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How to Shine a Pair of Dress Shoes

Nothing undermines a nicely tailored suit like dull, worn-looking footwear. And while you can—and probably do—pay someone else to buff your oxfords to a perfect shine, there are times, especially when traveling, that you’ll need to do it yourself. Here’s how.

You will need:
A cloth or old T-shirt. An “on” brush or another old T-shirt. A toothbrush. Cream polish or wax polish. An “off” brush. A chamois, or yet another old T-shirt. Elbow grease (though really, you should polish from the wrist, not elbow).

NOTE: There are two types of polish, cream and wax. Cream makes the leather supple and wax improves water resistance. Both are fine qualities in a shoe, so it’s best to alternate between the two, using a different one each time you shine.


Step 1: Remove shoe trees and laces. Many people don’t bother taking the laces out, but it’s important to avoid getting polish on them, and to shine the tongue, which will start to look different to the rest of the shoe over time if it’s skipped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2: Put one hand into the shoe, palm down. In your other hand, with a cloth or T-shirt that is barely damp, gently wipe each shoe to remove dirt and grit; if these remain on the shoe’s surface when you shine it, the shoe will scratch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3: Make sure the shoes are dry, then apply apply the polish with an “on” brush, whose bristles are about half as short and stiffer than those on the “off” brush you’ll be using later, or with an old T-shirt (not the scratchy part with your college logo on it). Whatever you use, make sure you work the polish into every part of the shoe. You’ll probably need to go over the heel and toe twice, as these areas get the most wear.

Use a toothbrush to get polish into crevices, such as the area around the bottom of the upper, and the top of the vamp, which, unless you take taxis everywhere, is prone to creasing. Also shine the part of the sole that doesn’t touch the floor, between the heel and toe—there’s nothing more embarrassing than exposing a pair of unshined shoe soles when you wake up on the floor of an unfamiliar apartment (this may require a different-colored polish). Once you’ve worked the polish into the first shoe, set it aside for the cream or wax to sink in, and repeat these steps for the second one.


Step 4: Next, remove the polish from the first shoe with a horsehair “off” brush: this is the one time when a T-shirt won’t do, and if you’re going to be shining shoes of different colors, it’s worth getting different brushes for each one. Brush the shoe vigorously, with medium pressure. The ideal motion involves rapid movement of the wrist, with most of the arm stationary as the wrist moves the brush over the shoe in quick, short motions. Doing this means that each bit of leather receives more stokes than it would if you were moving from the elbow, which gives longer strokes. It also generates more heat on the surface of the shoe, which helps the polish sink in.

 

Step 5: When you’ve removed polish from both shoes with your brush, go over them with a chamois or old T-shirt, removing any excess you may have missed – pay particular attention to the top of the shoe, where polish often collects before finding its way onto your trouser cuffs later. Buff each shoe to a high shine with the chamois, admire your reflection in the toe of each shoe, and consider the job done.

Shop polish kits and shoe accessories on Gilt >

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