are still looking sharp even when your soles are ready for an overhaul.

If you’re wondering whether you should polish your own shoes or sit on one of those chairs and pretend to read the newspaper while another man plays with your feet, take a page from legendary beardsman Abe Lincoln’s book and do it yourself. Senator Sumner once asked Lincoln “Why, Mr. President, do you black your own boots?” To which the President replied, “Whose boots did you think I blacked?” Enough said…let’s learn how to shine some shoes.

The Tools:

At a minimum, you’re going to need a soft cotton cloth (preferably white), a cleaner/conditioner, and some polish. A horsehair brush is an extremely useful tool if you can get your hands on one. For polish, two choices exist: cream and wax. Cream polishes are softer and better at moisturizing and recoloring leather; wax polishes excel at enhancing shine. True connoisseurs use both, but it’s okay to choose cream or wax depending on the results you want to achieve for a given pair of shoes.

Quick Shine:

You’re getting ready for a date and you’ve got just enough time to throw on some beard oil and make yourself look presentable. Time is running thin but that’s okay, because you can get by with just a single light coat of conditioner. Apply it with a soft cotton cloth using a small circular motion until the whole upper has been coated. Let it soak in for 1 or 2 minutes and buff it out using a horsehair brush or a clean piece of cotton cloth. Your shoes will look clean and you’ll look put together. Feel free to stop at this step for boots and other rugged footwear that tends to look better with a few scuff marks.

Use legs to hold shoe for leverage

The Regular:

Here we’re going to start with the Quick Shine and add a layer of cream or wax polish on top. The key to getting a great shine is to use as little polish as possible. Choose a color that is similar to the color of the leather and test it out in a hidden place (under the laces on the tongue works well). Now spread the polish over the cleaned and conditioned uppers using 1” circles until they’re coated. Wait 5-10 minutes and buff out the dried polish with a horsehair brush. Feel free to repeat with a second coat for some extra shine!

Just a small amount goes far

The Works aka Mirror Shine:

Once you’ve completed The Regular it’s time to add some high-shine to the toe boxes and heels. These are the parts of your shoes that don’t flex when you walk meaning they can handle a few more coats of polish.
Fill the lid of your polish jar with water and dampen your cloth with a couple of small drops. Then load the cloth with a dab of just enough polish to coat the toes of your shoes. Using very light pressure, apply the polish to the toes past the point where your shoes bend. Reload with polish and repeat, adding additional water to keep the application smooth and without friction. Continue this process for several coats. With each coat, use a bit less pressure until you’re barely touching the cloth to the toe. You’re done when you can see your beard in your shoes!

The results (see my reflection in the toe?)

About the Author:

Brendan Petri created Petri Polish in 2014 to bring his award-winning, all-natural leather conditioners, cleaners and polishes to leather lovers everywhere. Featuring orange and coconut oils, Petri Polish products smell delicious and offer world-class performance. Check out the line at @petripolish 


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