Looking After Leather Shoes

Leather boots and shoes are comfortable, stylish and are a cornerstone of men’s fashion but it’s important to look after them.

So make them look good, make them last longer and make them comfier with these clever tips.

New shoes

As Paulo Nutini says ‘I put some new shoes on, and suddenly everything is right’, and if you want to keep that great feeling look after your new shoes.  Start by looking after your new leather shoes before you put them on, it’ll mean less work later on.

Condition your shoes (see below) before you wear them outside. Doing so makes them even comfier from the start and will make future care easier. Start loving and caring for your shoes the minute they leave the box, and they’ll love you back.

Clean up your act

Old leather shoes

What happens when you don’t look after leather
Source: Thana Thaweeskulchai

Have you stepped in mud too many times? Are your boots looking scruffy? If so, it’s time to smarten them up. But don’t jump straight in with a wet cloth and polish.  

You need to prepare your shoes for cleaning, with these simple steps:

1. Remove the laces, it’s easier to clean these separately.

2. Clean off any mud and debris with a rag or a damp cloth.

3. Let your footwear dry. Now you’re ready to condition and polish your boots.


Hair conditioning

The wrong kind of conditioning
Source: Vibes

Conditioning your boots and shoes will make your leather last longer. It’s pretty simple, just get a cloth and rub small amounts of the conditioner into the boot.

You have 3 options when it comes to conditioner.

1. Dubbin – with a distinct smell and a yellow tint, it’s a great buy that lasts ages and will also help to waterproof your leather. Easy to find in shoe and outdoor shops.

2. Traditional conditioner – there is a lot on the market and all claim they are the best. Do some research and find the product that suits your budget and needs.

3.Vaseline – my personal favourite. Use like you would any conditioner, but don’t double dip, then you can use it on your lips too!

Shine on/Shine off

Get two brushes. A shine on brush, and a shine off brush. Get some polish. Then watch this ‘idiot’s guide’ featuring the wonderful James May.

Keep them tidy!

Treat your shoes regularly. The moment your boots look a little bit sad, cheer them up with conditioner, polish and care.

Here’s some I polished earlier:

Mens polished oxford leather shoes

Polished shoes

Leather shoes: Accept no imitations

Leather – tanned skins that protect the feet from rough stones, puddles and cold weather.  

We humans have worn the stuff since we wielded clubs and lived in caves.  But just like many other natural favourites, first there is the real thing, then someone fakes it.

Faux leather lovers argue that fake is better for the environment, kinder to animals and easier on your pocket – but we believe the original is still the best. Here’s why.

The First Fake

Fake Leather

And so fake leather was born…
Source: Atlantic Cable

Looks like leather, smells like leather – it must be leather.  Right?  Wrong.  The first fake leathers were designed as cheap alternatives to the real thing.

A woven calico background was coated with layers of linseed oil and powdered leather – sweepings from the cutting room floor.  Sometimes a tough natural latex called Gutta-percha was used as the binder and end result was made into desk surfaces, the soles of shoes and telegraph cables.

Other types of leather cloth found a use as oilskins and chair coverings.  But the material wasn’t supple enough to replace leather in the manufacture of leather shoes and boot uppers.


Corfam shoes

The swinging 60s introduced Corfam as a leather alternative
Source: The Drill Master

Among the first shoes to be made with polyurethane were Corfam ‘poromeric’ shoes.  The material was introduced during the early 1960s by the Dupont chemical company and manufactured at their plant in Tennessee.

The company spent many millions of dollars marketing the product to shoemakers, but the supposedly breathable leather substitute flopped. In 1971, Du Point sold the rights to a firm in Poland.

Corfam looks like patent leather and is still popular with the armed forces in America and elsewhere.  We think leather boots, spit and polish work best. Anything else is cheating!


cat woman

Cat Woman, single-handedly keeping pleather in demand since the 70s
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Plastic material that resembles leather – there are many forms of pleather, some porous, some not – like PVC.  Yuk – incredibly sweaty.  Apparently some people like that sort of thing – catwoman for one.

As production processes have improved, fake leather has become common place and so much like the real thing in appearance that it’s often hard to tell the difference at a glance.  Some of the stuff is even perfumed so it smells like actual leather.  The muscle bike manufacturer, Harley Davidson are reported as having stocked a faux leather biker’s jacket.  But frankly we could see no evidence of it on their website.

We don’t believe Harley riders – hairy chaps of the Hells Angels ilk would thunder down the highway in anything less than cowhide.



Akin to sitting on superglue!

If you are old enough to have been a child during the 1960s or 70s, you may remember burning your bare legs on the leatherette seats of the family saloon car.  Sunny weather would toast the imitation leather to temperatures not seen outside of nuclear fission, producing a smell that could induce instant car sickness.

The foul stuff was less prone to drying and cracking than traditional leather but revolting to sit on for more than a few minutes at a time. Would you believe it, they also make shoes out of the stuff?



America’s take on Leatherette
Source: Disguised Cyclone

The American version of leatherette – this fabric backed, Vinyl coated, skin effect cloth is used across a wide range of applications.  You will stick to the stuff on chairs in hospitals, office atria, bus seats and many other places – squirming in the residues of sweat left by other people and adding your own for the next unhappy passerby.

The stuff is used to make vegan shoes too – ensuring the health and vitality of fungal infections everywhere.  The company that make Naugahyde market it through a stuffed animal made of the stuff – the Nauga – which they say is ugly – but its vinyl hide is beautiful.  I guess that depends on your taste.


Ah, that’s more like it!
Source: Samuel Windsor

No matter what the naysayers’ objections, leather shoes are the best shoes.  When it comes to the environment, the longevity of a product is key to assessing its environmental impact.  Simply put, a good pair of leather shoes lasts a great deal longer than its plastic, petrochemical rivals.

Well made shoes with welted soles can be repaired again and again – lasting for years and still looking great.  And vegetarians aside, leather is a byproduct of the meat industry.  Using the skins reduces waste and therefore must surely be the choice of meat eaters everywhere.

Really wild leather shoes

If somebody were to ask you where the leather came from to make your shoes, you would probably say the same place as a hamburger. But you could be wrong — unless of course you’re partial to ostrich or kangaroo burgers.

If all this is sounding a little bit surreal, then allow us to enlighten you with some of the more exotic leathers used to make really wild leather shoes.


ostrich leather shoes

Ostrich leather shoes

Don’t bury your head in the sand, ostrich leather shoes are slowly gaining in popularity. Used by many of the top fashion houses, ostrich leather has a characteristic goose bump look, which is a result of where the large hair follicles grow.


shark leather shoes

Shark leather shoes

After the Jaws movie franchise splashed the world with fear, the great white shark became recognised as a fearsome creature that could eat boats. These days people wear sharks on their feet. That’s right, super tough shark leather is now an expensive option for shoes — guaranteed to keep the beaches safe.


ecco crocodile leather shoe

Crocodile leather golf shoe

Exotic looking (and pricey) crocodile leather has been seen as a symbol of style and wealth for many years. A favourite of wealthy cowboys in big shiny cars and Geordie crooners like Jimmy Nail, crocodile shoes are as snappy as ever (sorry).


Kangaroo leather bike shoe

Kangaroo leather bike shoe

We could go for the cheap and easy jokes and say things like kangaroo leather shoes will put a spring in your step, but we bounce that low. Instead we’ll enlighten you with some impressive facts about this strong lightweight leather, which compared to other leathers, retains considerably more of its tensile strength when cut into thinner strips. That’s why it’s a popular choice for bullwhips.


Stingray leather shoes

Stingray leather shoes

It seems no animal is safe from the cobbler army, but stingray leather has been used for centuries. Due to it being one of the most difficult leathers to work due to its dished scales construction, it’s possibly the most expensive and only used for luxury items like the handles of Samurai swords and very posh shoes.