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.
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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I only wear work boots and tennis shoes. But when my wife was a TSA screener, I shined her shoes every night. I also starched and ironed her uniforms (anything to encourage her to work!). My antique military experience kept her sharper looking than all the ex-military TSA honchos, and it was noticed. She never admitted at work that I did it; no need to.
It's kinda fun; and made her life, therefore my life, better. God bless the military and damn near all in it.
Fred, You are correct ! I've always thought to really look sharp
the shoes must have a shine. I've done my own shoes all my life.
I was in the army 20 years and practiiced every day.
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.