The Gentlemanly Way to Care for Shoes

Shoe Care

A pair of superior men’s leather shoes, made with Goodyear welt construction (which allows for repeated resoling), can last for years—sometimes decades—if properly cared for. Shoe trees of cedar or some other aromatic wood that absorbs moisture and perspiration while deodorizing are essential to shoe-preservation. Once shoes are removed from the feet, shoe trees should be inserted into the shoes. Properly sized shoe trees are essential for maintaining the shape of shoe uppers, keeping them crease-free for years. (Without shoe trees, shoe uppers will begin to show signs of wear after just three or four wearings). Since shoe trees are of left-foot, right-foot construction, special attention should be paid when inserting them so as to ensure that they are placed into the corresponding shoe. A misplaced shoe tree, if left in a shoe for several days, can slightly compromise the shape, and therefore fit, of the shoe. Shoe trees are sized either numerically (e.g., 8, 10, 12, 14) or by range (e.g., S, M, L, XL). Though not inexpensive, good-quality shoe trees can last a lifetime and are worth every penny spent to acquire them. Each pair of leather shoes should have its own pair of shoe trees.

Shoes should be permitted to “rest” for two or three days between wearings, thereby allowing the shoes to dry out and reshape (with the aid of shoe trees). Shoe racks of cedar (such as those manufactured by Jos. A. Bank) or some other aromatic wood are also essential to the overall preservation of shoes: Shoe racks keep the soles of shoes off the floor, thereby allowing air to circulate under the shoes as they are “resting” or not in use. (Oftentimes, leather soles, if placed directly onto the floor without having been thoroughly dried out, will accumulate mold, which, over time, can compromise the integrity of the soles).

The uppers of patent leather shoes tend to crack if not properly cared for. To prevent cracking, immediately after being removed from the feet, and after shoe trees have been inserted into the shoes, the uppers should be wiped clean with a damp cloth then hand-rubbed with a very thin coat of petroleum jelly, which should be buffed off with a clean, dry cloth the following day. The petroleum jelly serves to keep the patent leather finish supple.

Leather shoes tend to become salt-stained during the winter months in regions of the world where salt is used to protect streets in snowy and icy weather. To remove those unsightly salt-residue markings, a simple, inexpensive, homemade formula is most effective: one tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of water. Using a clean cloth or paper towel that has been moistened in the vinegar-water solution, the salt stains should be gently wiped, the stains disappearing almost instantaneously.

A gentleman who lacks the time or skill to wax and shine his shoes should have them professionally maintained. Most hotels, train stations, bus terminals, and airports have reputable shoe maintenance personnel or outlets. Attendants should be tipped at least twenty percent of the fee charged.

Some men wear shoe taps on the heels and/or toes of their shoes. Since each man wears his shoes differently, it is best that a gentleman wear his shoes three or four times before applying shoe taps so that as indicated by wear, the shoe repairperson will know precisely where to attach the protective taps.

Athletic shoes, because of their rubber content, tend to “breath” less and, as a result, accumulate odor more so than shoes made of other materials. Moisture- and perspiration-absorbing socks, therefore, should always be worn with athletic, rubber-soled shoes. Fortunately, the rubber content of athletic shoes also allows them to withstand washing with soap and water. Whenever athletic shoes are washed, they should be allowed to thoroughly sun-dry for a day or two before being worn again.

Previously worn shoes being packed for travel should be enclosed in plastic bags or shoe bags to prevent shoe soles from contaminating other items in a gentleman’s luggage.

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