A man’s shoes are a reflection of who he is. So what do your shoes say about you? You don’t have to spend a fortune to get footwear that tells the world you’ve made it. If you have an old leather pair, a little effort and insider knowledge is all you need to go from scruffy to sorted. In short you’ll need to thoroughly clean the leather, repair the soles and polish until they shine…
Hot on the heels of our recent shoe care infographic, here’s how to restore your old leather shoes…
How to clean old leather shoes
If your old leather shoes haven’t seen a proper clean since England last won the World Cup, you’re not alone. Over the years, even the best quality shoes can become a little tired-looking. Careful cleaning can transform your shoes, and allow you to see where repairs need to be made. Here’s how:
- Use a brush with soft bristles to remove all traces of surface dirt, dust, mud or other debris.
- Wash your shoes with moisturising saddle soap – it’s good for the leather and will remove excess wax from previous polishes.
- Stuff your shoes with newspaper and allow them to dry. Don’t put them near a radiator or in direct sunlight.
Once your shoes are clean and dry, you’re ready for the next step in the restoration process.
How to polish leather shoes like a professional
An Army-style spit and polish gives your shoes a gleam that tells everyone you’re a man to be reckoned with. Check out the British Legion’s military-grade guide to ensuring you ‘stand out from the crowd’. Some cheap materials and a bit of elbow grease get great results that any soldier would be proud of. All you need is a tin of good quality polish, a little moisture and a soft cloth.
- Wrap part of the cloth around your index finger.
- Dip your finger in the polish and use your digit to apply polish to the shoe.
- Cover a small patch at a time, working in a circular motion.
- When you feel the area becoming a little rough, add some water. We recommend dabbing your cloth on a wet sponge rather than the traditional armed forces method of spitting!
- Keep building up layers of polish, adding water as necessary, until you get a lustrous sheen.
- Persevere until you have a smooth even shine.
To achieve a really impressive finish, you should make yourself comfortable. According to the British Legion it can take a couple of hours to get to an inspection-standard burnish.
How to dye leather shoes
If your shoes are badly scuffed and polishing isn’t going to be enough, you can use dye to restore them to their former glory. With a bit of time and effort, you can even add some custom finishes like the ‘antiqued’ toes seen in the image above.
It’s vital to make sure that your shoes are completely free from polish, soap, wax or oil before you start, otherwise the dye will not be properly absorbed by the leather. You can buy a specialist stripper product to do the job.
Next, choose your colour. Remember that if you’re dyeing shoes, always go darker. Brown or burgundy to black is fine, but it’s harder to dye black shoes a lighter colour – the black will always show through the dye.
- Choose your shoe dye with care – read reviews before you buy.
- Use a small, fine brush to apply the dye.
- Apply the dye to small areas of the shoe at a time, until the whole shoe is evenly covered.
- Allow the shoe to dry for at least twenty-four hours.
- Carefully re-touch small areas or apply another coat of dye if the coverage isn’t even.
- Lock the colour in with a good polish.
With a bit of care and attention, you can achieve a rich, vibrant colour and restore your leather shoes to a look that’s almost as good as new.
How to restore the soles of leather shoes
Resoling and re-heeling your shoes generally costs around £40 – £50 at the average cobbler’s, but isn’t an option for every style. The good news is that the Goodyear welted shoes made by Samuel Windsor can be resoled. This work can involve re-stitching, so it’s best left to the professionals.
If your shoes don’t have a stitched sole, you can do the job yourself. Here’s how to restore the soles of your old leather shoes at home:
- Clean the soles of your shoes, then use sandpaper to achieve a smooth finish.
- Use a kitchen sponge to evenly apply a specialised shoe glue all over.
- Repeat the process with the new sole you’ll be affixing.
- Leave both the shoe and the sole for approximately five minutes.
- Once the glue is tacky, press the new soles onto the shoes.
- Secure tightly with elastic bands.
- Give your shoes a few hours to dry.
- Use a small hammer to apply nails to keep the soles permanently in place.
For the man who wants to send his reputation soaring, taking time to make sure that shoes are clean, in good repair and polished to perfection is essential. As James Field of Collar to Cuff says:
“Our feet are so important and we are so often judged by what we put on them.”
Make sure your footwear sends the right message about who you are. And if you’ve already done a rescue job you’re proud of, share the results on our Facebook page!