Have you walked into a shoemaker's lately? No, not Wal-mart's shoe department. A real, live, petrochemical-sodden, "Professional shoemaker on duty," 1950's-era packaging for days, "I can get it back to you on Thursday" (spoken with a thick Austrian accent) shoemaker's shop. Yes, they still exist. Go to one. It's educational. Words cannot begin to describe the veritable plethora of creams, oils, dressings, dyes, dye removers, adhesives, adhesive removers, and general "smear this on your shoes and you'll be blessed for all eternity" products that are available for sale at these shops. What's a boy to do?
Fear not. I will bravely sit at my computer and . . . make something up, if I know my writing tendencies.
Seriously though, I'll try to share some of my understanding of the world of shoe and boot . . . uhhhhh, stuff (I've been racking my brain for a good word to represent all of these items that doesn't resort to the further bandying about of words like "goop" and "gunk" or the use of Victorianesque terms like "preparation.") So, stuff it is!
The first category of products consists of those that you put on leather to affect its color and shine, generally referred to as polishes, although polish properly refers to one of the products (see below). These products are made up of colorant, filler (which makes the product opaque), and vehicle (the bulk of what the product is made of; in the case of polishing products, it is usually a petroleum or alcohol product). Usually, the specifics regarding each item are not identified, so one's personal preference is based on experience rather than chemistry. For light colored boots, there are polishes without colorant, which are generally sold as "neutral" polish.
"Shoe polish" (occasionally referred to as paste wax) is the most common. I personally use two different types of polish. Lincoln Stain Wax is a good base polish. It's very opaque (scuffs don't show through) and very black (lesser polishes may appear blue or green under certain lights). Unfortunately, Lincoln doesn't produce the greatest shine, so I use Kiwi Parade Gloss as a topcoat. Less opaque than Lincoln, Parade Gloss produces an amazing shine with only a modicum of buffing.
Shoe cream is a more liquid form of paste wax. It has the advantage of being easier to get onto the leather (daubers are particularly useful in this case). However, I've found that the finish produced by a cream is significantly less durable and less resistant to scuffing than a polish done with paste wax. Meltonian (made by the Kiwi Company) is a very common shoe cream.
There exist other products that are supposed to produce an instantaneous polish/shine with no buffing. Generally, these products use an alcohol-based vehicle, which evaporates very quickly, leaving behind the colorant and filler. While they do cover scuffs and produce a shiny surface, the overall effect is lacking in appearance. The shine is uneven, particularly over scuffs, and streaks are pretty much unavoidable. When people less obsessed with boots than I am can see the flaws in an instant polish, you know there's a significant drop in quality.
Edge and heel dressing is applied to the visible portions of boots soles to render them black. As boots are worn, the edges of the sole take a lot of abuse. Leather soles lose their coloring and return to their original dull tan color. Even when the sole is neoprene or rubber and is a pure black throughout, roughened wear spots will look somewhat lighter in color. Edge dressing is simply a colorant in a fast-drying vehicle (usually alcohol-based). It's applied using a small sponge or brush, although just about anything will work. Keep in mind that cloths will tend to absorb a hell of a lot more than a foam rubber sponge. Also, while the dressing is drying, it's a good idea to set the boots on newspapers, because edge dressing stains like crazy.
Nearly all boots and shoes are not the original color of the leather. They have been dyed. Normally, it is absolutely unnecessary to re-dye a pair of boots. However, boots that have taken a lot of punishment or have been worn without polishing for a long time (so that polish simply won't cover the faded sections and scuffs) may need to be re-dyed to restore their original appearance. To dye boots, the old polish and dye needs to be removed as much as possible, or they will interfere with the new dye penetrating the leather. Pre-dyeing strippers are sold for this purpose. Essentially, you wet a cloth with the stripper and rub it on the boots. The dye and polish will immediately start to transfer onto the cloth, and the boots will begin to look rather faded. Keep the stripper capped at all times when not actually putting it on the cloth, or it will evaporate before you're done. When most of the dye and polish is removed, let the boots dry (no more than fifteen minutes should be necessary) and then cover them with an even coat of dye. The dye WILL make a mess. Wear clothes you don't care about, and protective gloves. Let the dye dry, and the boots should be ready for polishing. This procedure is harmful to leather. Don't do it unless it is absolutely necessary and don't do it repeatedly to a pair of boots. The process tends to dry the leather out, which will make the boots fall apart much faster than normal.
Never forget, leather is skin. Pickled skin, but skin nonetheless. And like our skin, leather dries out. The tanning process halts this to some extent (assuming it's done right: some tanneries do not replace the oils that the tanning process removes, resulting in leather that NEEDS oil immediately), but leather, being removed from the creature it came from, doesn't repair itself like living skin and eventually will dry out. Certain things will hasten the process, such as repeated soaking in water followed by air drying, exposure to salt, and simply wearing the leather. To reverse this process, many products have been developed. These include Lexol, Leather Therapy, mink oil (100% pure mink squeezin's), and neat's-foot oil (all those poor neats without feets). Generally, by keeping boots polished, the moisture will be retained longer. Eventually, however, it will become necessary to oil the leather. Usually products like these are wiped onto the leather, and the leather is allowed time to absorb the oils (fifteen minutes to overnight, depending on the product and the dryness of the leather). If the oils are completely absorbed, another coat is applied. When the leather stops absorbing the oil, the excess is wiped off, and the leather is allowed to completely dry. Then standard polishing is all that is necessary. The newer products such as Lexol and Leather Therapy are supposed to be better than mink or neat's-foot oil because they penetrate more effectively. Note that oil will tend to alter the color of the leather, and that some oils like neat's-foot will not produce as great a water repellency as other oils like mink oil.
Have you ever purchased a boot-care product and read the label only to find "Apply a sufficient amount of Pinklemeyer's Shoe Pomade to shoes and boots whenever necessary." Real helpful, right? Well, as soon as the whole Bootdog.com site is up and running, I'm going to turn my attention to messing around with these products and give you the bird's eye lowdown on 'em. Watch this space (or perhaps the main Boot page, I haven't decided yet) for this and other exciting new articles.
Return to the Boots Page