So you’ve bought nice shoes, now guess what? You’re going to have to take care of them. Finding and buying a good pair of shoes is only half the battle, the other half is all about maintenance and care. Shoe care is incredibly important and it’s good to remind a patina-crazed community like ours not to totally destroy your your newest purchase in search of a fade.
The art of shoe care may seem archaic to the public at large, in today’s world of disposable and usually seasonal footwear, but it’s nothing too complicated. In this article, we’ll cover a couple essential shoe care accessories that are indispensable to the fastidious shoe-owner and maybe a wise investment for the less-fastidious among us as well.
1. Shoe Trees
If you weren’t already familiar with a handy little invention called the shoe tree, I can’t imagine what you first thought when you heard the phrase. A magical tree at the center of the forest with pairs of beautiful shoes blooming on its branches. Not so! Shoe trees are designed to maintain the shape of your favorite shoes and (depending on the material) to mask odor and absorb excess moisture. The rule of thumb in the world of shoe trees is that the nicer the shoe, the nicer the shoe tree ought to be.
Plastic Shoe Trees
Plastic shoe trees are a good place to start, especially if your shoes are not all that expensive. The website Shoe Snob recommends them almost exclusively for travel. Plastic shoe trees can be life-savers for the shoe-lover on the go, they’re lighter than their wooden brethren and will keep your shoes from losing their shape in transit.
Shoe Snob sells the above design, if you’re planning on taking some of your shoes with you on your next trip, but for a more permanent shoe care solution, plastic won’t quite cut it.
Available for $68 for three pair at Shoe Snob.
Wood Shoe Trees
Plastic shoe trees are a good entry-level option, but if you own nicer shoes and want to keep them that way, you must check out some wood options. Only wooden shoe trees absorb moisture from your shoes and depending on the kind of wood, can also mask certain unpleasant foot-odors.
Excess moisture can be a death sentence for good leather, causing it to stiffen and decay over time, which is a big reason that shoe trees are so essential. Store-bought shoe trees will work perfectly well, but some people even get lasted shoe trees for their bespoke shoes, which are basically a wood model of their shoe designed to fit perfectly.
The above wood shoe tree is made of cedar, popular for its odor-masking properties. But as can be seen on the Hanger Project website, there is no shortage of luxurious shoe trees to pair with your luxurious shoes of all different shapes and woods.
Available for $35 and up at Hanger Project.
2. Shoe Horns
Grandpas the world over are rejoicing that the young people are currently reading about a classic shoe care accessory, the shoe horn. The shoe horn’s name likely comes from its original material, horn and bone, and was a way to help slide into a tight bespoke shoe.
As with shoe trees, the shoe horn helps hold the shape of the shoe and in this case protects the counter, or heel of the shoe from being crushed after repeatedly stamping one’s foot on it.
In more recent years, shoe horns have predominately been made from metal and plastic. The above brass shoe horn is available for a downright reasonable $16 from Oak Street Bootmakers and will save your shoes’ heels from a lifetime of punishment.
3. Shoe Conditioners
Shoe conditioners are the most complicated of the shoe care accessories, simply because of the sheer variety of conditioners available. Different conditioners work differently and are made from different sources, but all serve the save purpose, to extend the life of your shoes.
Neatsfoot oil is made from the shin and foot bones of cattle and is used to soften and preserve leather products. It can cause darkening on newer leather and is often preferred use on working equipment. Its oily residue and darkening properties might not be what you want on your nicest shoes.
Mink Oil comes from the fat of…you guessed it, minks. Mink Oil is one of the most popular leather conditioners and like the others, softens and waterproofs the leather. Mink Oil temporarily darkens the leather it’s used on, so be mindful of that.
Waxes are used to seal and protect leather, but they can also be added after moisturizing your leather to add an extra shine. Waxes can be animal-based or petroleum based, but both add extra protection and pizzazz to your footwear.
Lincoln Wax is a famous brand that is mentioned by many shoe-lovers online. You can get a hold of a little tin of the stuff for $5.99 from the Lincoln site, where they offer 12 different colors.
Saddle Soap is a great way to clean leather and save time doing it. The above company promises that their product will not only clean and strength your leather products, but polish them too in one fell swoop. Saddle Soaps usually contain a mild soap and beeswax, but ingredients vary and you may want to check what exactly is in your tub of soap. The above is available for $10.50 from Fiebing.
4. Shoe Brushes
There is one last crucial category of shoe care accessory, and that is the brush! Brushes are crucial for getting the dust and grime out of hard-to-reach places and in so doing, further extending your shoe’s life.
A large horsehair brush like the one seen above is absolutely essential. It cleans the creases of your shoes, where dirt can do the most damage and is hardest to reach. And the hair is coarse enough to clean, but soft enough to polish at the same time.
The above brush is available from Leffot for $32.
Welt Brush/ Dauber
A welt brush is typically also made from horsehair, but is smaller and with a handle. It allows the wearer to clean the hardest to reach places on the shoe. Specifically, as its name indicates, the welt.
The above brushes are available for $6 from Shoe Passion.
Suede brushes are designed to simultaneously brush dirt out of suede and re-fluff the material. The bristles are harder and in this case made from a boar’s hide.
The above brush is available for $20 from the Hanger Project.
Stuff you gotta have.
Many shoe-makers and tanners have their own products they endorse, for example, Red Wing offers many kits that include the majority of the above necessities. Horween Leathers, the oldest tannery in the United States also endorses a couple of different products on their website, but at the end of the day it’s up to the shoe-wearer what you end up using. There is no shortage of shoe care products and everyone has their preferred oil, cream, or brush.
Our cursory overview of the world of shoe-care will hopefully be but a first step in your shoe journey. Good luck and keep those shoes clean.