I hope I won’t get into trouble with the powers that be when I say that I think there are two ways to treat your shoes in winter and each is diametrically opposed.
The first is to trash them. I mean, really go for it. Honestly, if the team here at Crockett & Jones were to see my Dark Brown Rough-Out Suede Conistons after three months of tramping through the countryside on lockdown walks, I think they’d bar me from the factory and never return my emails.
Perhaps I’m being a touch extreme, but there is a serious point to be made here. In winter, it’s inevitable that your shoes will take at least some punishment; whether that’s from cold temperatures that can dry out leather, pouring rain that can penetrate into the leather and remove some of its protective fats and oils, or from thick, glutinous mud.
Moreover, unlike cheaper shoes made from inferior quality materials, C&J’s shoes will more than stand up to these punishments. There’s a reason the company mantra is ‘made to be worn’. Chris Tan, the venerable store manager at No.69 Jermyn Street, goes fishing – standing ankle-deep in freezing cold rivers – in his Conistons, for example. So, my first piece of advice here is to enjoy your shoes to the fullest, they’re designed to last the course.
However, while your dogged C&J shoes can take more guilt-free punishment than you might perhaps realise at first, inevitably they won’t go on forever. So, while I’m not a shoe care evangelist, I do also believe in showing well-made goods the respect of looking after them as part of a routine. Generally, I’ll clean and polish my shoes every month, and taking some time out on a drab Sunday afternoon (let’s face it, we’re not rushed off our feet with things to do right now) to bring my rotation of battle-scarred loafers and walking boots back into life is both therapeutic and deeply satisfying.
Theories differ on how best to care for fine leather shoes. Some people say shoe cream, others say traditional polish, others prefer to ‘bull’ shoes to a military shine. My own approach to shoe care is informed by the expert advice of C&J, and I think it’s often best to defer to the experts with these things.
I only wear brown shoes (I have one pair of black shoes, but they’re suede, not calf), which keeps things relatively simple. First, I’ll gently wipe down any muddy pairs, and I’ll get into the welts and any tricky parts with an old toothbrush or two, kept for the purpose. Once cleaned, leather shoes will have a good coating of fine wax polish applied, which I’ll take the time to really work into each shoe (especially any creases forming) and then buff off in small circular motions once its had a chance to sink in a little.
It doesn’t hurt to do a couple of coats of polish to really build up a protective surface layer of wax if you have the time. Incidentally, a soft shoe cream doesn’t have the same effect as a wax; it’ll probably condition the leather but it won’t offer the same degree of protection from the elements over time. I’ll follow the same procedure with my Cordovan loafers too, although only the smallest dab of polish is required for Cordovan, thanks to the high quantity of natural oils in the skin, which come to the surface following a gentle polish, anyway.
As for suede, I’ll scrub off any dirt once the shoes are well and truly dry (scrubbing while still damp will simply work any dirt into the grain of the leather) before steaming each shoe’s upper over a boiling kettle and gently brushing them to bring them back to life. Any parts of the shoe where the fibres of the suede have become a little raggedy can be burnt off with a quick pass of a lighter to restore the suede to a smooth, even surface (another tip I learned from C&J). Sounds bonkers, but it works. Just make sure you keep passing the flame quickly over the raggedly patch smoothly – don’t hold it there or you’ll start to burn the suede.
That’s about all there is to it, really. I guess the moral of the story is simply to enjoy wearing your shoes without fear, but to enjoy looking after them every now and then too. Remember that as with any luxury goods, the quality of C&J’s shoes speaks for itself; whether you’re putting them through their paces or gently bringing them back to life.