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How to Polish Your Shoes

If you know what you're doing, you'll never get a shoeshine as satisfying as one you've done yourself.

By the editors of MSN Living Jun 26, 2012 9:55PM

Fred Woodward, GQ Magazine

There was a shoeshine man who used to make the rounds at 745 Fifth Avenue, the building where I worked my first year in New York. He was fond of saying that a true gentleman didn't feel properly dressed unless his shoes were freshly shined every morning. I always liked the sound of that—even if it did feel more than a little self-serving—but after he borrowed $50 from me (and countless other soft touches throughout the building), never to be seen again, I decided that shining my own shoes once a week was gentleman enough. By even the most conservative estimate, I save myself more than $500 a year (and God knows these days I can use it), but I'm really more interested in just slowing everything down a bit.

I love the ritual: the careful laying out of newspaper, and the round tin of Kiwi polish with the built-in wing-nut-shaped turn-key opener—a damned near perfect piece of industrial design. After enough applications, the old T-shirt that I use becomes a work of art in its own right, a poor man's Matisse with all its moody starbursts of black and brown and cordovan. And my dad's horsehair brush (with the Good Housekeeping seal branded into its hardwood handle) is the very same one he taught me with—and one of the first things I claimed from my parents' house when I settled their affairs.

First, I brush the shoe good, cleaning it of any dust or dirt. With the rag wrapped tightly around my first two fingers, I apply the polish in small, tight swirls. By the time I'm through applying wax to the second shoe, the first will be dry and ready to brush, and that's all I do. I was taught to spray a little water on a second light application—a spit shine—and buff with the softest cloth I could find until I could see my face. But I was never in the army like my dad and prefer just a little luster to a lot of shine.

I have a closet full of nice shoes but wear the same ones practically every day—a size 13 cordovan (color and leather) plain-toe lace-up. With this particular shoe, I use a black cream every third or fourth polishing instead of cordovan paste. It makes them the same deep aubergine as a perfectly ripe eggplant. They go with everything I own, and they're as comfortable as a bare foot in sand. I've had them resoled twice already, and I'm told a well-made, well-cared-for cordovan will outlast its owner. I aim to find out—just not too soon, I hope.

Photograph by Ditte Isager

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Jul 4, 2012 12:28AM
sorry, i cant do much detrimental to this article.
Jul 4, 2012 12:26AM

I've shined my shoes since I was 10 years old. My dad, an old Navy man, taught me how. Thru high school and college and the service, I love the smell of the polish and how the shoes look after you're finshed. Shoe trees are a must, since you never want to wear a pair two days in a row. It rests them, stretches them and dries the insides from perspiration. And always buy quality. I have 8 pairs of Johnson & Murphy's that are over 16 years old, and they look brand new. Heels and soles every once in a while, but I doubt I'll ever buy another pair of dress shoes.

Yet I also enjoy the luxury of a good sit-down shoe shine for a few bucks. 10 minutes of pampering and you feel like a king when you stand up.

Shoe shines; one of the small pleasures of life.


Jul 3, 2012 11:02PM
un real, its cool getting your shoes shined, its cool watching how this very old profession works, as usual, just something else thats cool this worthless generation is pushing away. hurry up rapture.
Jul 3, 2012 11:01PM

on the other hand if you have a fine pair of boots, and you are around the foot worth stock yard. its the best ten bucks you will ever spend


Jul 3, 2012 10:57PM
if you had joined the military you would have learned this first day of boot camp
Jul 3, 2012 10:28PM
If you look good, you feel good! Nothing wrong with that. The one thing that irks me most is seeing someone well dressed until you get to the shoes. I mean shoes looking ashy and unpolished, screaming for KIWI!!!
Jul 3, 2012 9:04PM
It's a classy article and good shoes are expensive and last 20 years. If you don't understand, well then, I guess you don't understand. Maybe you prefer something from Nike or Reebock.
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