High Maintenance: Shoes

Other than a suit, one of your biggest investments is going to be your shoes. While I like the idea of having a few casual shoes in rotation, I really believe you only need two or three pairs of dress shoes in your closet. In fact, having more than one pair is the first part of proper shoe maintenance.

Having a second pair allows you to rotate your shoes. Having them all day can be taxing on the leather. They’re wrapped around hot, sweaty feet all day and need some time off to recuperate from the heat and moisture. Having two pairs will allow you to rotate and give each pair a day off, thereby significantly lengthening the life of the shoe.

Shoe Horn

If you’re buying shoes in the proper size and width (yes shoes are also measured in width), they will be a bit tight to get on without some extra help.

21" Shoe Horn Rosewood Stain

A shoe horn will let you slide your feet into your shoes without breaking down the leather on the heel. It’s  a simple purchase but one that goes a long way in helping maintain their quality.

Shoe Trees

The next step of properly caring for your dress shoes are shoe trees. Typically these are made of cedar or plastic and they are inserted into your shoes each night after you take them off. You want to do it right away as your shoes are still warm and the leather is more malleable.

Shoes trees will help the leather retain its shape and prevent any cracking.

Shoe Polish

The next step to taking care of leather is to shine it. Ideally you’d do this every week but once or twice a month is acceptable. Obviously in seasons with crazier weather you’ll want to shine more frequently . Shining your shoes doesn’t just make them look better, it conditions the leather and makes it last longer.


Shoe shining techniques are myriad and I won’t go into detail on them here. The basic rules are:

  • Match the polish colors with the color of your leather.
  • Remove the laces to keep them free from polish
  • Apply polish all over the shoes in an even coat. Too little or too much will both have negative effects.
  • Let the polish sit for a few minutes.
  • Take your brush and apply quick, shallow strokes all along the body of the shoe until you get a good, even shine.
  • Repeat until you get them to the shine how you’d like.

You can buy entire caddy kits at a department or shoe-specialty store, or you can pick up a cheap kiwi kit at the local drugstore or off of Amazon. Either one will do the job.

Suede Care

Whether it’s a pair of desert boots or the white bucks that have been on your feet all summer, suede requires some maintenance too. The first and most basic way to approach this is with a suede brush.

For the most part, these come in two different types: plastic and brass. The brass is much more aggressive and I recommend you only use it when you’re trying to tackle serious stains. The plastic brush is typically enough on its own to keep your shoes clean. The ideal is to brush your shoes after every wear. However, you’re not going to do any serious damage if you do it once a week.

The next step up is a suede eraser. This gives a bit more friction and can help you fight the really serious stains. Most drug stores will sell a Kiwi pack that’s the plastic brush and eraser together.

If your suede gets real bad, you can use a sponge and shampoo to remove the stain. Just be careful as too strong a shampoo can also effect the overall quality of the suede.

Rain Control

The last tip I can give for basic shoe maintenance is how to care for them when your shoes get absolutely soaked. You can’t just let them sit out to air dry because it will ruin the shape of the leather. You also can’t do something more creative like use a hair dryer or throw them in the oven for a few minutes because it will dry out and crack the leather. The best way to take care of your soaked shoes is to fill them with newspaper. The consistency of the paper is ideal for absorbing all the moisture and doing it quickly so your shoes retain their shape. Shove in the newspaper and let it sit overnight. If they’re still a little damp in the morning, replace with fresh newspaper and give them a few more hours. You should be good to go after that.

It would be a waste and a shame to invest in a pair or two of well-made, goodyear-welted dress shoes only to have them ruined by improper maintenance. Expensive dress shoes are the kind of clothing item you only have to buy once and can wear for the rest of your life – provided you take care of them.

PS. Did you know I do private style consultations? I can help you dress better according to your budget and your needs.

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