How to keep a pair of shoes looking beautiful not just one year down the road but two, or three, or four

How to keep a pair of shoes looking beautiful not just one year down the road but two, or three, or four

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Suppose you’ve just invested many hundreds of dollars in a pair of caramel brogues you’ve been coveting online for months. So eager are you to show them off with your best cuffed raw denim and sport-coat that you find yourself wearing them out virtually every day — even when you know you probably shouldn’t.

It starts with a quick sprint through the rain. Then a stroll amid a light snowfall. And soon enough those once-immaculate beauties are looking worse for the wear. A year into their tenure as your go-to pair and they’re already cracked and faded and salt-stained beyond repair. You can sense the ruin. The shoes are done.

Naturally, you’re devastated. But what’s a fellow to do to keep a pair of expensive shoes looking beautiful not just one year down the road but two, or three, or four? It may seem impossible. It can, however, be done. You’ve simply got to follow some advice.

To begin with: learn to clean. Most men, if what one sees on the street is any indication, don’t spend much time cleaning their shoes on a regular basis. But even an hour expended on the effort every two weeks will ensure a nice pair of shoes continues to look gorgeous long after the off-the-lot lustre has dulled. Think of it as an extended part of your hygiene regimen: set aside a little time on Sunday morning to sit down with your shoes and your cleaning supplies and get it done. You may even find it relaxing. You’ll want a high-quality leather cleaner – many shoe brands sell a proprietary version that’ll do fine – a few clean, dry cloths, and a tin of polish with a polishing brush. Add an old toothbrush to the repertoire for more thorough targeted stain removal.

Such supplementary investments are indispensable. A pair of shoe trees can be a little costly as an accessory, and you’d be forgiven for assuming that your shoe salesman is just trying to squeeze you for a superfluous add-on. But this is one add-on it pays to own. Shoe trees fill out a freshly worn shoe to help maintain its original shape after use, preventing the sagging and slumping that tends to otherwise warp a shoe over time. On particularly hot or wet days, too, they absorb excess moisture from the leather – and that’s moisture that would normally wreak havoc on the leather long-term. You’ll want to keep an eye out for cedar shoe trees (the most expensive but also the best material on the market) with a flexible split toe, which bends or expands depending on the fit of the shoe it’s inserted in.

That said, as with many things, simple overuse is the surest way to reduce the lifespan of your favourite pair of shoes. A high-quality pair of shoes just isn’t built to accommodate everyday wear. If your job keeps you hitting the pavement for hours at a time, your footwear is going to need an occasional rest. The best bet is to buy two pairs of high-end dress shoes that you can switch out every other day. But if that’s not in your budget, consider reverting to a less-superlative alt pair once or twice a week at a minimum. It may also be worth keeping a pair of shoes around that can withstand a rainy beating, this time of year particularly, even if you only throw them on to and from the office. As a general rule it behooves you to wear smart rather than wear often.

If you lived in, say, downtown Los Angeles, you probably wouldn’t have to worry much about the effect on your fashion sense of the elements – everyday sun wouldn’t be likely to wear on your shoes too hard. But in Canada, the weather doesn’t like to play nice. That’s why it pays to own a pair of overshoes, your first line of defence against hail storms and snow days. While, yes, they look idiotic, they only need to be worn in the throes of miserable weather, and can be slipped over and tucked away the moment you reach your snow-free destination. The amount of damage you’ll be inviting if you even take a single step in the snow is incalculable. Nor is it quite safe on milder winter days. The roads and sidewalks are laced with ice-melting salt, which has roughly the same effect on leather as sulphuric acid.

Even if you take every possible precautionary measure and only wear your best shoes on ultra-special occasions, some damage can’t be avoided – as anyone caught in a freak thunderstorm in double-monks can attest. So what happens if something takes a serious toll on your favourite pair of shoes? You deal with it — and deal with it quickly.

You’d be amazed what your local cobbler can do with a pair of out-of-shape dress shoes, from repairing a loose heel to pretty much reassembling a shoe that’s fallen to pieces. And some shoe manufacturers, like the great Allen Edmonds, offer fairly priced repair work (and even complete re-crafting) that can save shoes that seem too far gone to salvage. Which is to say that hope needn’t be abandoned even if your shoes seem already too far gone.