Reader Jonathan writes:
I am a novice when it comes to proper shoe care. I recently attended an outdoor wedding which required a hike down a gravel road. Needless to say, my shoes are now a dusty mess. I would like to begin taking care of my shoes properly, which means learning how to polish them. I am not sure where to begin to find the right supplies. What are the essential elements for a starter shoe care kit? The Hanger Project would have me believe that $195 is what I need to get started. I am not about to spend that much on shoe care. What can you recommend?
Thank you, Jonathan. The best questions are often the simplest ones. The short answer here is that anything for sale on The Hanger Project is all well and good for men who are extravagant enough to spend as much on small items as many people spend on rent or feeding a family, but any sensible person, regardless of income, can and should be able to have the same things at a fraction of the cost. We've discussed this here before on the topic of wooden hangers. As always, my advice is that your money, however limited, is better spent on the clothing itself than on the periphery care items that come in tow.
Vitriol aside, I applaud your conviction that good shoes are something worthy of proper care. The very fact that you even want to know how to polish shoes puts you ahead of so many these days. But allow me to say that my vitriol is far from misplaced. Simply put, all the shoe care items any normal man, even a clotheshorse, is likely to need can be readily had at your nearby Rite-Aid, CVS, Duane Read, Walgreen's or supermarket. Should you be lucky enough to still live in a town where a cobbler plies his trade, so much the better. If you do, ask him what he thinks of paying $195 for shoe polish, rags, and brushes. He'll either laugh outright or get in touch with Mr. Allison himself for a quick tutorial on how to spot a sucker.
The first step in basic shoe care is cleaning excess dirt off the leather. There are many expensive cloths and salves that accomplish this, but I prefer an old t-shirt cut in squares, wetted in the sink with warm water and wrung out. Cost: $0.00. For really grimy shoes, try an old toothbrush.
Next, apply polish with a dauber. Mine are Kiwi, one for black polish and one for brown, purchased ages ago for less than $5.00 each. Then, rub of excess polish while working it into the leather. Again, old t-shirts work just fine.
Now comes the buffing. You'll need a proper wide, soft bristled brush for this. Mine not only came from CVS for about $6.00, but has lasted 15 years. As for the polish itself, Meltonian, an SC Johnson company, makes a fine cream polish that sells for about $3.50, while Kiwi is my go to choice for wax, about $5.00.
Sure, there are fancier products, but as I said before, your money is better spent on the shoes than the polish. I've been polishing shoes my whole life with the products I mentioned, and I find the results to be great, so long as you know how to shine the shoes. For more on that, the internet has no end of instructional videos. I reiterate: this stuff is widely available in nearly every pharmacy, hotel, airport, corner store, supermarket and cobbler shop in the country. If rich men feel the need to further aggrandize themselves by spending more on shoe polish than most of us do on food, so be it. It's gratifying to know that they are just as gullible, and often more so, than us regular folk.
Hope that helps.