For part two (see part I here), we’ll move onto some dressier shoes, and some interesting materials.
With most dress shoes made of calf leather, you start by doing the same things as boot care – put in a shoe tree, brush off any dirt with a brush, remove the laces.
First Step is conditioning. You can get any number of conditioners from shoe makers like Allen Edmonds and Loake. Brands like Kiwi and Lexol also make conditioners. But my favourite product (and it is supposed to be the best out there) has to be Saphir Renovateur. It is expensive stuff, but you only use the tiniest bit at a time. I apply it to the leather using a soft cotton cloth. You can get a welt brush or an old toothbrush to apply the conditioner to the welt. Leave the conditioner to dry for about 20 minutes or so.
If I’m being lazy and just want to make sure my shoes don’t get too dry, I just brush them down with a horsehair brush and put the laces back on. Otherwise, I apply a small amount of wax in the same way I applied the conditioner using a different cloth. Saphir also makes wax in a different colours but I’m using up an old tin of Kiwi wax at the moment. Again a little goes a long way. You can let the wax dry and apply a few coats in the same way.
Next step is to buff off any excess wax with a horsehair brush. If I’m feeling extra fancy I might do a spit shine on the toe area by dabbing a clean cloth in a tiny bit of wax then a tiny bit of water and rubbing it vigorously over the leather (then repeat about one million times). This takes a long time so most weeks I just get a nylon stocking and give the shoe a final shine. The nylon really brings out the shine.
For the sides of the soles, some people apply edge dressing but I find it to be quite messy and if you are not careful and get it on the leather it will never come off. For my antique welts and edge (just leather soles with a bit of staining, no edge dressing), I usually condition it with a bit of Huberd’s. If there is already some edge dressing, I usually cover up any blemishes with an appropriately coloured wax or cream polish.
My first pair of semi-formal shoes was a pair of shell cordovan Florsheim Imperial longwings I scored off eBay. Shell cordovan comes from the horse’s buttocks. From what I’ve read, the leather there is turned inside out (rough-out) and sanded down, then treated, and finally smoothed out with a glass rolling pin of sorts to give the immense shine. So it is really more connective tissue on the surface rather than leather as such. Cordovan is rare (because you only get one pair of shoes out of a horse), strong (you’d expect it to last you about 50 years or so), and very sought after.
When I first got my cordovans, I took to the intertubes to find out how to care for them. Reading about the Mac method (go on, google it) and various other posts was rather confusing to say the least. These days, I just use a tiny bit of Saphir Renovateur to condition the shoes all over. Wait for it to dry and buff it vigorously with a horsehair brush. I finish up by polishing it with a nylon stocking to bring out the shine. The key with cordovan is really just not to condition it too often. I wear mine maybe 3 times a week and I only condition them after 1-2 months, but always give them a brush down after every wear to maintain the shine. Some people also reckon a deer bone is good for polishing cordovan but hell if I know how to get one in Australia without paying a million bucks for shipping. Maybe if you know a good hunter…
Shell cordovan can come up with these tiny welts if it gets very wet. They usually subside once the shoes dry but they hang around, you can heat up a metal spoon with a flame and use it to press the welts back down.
I didn’t discover suede and roughout until more recently. Like most people, I thought suede was a delicate material, prone to dirtying and staining, and requiring lots of maintenance and babying. Not so! Suede is probably the easiest to care for. You don’t need to polish it or condition it very often. You can happily walk in the rain without the staining you get with calf or the bumps that appear with cordovan. Most high quality suedes are already quite water-resistant. You can apply a protectant spray if you like but some people say it makes the nap less luxurious. That was a trade-off I was willing to bear and you can restore the nap with a suede brush. I bought the kit from Loake on eBay which includes the brush and protectant, as well as a cleaner for when you acquire some tougher stains. I have not ever had to use the cleaner and usually a bit of a brush-down with a stiff brush does the trick. I occasionally condition the antique welt on my suede chukkas and that’s about it.
Rough-out is even tougher. It is basically the flesh-side out of the leather that hasn’t been sanded at all to achieve the smooth nap of suede. You don’t really need to do anything to it other than condition it once in a blue moon. I just use a small amount of Huberd’s boot grease which I normally use on my boots.