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Primer: How To Shine Your Shoes

No matter how you slice it, shoes are a crucial element to any man’s wardrobe. Obviously, this is no secret to you, the reader, considering how often we cover and write about all manners of footwear – from sandals to sneakers to leather dress shoes. And while it’s important to pick up a reliable and handsome pair of leather boots or dress shoes, what’s even more important once the purchase is made is the maintenance of your footwear. Yes, we’re talking about keeping your shoes shined.

And no, in case you were wondering, this isn’t an antiquated practice only held in high regard by “old timers” or simply reserved for airport terminals. In fact, this is a routine that comes highly recommended for both longevity and the desired appearance of your leather shoes or boots. On top of all that, it’s surprisingly easy and requires nothing if not a little patience and elbow grease. Not only does this routine keep your heirloom leather boots looking like new, but you’ll also acquire a newfound respect for shined shoes, and feel confident leaving your home in route to that summer wedding or any other formal affair. It’s a process even man should have in his repertoire, so if you’re unfamiliar with the process, best brush up on some knowledge sooner rather than later.

Why Shine?

Preservation & Appearance

Any authentic leather is expensive. We all know this. However, it’s because the material is one of the toughest around that the higher price points come into play. However, this is also why it’s important to take care of you leather kicks. Because after years of trudging around outdoors or scuffing them while on your daily commute, the shine will fade and you’ll be left with dull worn-out boots or shoes – tempting you to reach back into that wallet of yours to pick up another pair.

The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. Thanks to some basic shoe shining skills and with the right tools, you can increase the life of your favorite pair by years on end. It’s a practice that’s been in place for decades – allowing us to get hands-on with our gear and demonstrating a certain level of respect for both our belongings and ourselves. It’s no doubt that shined shoes are a clear indication of a gentleman, so if this is of interest to you, then continue on good sir.

The Shining Process

Surprisingly Simple

  1. Gather Your Gear: Just like any DIY project, you need to set up your work space. That means an open area that can be protected from any mishaps with your shoe shine. In this instance set everything up atop an old towel you don’t mind soiling with polish. It’s also highly recommended that you keep everything organized in a shoe shine box.

  2. Clean Your Shoes: Just like you would paint a wall or stain a fence without priming it first, you should never start shining your shoes without giving them a good clean. That means, removing all the dirt and dust off of your leather shoes with a brush – ideally a horsehair shine brush or damp rag. Please keep in mind though that if you do have to get your shoes or boots wet while cleaning to be sure and allow them to dry before applying any shoe polish.

  3. Apply The Polish: Once your shoes are both cleaned and dry, it’s time to apply the polish. To do so, take your shoe polish brush or some soft cloth, and begin applying the polish to the boot in circular motions – similar to waxing a car. Now, different leathers will respond differently to the polish so be sure to apply an appropriate amount of polish and elbow grease as necessary. Whatever the case, be sure to cover the entire shoe as evenly as possible with the polish and match the polish as best you can with the color of the shoe. Once satisfied, go ahead and allow the polish to dry for about 15 minutes (which is just enough time to polish the other shoe).

    For those visual learners out there, The Art Of Manliness’ very own Brett McKay does a great job of walking us through the shoe shining process.

  4. Buff It Out: After the 15-minute threshold has been reached, you can now brush and buff away the polish using a horsehair brush. Horsehair is nice and sturdy which helps to gently buff away the shine in the most efficient manner. Again, apply some elbow grease here. Leather is damn tough so there’s no need to baby them. What you’re looking to do here is brush away the extra polish leaving only a small film on the outside of the shoe.

  5. Reapply And Shine: Once all excess polish is removed and the initial buff is completed, it’s time to detail your shoes. Here, add another layer of shine to the more crucial parts of the shoe (i.e. the toe and heel). There really is no rule-of-thumb for how many coats are needed. Simply apply, buff and reapply your preferred shine in small doses to these parts of the shoes as needed.

  6. The Final Shine: Once all your layers of polish are applied and buffed, it’s time to give the whole shoe some heated treatment. So, take your cotton rag in each hand and now quickly pull it back in forth over the leather. For reference, this is the stereotypical step everything thinks about when shining shoes. In short, the heat created during this process will help bond the polish to the leather – manifesting itself in that desired mirror shine.

Rancourt & Co. Brush Dauber ($4)
Kiwi Shoe Polish ($7)
Medaille D’Or Cotton Chamois Cloth ($10)
Allen Edmonds Horsehair Shine Brush ($10)
Saphir Pommadier Cream Polish ($20)

The Tools

Here's What You'll Need

Aside from a pair of shoes to polish, there are a few essential items you should pick up before tasking yourself with some shoe shining. First, it’s important to get your hands on a soft cotton towel or rag. Now a t-shirt of even some cotton balls occasionally work but it’s always a good idea to get yourself something official that was made specifically for the job at hand. Next, it’s important to get two different horsehair brushes – a small one for applying the polish and a larger one for buffing it out.

Finally, speaking of polish, you’re going to want to pick up some standard but reliable polish for your leather along with some cream polish depending on the type of leather you’re working with. And again, whatever polish you choose, be sure to get some that closely resembles the color of your shoes. Now, all you need is a trusty shine box to keep all your gear organized.

Now If You're Looking For A New Pair...

At the end of the day, there really is nothing like a fresh pair of boots. So if you’re interested in picking up a pair for yourself, be sure to check out this list featuring some of the best brown leather boots out there.