Making your old leather shoes new again is fun, easy, and takes only a few minutes of your time; and with so many shoes ending up in landfill every year, why not give it a go?
This guide shows you how. It can be applied to all smooth leather footwear. e.g. calfskin, yearling, kangaroo etc. and with the right tools it's really a piece of cake. I provide a list and quick discussion on the tools to use at the end.
Give your shoes the once over. Check the leather surface for dirt, dust, old polish residue, scuffs and scratches, most of which can be sorted out in the preceding steps. Next, check the sole for wear, especially at the heel and toe areas. Final, look at everything else, such as the lining, the eyelets, speedhooks and the shoelaces.
If there's no structural issues it's time to insert shoe trees. Shoe trees allow the leather to reform back to its natural shape. It also provides a solid base in which to apply the shoe care products.
Let the cream sit. I waited 10 minutes. It will depend on how dry the leather is. If you're working on a pair that has been sitting in an attic since Uncle Bob returned from the Great War, overnight might be the ticket.
Use a horsehair shoe brush and a bit of elbow grease to remove excess product and buff out a nice shine.
By now your old leather shoes won't look so old anymore. The final step is to apply a wax polish layer to the leather. Avoid flex points as the wax layer will crack as you walk and will look like your leather is breaking out in hives.
Shoe laces are always the first to go and a new pair is an easy hack to instantly lift the look of your old shoes.
2. Shoe Trees
Cedar shoe trees are especially useful for maintaining old leather shoes, insofar as they reform the shoe's shape, prevent creasing from getting worse and potentially cracking, and helps wick away damaging moisture (sweat) that rots the interal lining.
3. Shoe Brushes
There are different types of shoe brushes. Horsehair is the all-rounder that I used above. Avoid synthetic as it is often too rigid and can scratch the leather surface. Boar hair is coarse (but flexable) and good for dispearsing cream polish (step 4), while goat hair is soft and good for maintaining a highly polished leather surface (step 6).
An application cloth is the most common way to apply shoe creams, wax polishes etc. A horsehair dauber brush, which typically has a round head, is also used to applying shoe cream and can get into places where our fingers (and cloth) cannot. Failing all of that, an old T-shirt does the trick.
5. Cleaner / Conditioner
Most shoe care brands sell some form of cleaner. A combined Cleaner/Conditioner is often a milder form of cleaner, which is better for older leather. The conditioner is a great primer for the shoe cream product.
6. Shoe Cream
People often apply wax polish when what the leather needs is shoe cream. A quality cream polish will contain the right balance of waxes, moisturising agent, and solvent. If you can't find an exact colour match, look for a shade or so lighter. If you can't find that, a neutral colour is more than ok.
7. Wax Polish
Wax polishes often contain beeswax. Better shoe care brands combine a number of waxes for optimum results. They can also come with pigment. I tend to prefer just a neutral wax, but a pigmented wax, or using both, can produce an exquisite shine.
Don't Skimp On Product
There is no trick to bringing old leathers back to life. Even my 8-year old mastered it in about 10-minutes. What does make the difference is using the right product, good product. `
In this guide I was using shoe care products produced by myself and Japanese brand Boot Black, arguably the best in the business.