A great pair of shoes is a thing of beauty, but it can only be a joy forever if taken care of in the right manner. Hand-crafted shoes never go out of fashion. If properly looked after, they can be worn for several decades — and the more they are worn, the more refined they become, and the more indispensable they are in their owner’s life. Only scrupulous and methodical care enables the upper leather of a shoe to retain its suppleness, resilience and gleam. If the shoes are not well looked after, their leather will become brittle — particularly where it bends — and crack. Here, then, are some basic guidelines to preserve your shoes.
Cleaning is the basic — and the most essential — step of shoe care. For proper cleaning, one requires the right shoe-care kit. Every owner of handmade shoes should possess a carefully chosen shoe-care kit, based on the colour and style of their shoes. The kit should contain:
- One cleaning brush (ideal material: pig bristles, the tail hair of cattle or horses, or agave fibre).
- One putting-on brush for each polish (ideal material: soft horsehair). Using the same putting on brush for different coloured polishes should be avoided. When a pair of shoes consists of two different colours of leather, two brushes should be used for the two different colours.
- Polishes, creams and liquids. These should be the same as the number of putting-on brushes, and should match the colour of the leather. If the wearer wishes to give an antique look to his shoes, he can use shoe creams which are a few shades darker. After being applied thinly, the cleansing agent must be left to penetrate the leather for at least 10 minutes.
- Taking-off brushes (ideal material: horsehair). The number of taking-off brushes must also correspond with the number of colours. A clean, soft white cloth can also be used in place of a taking-off brush; in fact, this is advisable on the parts of the shoe where the leather is thin, to prevent erosion. Once the cleansing agent has finished penetrating, a taking-off brush or a white cloth is used to polish up the shoes to a high gloss.
The Right Method
Shoe cleaning is a fairly long process. Care must be taken to brush away every speck of dust. It is to be remembered that the purpose of applying shoe creams and liquids is not to get rid of dirt, but to replenish the leather with the grease, wax and moisture that it loses in wear.
The shoe cream must be applied in slow, circular motions. It must be a moderately thin layer, no more than the shoe needs. If the leather is very dehydrated, the first layer of cream must be allowed to absorb completely before the second layer is applied. A thick layer of cream does not penetrate at all, and becomes highly cumbersome to polish.
The shoe-care equipment whether it is a cloth or a brushmust always be kept spotlessly clean.
Full brogues with detailed perforations must be brushed till the most miniscule residue of dust has been removed. Shoe cream that has gotten into the holes must also be carefully brushed out, as it will immediately attract dust if it remains.
The Shoe Tree
A shoe tree is the object that replaces your feet when the shoes are taken off. It is a very important element of shoe care, as shoes stored without a shoe tree lose their shape, and their leather may develop creases or cracks. Shoes kept on shoe trees retain their strength and smoothness for a longer period, and are much easier to clean. Shoe trees also go a long way to prevent the shoe from pinching. They require no maintenance, but it goes without saying that they must be kept clean and wiped regularly.
The Shoe Horn
A shoe horn is a sort of guide that covers and stiffens the heel cup when the foot slides in. It prevents the heel of the shoe from buckling, cracking or stretching because of constant putting on and taking off. An ideal shoe horn — whether metal or wood — must be smooth, and not break under strain. If no shoe horn is available, a handkerchief may be used in place of it. It is to be placed inside the shoe against the heel cup, and simultaneously taken out while the heel slides into the shoe.
After a while, even the most perfect pair of shoes shows signs of wear. This depends on the weight and bearing of the owner, how often the shoes are worn, and how well they are looked after. Wear is most often found on the heels, soles and toe caps. In such cases, the shoes should be returned for repair to the workshop where they were made. Shoes are always repaired in pairs. Even if only one of them has been damaged, the shoe maker always resoles both to avoid discrepancies between the two.
Naman Shah is the Chief Designer of Cuero, a bespoke footwear brand