Dress Code: The Proper Care And Feeding Of Your Shoes

Illustration for article titled Dress Code: The Proper Care And Feeding Of Your Shoes

In this week's dress code, we'll talk about protecting perhaps your biggest sartorial investment: footwear.


This is a do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do situation. For years I took terrible care of my shoes. And every time I faced a cobbler's scorn, I was shamed and resolved to do better. I'm still a work in progress, but have learned that the following really can extend a shoe's life immeasurably. Do an inventory of your shoes at the end of a season; get them in good working order. You'll be glad when you unpack them.

Make Friends With Your Cobbler
You don't have to, you know, help him move, but find a shoe repair place you like, that does good work. And get in the habit or dropping new shoes off before you wear them — and then again, before it's too late. I know how hard it is when the temptation of that new pair is calling, but those extra few days will pay dividends and you'll have the pleasant satisfaction of knowing you're being all responsible..

Almost all your shoes will benefit from a thin rubber sole. It's not cheap, but more than any other thing you do, this extends a shoe's life. If a shoe has a leather or untextured sole, it also makes it safer for slippery streets. Some shoes will benefit from a half-sole; others may need a full one. Ask your cobbler! I even do this with my heels, sometimes.

These are an absolute necessity for heels: they'll preserve the toe and extend the shoe's life, all for around $20.

As soon as a heel loses a tip, replace it. Like, take the shoe off asap: otherwise the heel will quickly get shredded — and the sound of a metal screw on concrete is like nails on a chalkboard.

Necessary for boots, but a good idea for just about any shoe. A cobbler can do this for you, or buy a can of the stuff, grab some newspaper and plenty of ventilation, and go to town.

Not merely an aesthetic frill — although scuffed shoes look crummy — but important to preserving a shoe from harsh wear, salt and even sweat. You don't need to keep your shoes spit-shined, but don't let the finish wear away. Polish them yourself whenever they get a little dull (or regularly if we're talking your primary shoes) or, if it's a tricky color, get it done by a pro. Buffing is cosmetic, but highly satisfying.


There's a reason "down-at-the-heels" is an expression: nothing looks cruddier. Take them to a cobbler before they get to this point. People can do amazing things with rebuilding and repairing, but often the balance is never the same, and hard though it is to make yourself bring a shoe in for maintenance before it gets bad, this is key.

Cleaning is another thing that's not purely aesthetic: salt, especially, eats away at leather, so it's important to try to wipe off the elements.



  • Use saddle soap. This is what it's for, and you can get it at any drugstore or shoe repair.
  • Rub your shoe with soapy water and a soft cloth.
  • Apply saddle soap all over; wipe off.
  • If they're aging, add some leather conditioner.
  • If you need to fix their shape, apply leather conditioner, stuff with newspaper or shoe trees, and let sit for a few days.

Suede requires special products to really keep it in good condition. These are available from any shoe repair store. You can use a metal-bristled suede brush to keep the nap looking good. For cleaning, you want a crumbly suede cleaning block (or "eraser") that really digs out dirt.

Sneakers: Canvas or Leather
While technically canvas senaks are machine-washable, the machine is bad for the rubber in a sneaker; hand-washing will preserve their life.

  • If the shoe's caked with dirt, knock off as much as you can, and wipe with a damp cloth to get off the rest.
  • Rinse in warm water inside and out.
  • Then give them a good scrub with a mix of water and detergent or shampoo. I like an old toothbrush; a scrub pad works too.
  • Rinse with cool water.
  • Let air-dry (away from a heater); stuff them with paper to preserve their shape if you want.

General Wear & Tear

  • Give 'em a rest. It's not always possible, but alternating pairs gives is good for leather shoes.
  • Keep in mind that sweat can eat away at a shoe's interior. Wear socks or liners if you can. If not, though, try to remember to swab them out with alcohol occasionally to clean the interior.
  • On the odor question: a little antifungal powder — or tea-tree-oil — should take care of it.
  • Obviously, shoe trees are a good idea, but newspaper works in a pinch. I am a big fan of old magazines stuffed in my boots. This sort of thing, of course, is most important if a boot or shoe is damp.

Long-Term Storage
In a perfect world, all your shoes are in their original boxes, maybe with a polaroid of each on the front. In the real world, just keeping them from a tangle on the closet floor is better than nothing. Shoe racks are a great storage solution, and a flat under-the-bed box saves space. While shoe bags may seem like a frill, they will help protect polished shoes in storage or a suitcase. Non-acid tissue or bubble-wrap works too. And remember: make sure shoes are dry and aired before long-term storage.

But I know some of you have ingenious shoe pointers! Spill!

For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.



I need somebody to give me the complete guide to making it through a winter with a pair of boots. Which shaft height is best? Do you buy waterproof or will waterproofing spray take care of all boots? Are Hunter boots a good choice or do I want something with more fashion possibilities?

I'm a lifelong SoCal resident moving to Chicago. My relatives tried to get me to believe that the salt storage buildings were the pyramids where they kept the Egyptians.