The Shoe Snob Blog

June 6, 2011

Written by , Posted in News, Patina Artists

Polish Your Shoes Properly

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I know that for some of you, this has been a long time coming. So let me start off by saying sorry for the long wait. Unfortunately some of you may have been expecting a video, but I don’t own a video camera and my regular camera can take about only 10-15 minutes of recording. And since this type of shine takes 2-3 hours and I really only had time to make this post while working, there was just no way that a video would have been possible. But, let you me tell you that even if you watched me on video, the only real way to learn this art, is to just do it and take in what you can from trial and error. I watched my friend Matteo many times and it did not teach me anything except the basic steps that I will share with you today. I learned, and continue learning to this day, by just doing it, trying new ways of going about it and learning from my mistakes.

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Let me start off by saying that, in my beliefs, there is a profound difference between a polish and a shine. And what I do, is a polish and that is defined in the dictionary as, ‘to make smooth and glossy.’ And to achieve that, one needs to use their hands and have ample free time. That being said, you can see (above, left) the pair of Crockett & Jones’ that I had to work with. These were the most perfect shoes I could have for my post as they had some leftover polish on them. That is important because time and time again I have had customers come in with their 10 year old shoes, that have just been caked with layer upon layer of polish right on top of each other. And the bad thing about this, is that you see cracked polish everywhere and it is not pretty, yet they tend to just polish on top of that, which does not make it go away, but rather help to set it in.

Instead, one should remove the excess polish and start fresh again, each time they wish to create a new shine. So that’s what I did. Now, you can do this several ways depending on how bad it is set in. For the sake of time, I used a little bit of help with the nail polish remover and added it to a rag in order to easily remove the old polish. (But before I did that, I brushed the shoe down with a horsehair brush to remove dirt and dust, as well as took out the laces) Sometimes this can be done with the liquid and sometimes you can use alcohol spirits instead of nail polish remover. The only thing is to be careful with whatever liquid that you use because you can take the finish with you if you rub too hard.

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With old polish

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Removed old polish

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Both clean of old polish

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One shoe with, one shoe without old polish

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Now the next thing that you need to do is to rejuvenate the leather. You can do this with many different products: saddle soap, mink oil renovator or some cream based conditioner. What I currently use is a very nice saddle soap but I will be switching to a mink oil renovator as I am in the process of branding my own Shoe Snob products for shoe polishing (will let you know as soon as they are ready for sale). You do this step in order to soften up the leather and get it ready to absorb the polish better, as well as clean off any dirt or dust that may have been missed from the brush. To get it deeply into the leather, I apply it with my two fingers that are wrapped by a cotton t-shirt that I cut up. I also use this same method to apply the polish but use a different t-shirt to do so, as to not mix the products together. After applying the conditioner, it is best to let the shoe dry for 10-20 minutes. And you will notice that in-between each stage there needs to be this dry time period as to not over-soak the leather and allow for the products to truly set into the leather.

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I currently use my Shoe Snob cream polish which is much better for color rejuvenation. Found at my eBay shop.

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The next step is to apply the first round of polish with an applicator brush. I tend you use more of a cream-based or regular polish for this step (not a wax) as it is better for bringing back the color. You do this to really get the polish into the leather and want to make sure that you hit ever part of the shoe, like the welt and the stitching areas. Do not cake on the polish but apply thinly and evenly around the whole shoe. This step can be particularly tricky when dealing with a very light colored shoe, as light leather can sometimes be easily affected by moisture (i.e. the polish) if not applied carefully. So if you do have a very light tan shoe, I always suggest applying a small amount on the heel first to see how the leather reacts and if it does darken, then quickly and lightly brush that spot with the soft bristled horsehair brush to make it spread evenly. And just know that some light leathers are going to darken no matter what, so deal with it if it happens. After this stage, let the shoe sit for 10-20 minutes again.

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The next step is to add the wax polish, by hand. In my opinion, a bee’s wax based polish with turpentine gives off the best shine. You will find that most of the higher end polishes have these ingredients and they are also very much used in the production of shoe polish made by French based companies (i.e. where they do the best patina’s and shines). When you apply this, you want to give it those little round about motions and do so evenly and thoroughly throughout the whole shoe. You also don’t want to be shy in applying a little bit of pressure when doing so, but not too much that you are cramping your fingers nor damaging the leather, just enough to really get into the pores of the skin. Speaking of pores, the way to get that mirror like shine, of which I am showing, is to completely fill in the pores of the leather in order to create a flat surface that then looks like glass. Getting back on subject, you want to apply 1-2 layers of wax polish for this step before going on to the next one. Let the shoe sit for 10-20 minutes.

Picture below left: 1 tin of dry wax polish, 1 tin of fresh (and moist) wax polish, 1 tin of water (on the right). When the leather simply won’t turn flat and glossy, use the dry polish to get it there. Sometimes using the moist polish will never allow the leather to be dry enough to truly set in the polish

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This next step is the hardest and in reality, will be what you will have to learn on your own, just by continuously doing it. That being, I will still try and walk you through it. As you have already applied several layers of polish onto the shoe, you have a nice coat on by now which will allow you to directly add water to the mix, as in the old spit’n’shine. The way that I do this, is to again affix the t-shirt to my hand, and then lightly dab my wedding finger (or equivalent on right hand) into the tin of water to get a drop of it on the tip to then apply to the leather before polishing over. Look at pictures to see. Again, I dab my finger into the water, then dab my two polish fingers into the wax, apply the drops of water onto the leather, then rub away the water with the polish in circular motions. Repeat and do for 1-2 hours throughout the entire shoe. This is the only way of really explaining it. The only thing to look out for is to make sure that you do not apply too much water and thus over-soak the leather or leave a water stain. If you do so you will have to let the shoe sit and dry for awhile before starting again. A way to knowing when you are close is to feel the leather and how it will get smoother and smoother after each layer. And when you feel like you are nearly there, I always recommend letting the shoe dry overnight before applying the final layer of wax’n’water.

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After completing the shine, the last touch is to take a piece of black nylon (think women’s tights) and rub it around the shoe, as this will help to take off dust, blend in the polish residue left behind from the cotton shirt and bring up that shine even more! And to maintain the shine, you should just use this nylon to wipe down your shoe every night. And that’s it!
Well I hope that this helps out. Best of luck and don’t be afraid to send me pics if any of you manage to get the mirror shine!!

-Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

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Video below brought to you by MR. PORTER, created by their video style editor, Mr. Aaron Christian

 

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for posting this, it is exactly what I was hoping for!

    I’m really interested in the different ways of removing the old polish as I definately have this problem, but didn’t realize it until you posted the pictures. Isn’t nail polish remover too harsh? Can I use rubbing alcohol? Should I delute the polish remover or alcohol with water? What other methods might you reccomend?

    Thanks again. You made my list of vendors to visit for my first trip to Saville Row if I can find my way out there any time soon.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06475099220085860920 culverwood

    Posts like this one make following a blog worthwhile.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12393603837339170011

    Kind Sir, this is absolutely marvelous, and I’ll have to make shoes with that french patina style and then to finish them with this technique! Awesome work! Thanks a million, you’ve made my day :D

    -Otso

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05456887431893156907 Henry V.-The Engineer

    Hey Justin.

    Great instructional on getting that mirror shine. Maybe you should amend it with a more thorough walk-through of how to remove shoe polish properly.

    Also,it wouldn’t be right if you didn’t do one on how to properly clean and maintain nu-buck. Side note: This is directly related to the nu-buck side. An instructional on the entire patina process would be nice.

    I’ve grown into sort of a snob myself. I’ve meticulously purchased some saddles recently,as well as some summer bucks in white,saddles as well. I was keen on getting those green nu-buck saddles from Cole Haan, but I settled for a white and olive leather version. I almost caved on a pair of Camel colored Dickie Browns for Florshiems. Everything else just didn’t have the right shape for me.

    I guess I’m a snob of sorts myself.

    Hey everyone…as Justin would say,STOP BEING CHEAP!!! I used to be one,but I’ve found myself gravitating to the better made shoes with a greater price point. But I took some advice from a friend of mine about life in general…Don’t cheat yourself. Treat yourself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09581215167148200333 Benjy

    This great post reminded me of the time I saw the most magnificent display of boot polishing when I was in the army. The boots were as rough as kevlar, and somehow, the most incorrigible imbecile in the entire camp managed to bring the entire boot to a patent shine!

  • http://www.vittorionegri.nl/ vittorio

    Hi Just

    Compliment very nice post.

    I have a question for you, I true than some really shoe snob use cognac instead of water for the final touch?

    thanks
    vittorio

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 The Shoe Snob

    Anonymous – It might depend on the nail polish remover, but the stuff that I use here doesn’t seem to be harsh enough. You can try rubbing alcohol, I am sure that it will not hurt it too bad so long as you do not rub too hard. I have gone as far as using bleach, but diluting it with water. Acetone is supposed to be the best, that is what is always recommended. Best of luck.

    Culverwood – Glad that you enjoyed the post!

    Otso – Thanks man, glad to have brought some goodness to your day!

    Henry V. – Looks like my blog is rubbing off on you! As far as the nubuck goes, I can admit that I am no expert so I cannot really give many recommendations. A nubuck brush and some protectant spray is as good as it gets for me, and of course being wary of where you walk.

    Benjy – The ‘ol spit n shine!!

    Vittorio – To be honest, I am not sure, but nothing surprises me!

    -Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

  • S

    Urgent question (emergency):

    I am going to a black tie event this weekend and was planning on wearing my black calf skin Crockett and Jones Alex shoes (whole-cut, plain toe) in place of patent shoes. I have been working on getting that shine as you describe in your blog, and I have somewhat succeeded in that.

    HOWEVER (and here comes the emergency), the toes of the shoes appear to have lost some of their color (they appear more purple than black, and I am unable to get a uniform black color on the shoe, there are many “lighter/purple” parts which are particularly visible when I hold the shoe in bright light). What can I do? There are no quality shoemakers/cobblers where I live which I can visit.

    Am I using the wrong wax? (I am only using the Crockett and Jones black wax polish that they sell in their store(“Handmade Wax Polish Black”).

    What can I do to get the shoes in a uniform black color? Please help, this is quite an emergency as the black tie event is only a few days away :)

    Thanks

    S

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 The Shoe Snob

    Dear S – Email me at justinfitz84@gmail.com with a picture, because I have never heard or seen what you are talking about. Have you tried looking at it in natural light? Did you try taking away some of the finish or just started using polish straight away? Email me regardless and I will do my best to help out.

    -Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

  • S

    Thanks Justin. Just sent you a photo.

    Thanks
    S

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16051942036985129454 Jeff S.

    Fantastic post, I’ve needed this. Thanks!

    I have one question, though, that is very basic yet very important that nobody ever seems to talk about: how in the world do you get the cloth/tshirt to stay on your fingers? I swear I have tried wrapping it every way I can think of and cannot get that sucker to stay put without holding it in a way that causes cramping after even a short time. Roughly what size do you cut it to? Any tips on that front?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 The Shoe Snob

    Jeff S. – I take a x-large t-shirt and start to cut it in 2-3 inch strips from the bottom until I reach the arms. After I affix the shirt to my first two fingers, I then wrap it around my wrist area and when it’s getting towards the end, either wrap it around my thumb or any of the other ‘free’ fingers to hold into place. You will just have to keep trying until you get it but there is a way. As far as cramping goes, you will get used to it until you cramp no more.

    -Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17207430797895202270 low_profile

    I recall in an earlier article you spoke of a stocking being used to finish off the shine of a shoe. Since reading that, I tried it and the result was far better than I ever imagined. It seems to blend in all remaining surface polish/wax that the circular motion w/t-shirt and water drops didn’t absorb. Would you address that? — Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 The Shoe Snob

    Low_Profile – Yes indeed, a black nylon is the key to finishing off a mirror shine, as well as maintaining it. I will update this post, tomorrow, to include that. Thanks for reminding me.

    -Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17207430797895202270 low_profile

    I’ve also learned in using stockings is that when using a black one it will cast a darkened shadow on any shoe leather other than black. So as a result, I’ll match the color of the nylon to the color of the leather or just use a white stocking if that’s not possible. I’ll still get the polishing advantages of the nylon.

    I hope that adds to the discussion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17207430797895202270 low_profile

    Hi Justin,
    Quick question — do you recommend shinning/polishing a new pair of shoes BEFORE wearing them the first time? Thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 The Shoe Snob

    Low_Profile – This is strange, as it has never done so for me. I only use a black nylon and have used it on very light colored shoes. Strange for it to happen to you and not to me? As far as your second question goes, this is up for debate. I would say that you could get a normal shine or maybe just do the caps on a mirror like shine, but I have learned the hard way that when you add a mirror shine to a brand new shoe, that has not had the chance to set in the creases at the breaking point, the shine, which is essentially a layer of wax over the leather, will crack and depending on the quality of the leather, might also take some of the finish with it. However, I have put mirror shines, on my bespoke shoes before wearing them, which most are made with French calf skin, and it was fine. obviously some of the shine flaked off where the shoe breaks, but it did not affect the finish and was easily manageable. So it’s hard to say in all honesty.

    -Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

  • Anonymous

    This is a good demonstration of a lost art. THANK YOU for such an indepth and visual post. I often find that there are a lot of information on the internet, but there is no way to engage and to understand exactly what the writer means without visualising the description. This post really is very useful, and it gives me hope in rejuvenating my beloved leather shoes that I love SO much.

    Thank you Shoe Snob. :)

    May

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 The Shoe Snob

    Dear May – I am glad that I could be of help and give you some hope to restore, what I am sure are treasured shoes.

    -Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

  • Anonymous

    I REALLY Enjoyed YOU Article. Such a “Hands ON” Approach. I do have a Question? When applying the coats of paste and polish do you buff with a Horse Hair Brush after each coat? I am a bit confused. Please Explain and Elaborate.

    Thanking YOU in advance for Your Valued Cooperation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, "The Shoe Snob"

    Anon – Glad that you enjoyed the post. I hope that you learned something from it. To answer your question, I only use a brush in the beginning to get dirt/dust off of the shoe. The shine is brought up with my cotton rag and bulling the shoes with polish in circular motions.

    I hope that this helps.

    -Justin

  • Anonymous

    Hi,

    Fantastic post. Many thanks.

    I use La Cordonnerie Anglaise wax to polish my shoes, which is great.

    But a question on tone changes. I have a light tan pair of Lodger’s broques (Bering Almond) but the colour is quite flat as they are so light. I’d like to maybe add some darker polish to the toe to add some depth but i’ve been unsuccessful so far. Any tips on this?

    Many thanks for a wonderful post again!

    Andy

  • Anonymous

    Hi! wonderful explanation.

    Whats the purpose of using those drops of water? What role does the water play?

    When applying various thin layers of wax polish, how do we know that the 1st layer has “hardened” sufficiently before adding 2nd layer? When applying. 2nd layer of wax polish, wont it remove the 1st layer?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01294352487087326933 Justin FitzPatrick, "The Shoe Snob"

    Andy – I am so sorry that I just realized that I never answered your question. That is not usually like me, so please forgive me. I hope that you get this. As per your question, you will want to use a paste or cream polish. As you are using LCA, I assume that it is a wax polish, which is not strong in pigment and is most likely why you have been unsuccessful. You can use Kiwi to darken a toe, as it is strong in pigment….I hope that this helps…sorry again for the tardy reply

    Anon – the water helps to disperse the polish into the pores of the leather which is how you build the shine…..waiting 10 mins (minimum) is sufficient. You don’t have to know by looking, just by time….no, the second application won’t remove the 1st, so long as it has dried sufficiently…

    -Justin

  • Anonymous

    I may have missed it but did you ever include steps to buff out the wax polish between each application? If not you really should. Piling layer upon of wax like that will suffocate the leather and dry it out. It’s skin, dead and tanned but still skin, and just like the skin on your body you need to let it breathe to stay healthy. When I polish my shoes I always use a good buffing cloth or a second horsehair brush to buff out and remove any excess polish after every single application. This ensures that just enough wax stays behind to give the shoes that wanted shine without completely choking off the leather.

    Also, I know how leather does get crease marks and small cracks over time, but in those first couple of photos with the polish stripped, the leather looks really dried out. A good trick is if you know you won’t be wearing your shoes for a while, to condition them and then just set them in their box to rest without re-polishing them. First clean off all the polish, then use a little saddle soap like you do to clean the shoes thoroughly and wipe down the shoes with a damp cloth and then get a good leather conditioning lotion like Bick 4 and give it a couple coats. Just a dab and rub it in by hand, no cloth or applicators. Give it one thin coating, let it dry, then another thin coating. Once you’ve thoroughly conditioned the leather you can slip some shoe trees/forms inside and just put them in their box or a cloth bag and tuck them away in your closet. This let’s the leather spend time abosorbing much needed moisture from the conditioner and more importantly it let’s them breathe which will keep the leather much healthier and restore some of their natural luster.

    Far too often do I see people who don’t take the time to condition and rejuvinate the leather so it gets terribly dried out and unhealthy. Then they end up having to apply more and more polish to cover up the dry cracks and dull spots, which only kills the leather more.

    Overall a good post though, showed some very interesting a neat techniques for polishing shoes. I will definitely try that finger wrapping trick. Again, my only suggestion is just to buff off excess wax between applications and to every now and again do a full stripping and conditioning without applying new polish all to keep the leather healthy.

  • Giovanni

    Is British Tan the same London Tan?

    • TheShoeSnob

      don’t know what either one of them are…they are just names that brands have given to a color…one person’s british tan won’t be the same as the next….like British Racing Green…it’s not the same from maker to maker