How to Make Your Shoes Last A Lifetime

January 14th, 2014

By now you’ve heard the Golden Rule of investing in quality men’s footwear: ”A $180 pair of shoes will last you twice as long as a $90 pair of shoes, but a $360 pair of shoes will last you a lifetime”.

What’s missing in that statement is in order to make that $360(+) pair of shoes truly last a lifetime, you need to take good care of them.

Here’s some advice on making ‘em last.

 

Use Cedar Shoe Trees (Every Day!)

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Throughout the day your feet perspire. This dampens the leather. Once you remove your shoes, they will dry and harden with the creases set-in across the top of the toe box. If you put cedar shoe trees in them, however, the cedar will absorb the moisture while the shoe dries back into its original shape. This will greatly improve the look and lifespan of your shoes.

Make sure to buy the right size trees for your shoes, and push them all the way into the toe box (while pulling back the tongue) for best results. Use them every time you take off your shoes. Here is the best deal on quality cedar shoe trees I could find online. Of course, you could always try to score them in bulk on eBay.

 

Get Them Polished (or Polish Them Yourself)

 

Polishing your leather shoes is the single most important thing you can do to keep them looking good and extend their lifespan. Don’t forget leather is skin. Dead skin. Just like the skin on your hands and face, it looks, feels, and performs much better when you keep it moisturized.

Cracking of the leather uppers (due to set-in creases and dryness) is about the only thing that cannot be repaired on a well-made pair of shoes.

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Have Toe and Heel Taps Installed

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Leather soles tend to wear down most at the heel and/or toe (depending on how you walk). These simple plastic protectors called “taps” can be nailed to the toes and heels of your shoes to protect them where they need it most. This way you’re wearing down cheap easily-replaceable taps rather than your expensive soles.

Your local cobbler (aka shoe repairman) should only charge you about $10/pair, including installation. It’s a smart investment in the long run since re-soling can cost significantly more.

 

(OR) Have Rubber Grip Protectors Installed

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As an alternative to toe and heel taps, you could have rubber “toppys” installed. These are very thin (~1mm) layers of protective rubber skin that are glued to the bottom of your leather soles. In addition to protecting the entire footbed from wear & tear (rubber withstands moisture much better than leather), they also provide some added grip (smooth leather can be quite slippery).

“Toppys” can be added to the heels as well. Of course, you don’t need both the taps and the skins, that’s just excessive rubber protection. And nobody likes that.

 

Give Them A Rest

 

Try to allow enough time for your fine leather shoes to dry all the way through before wearing them again. By not wearing them on back-to-back days you can add years to their life. If you’re wearing them without socks (and sweating), you might want to wait two days in between wears.

I know, they’re so nice that you want to rock them every day. But even Lebron James doesn’t play 48 minutes a game.

 

When It’s Time, Get Them Resoled

 

After a while, your leather (or rubber) soles are eventually going to wear down. When they start wearing thin, consider re-soling them. It will cost you roughly $50, but together with a fresh shine it can have the whole shoe looking (and feeling) brand new.

If only the heel is wearing down, you can also replace only the heel for significantly less.

Check out the effects that a new sole, fresh shine and a pair of shoe trees can have to a five-year-old pair of shoes:

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Photo courtesy of NuShoe.com

 

Refurbishing Services

 

If your shoes are beyond the point of needing only a new sole, consider sending them in for a full refurbishing.

Most reputable shoemakers and repairers offer re-crafting or restoration services, including heritage brands like Allen Edmonds, Church’s and Alden. For a fee of about $100, they will add new soles, heels, welting, foot beds, and laces before conditioning and hand-polishing the leather. While they’re not always miracle workers — if your leather’s cracked, you’re out of luck — they’ll usually take what’s old and make it look brand-new again.

For example:

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Photo courtesy of Esquire.com

 

The Best Part: Get Creative with It

 

Here’s the coolest part about giving your old shoes a second life. When you have a pair re-soled or refurbished, you can choose whatever type of sole you want (permitting your shoes are compatible – your cobbler can tell you if they are). This means you can play shoe designer and come up with a fresh pair that is all your own. Want your favorite old oxfords to be your new golf shoes? Or those wingtips to have chunky vibrim soles? No problem.

The options are endless. For example, check out this vibrim upgrade to a pair of classic Clarks desert boots:

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Photo courtesy of mreverydaydollar.com

 

 

So there you have it.

You already knew you should get to know your tailor, but here’s to also getting to know your cobbler.

Have any additional questions or comments about shoe care? Please share below!

 

Thank for reading.

Yours in style,

TSBmen

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  • LouCaves

    Rubber shoe covers, as I so eloquently refer to as “shoe condoms,” should’ve been mentioned in this feature.

    They may diminish your overall look while your walking to and fro, but they keep salt, water, slush etc off of your investment. Besides if it’s cr@ppy outside no one is looking at you anyway. LOL!

    Thanks, TSB.

    • http://undefined Dick Lickerson

      condom is such an ugly word… I prefer “dongbag”

  • Bobby Morelli

    Great post! I’ve gotta give a plug to Rago Brothers (http://www.ragobrothers.com) in New Jersey. I recently had a pair of four year old Magnannis reconditioned by them and they turned out looking brand new!

  • Daniel Moretz

    Don’t some cobblers use metal taps? I don’t think metal protection is the best idea either but for some reason I thought metal taps were standard.

    • TO

      Good point, I also had heard this.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      It’s an option. Some people prefer them because they last longer (and can be re-used), but a lot of guys don’t like the clicking sound they make when walking.

      Cheers Daniel

  • TO

    Money guide!! Taking notes…Oh wait, now I don’t have too.

    Really, really good stuff on this one TSBmen!

  • cam

    the biggest take away here is to buy quality shoes. it took me awhile, and wasted $$, to learn this but invest in quality shoes gentleman. even if it’s not in your budget save up for the guccis, aldens, c&js, rancourts, peal & co, edward greens etc. 1 pair of these are worth 10 pairs of cheap alternatives. you won’t be sorry trust me and the biggest thing not mentioned is the women (and men) in your life will definetly take note. cheers tsb team!

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Hit the nail on the head my friend

  • Changingman

    Dont know if it matters, but I add a little spit on the wax after putting it on my shoes. I started doing that years ago as a kid and it just stuck. I guess I took the term spit shine literally.

  • http://undefined Nick

    What about boots? I have a pair of nice dress boots. Do you ever put shoe trees in them?

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Absolutely. Same rules apply.

    • d4nimal

      Yes – just make sure the shoe trees have a hinge with a wide angle. If they don’t pivot enough they’ll be hard to get in, and even harder to get out.

      Also, I agree w/ the Jos A Bank shoutout – the buy one get 10000 free occasionally works for shoe trees, which you can pick up for something like 8 dollars each and free shipping. They’re identical to Allen Edmonds’ shoe trees (may be the same).

  • Selfmade Gentleman

    If you want to save some $$$ on brushes, you can just use some soft cotton cloth (old t-shirts, ..) to apply the shoecare products and also to polish and shine.

    I prefer to wear a glove and wrap some of the cloth around 2 fingers when applying cream or wax.
    In the polishing phase I use another piece of cloth and polish the shoe with only very light, soft pressure and circular motion.

  • chrisd

    Nordstrom rack has the cheapest cedar shoe trees I’ve seen ($12), given that it’s a brisk walk away for me (no shipping/travel costs).
    They look identical to (maybe even are the same as) the ones linked to in the blog post.

  • http://undefined Joshua

    Lmaoooooooooo @ “Excessive Rubber Protection” And you’re right. Nobody likes that!

  • Sonny

    The best place I’ve found to get shoe trees is Jos. A. Bank (I know, but bear with me). Occasionally they run those “Buy one get one free, buy another get two more free” sales on everything including shoe trees, so you can end up scoring some US-made cedar shoe trees for about $10 a pop (assuming you buy five).

  • Alex

    “Of course, you don’t need both the taps and the skins, that’s just excessive rubber protection. And nobody likes that.”

    Well played, TSB.

    • http://undefined Jeanscuffed

      DEAD!! I didn’t catch that lmao

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      ;)

  • http://www.jollybengali.net ajb240

    Great post. Shoe polishing eventually becomes a satisfying exercise. Put on the game, break out your supplies and take care of your shoes. I do mine around ever 1.0-1.5 weeks and use the kiwi instant stuff for touch-ups in between. Still, every once in a while, it pays to take them to a ‘professional’ to get buffed.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Haha love this. The game, a couple cold brews and some horse hair brushes…what else does a man need?

  • Sergio Arteaga

    Great post and tips! A couple of additional tips.

    1. For the shoe trees, if not in dire need of them wait for a Jos A Bank sale when they run Buy 1 Get 2 Free ($25 for 1 so it’s like paying $8.33). Otherwise if you are near Nordstrom Rack they have Woodlore ones for about $13.

    2. With shoes with shades that aren’t common; outside of brown and black, try buying polish by the same shoe manufacturer at the least. For example what is walnut to Allen Edmonds may not be Walnut to Alden, etc. Saphir has a great range of polishes in various colors.

    3. When shinning use dauber horsehair brushes. Allen Edmonds has them for as low as $2. Use that to put the polish on the shoes as it more evenly distributes it.

    4. Use a large horsehair brush to then polish the shoe. The horsehair brush distributes the polish evenly and gets rid of any excess polish.

    5. Add water; drops, if you want some extra shine.

    6. Don’t forget the shoe dressing, this keeps your sole edges looking as close to new as possible.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Great advice.

      I love how the comments section has turned into a place to share knowledge from first-hand experience. This really enhances the experience of reading TSB.

      Thanks Sergio!

    • Jason S

      Yes, Jos. A. Bank is the place to buy shoe trees. I always bought my trees two pair at a time from Allen Edmonds to save approximately $10 making them $39 for two pair and thought I was getting a good deal. Then I discovered J.A.B. sells the exact same Woodlore, made in the U.S.A. shoe trees for much less (when on sale). I bought six pair for $8.50 a pair and also received free shipping. Now I spend more of my money on my shoe addiction and less money on high quality cedar shoe trees.

  • http://www.twitter.com/iPodschun Derric

    For shoe trees, I use the Woodlores linked in the post; Nordstrom Rack sells them for around $13 in store, in SoCal at least.

  • Edwin

    How often should I get my shoes polished? Will overdoing it have a negative affect on the leather?

    Thanks,
    E.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Depends how often, and in what conditions, you wear them. Whenever they get dry and look like they need a refreshment, basically. Polish will also help protect them from the rain and elements.

      There are no negative side-effects to over polishing that I am aware of. Only risk is using a cream that’s dyed a different color than the leather…that’s why I always stick with neutral.

      • TO

        Do you use neutral even with black shoes Dan?

        • LouCaves

          TO, I had an issue with neutral on black shoes.

          Unless you can buff the heck out of them and get in all those nooks and cracks, the leftover on black shoes tends to look white (looks like when your hands haven’t had moisturizer in a while).

          Spring for the black polish.

          Thanks, TSB.

          • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

            Yea, usually go black polish on black leather. Should have mentioned that.

            Thanks TO and Lou.

  • Shawn

    Those crocodile oxfords are simply brilliants! Too bad they’re not featured in the article! Dan my friend, I am green with envy right now!

    • http://undefined Jeanscuffed

      Yes I was ready to stare at my computer screen for a while, but I didn’t see them shown :(

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      They’ve been featured a few times, like here: http://tsbmen.com/32466/the-odd-vest/

      Cheers mate.

  • scott

    Thank you!

    What about leather boots or sneakers, any tips or products you use to make them look great and last longer?

  • Gary-A

    I can’t agree more with The Best Part of this post. I might have to go down to NYC to do it, but I can’t wait to put Dainite soles on my leather-bottomed boots when the time comes.

    I don’t see a link to the vibram-clarks upgrade you mention, though. Do you mind dropping that in?

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Sounds awesome. Re-soling is a great way to make a pair of shoes more functional for your specific lifestyle. Also, I just added the photo credit for you.

      Cheers.

  • Shoefan

    Hi Dan:

    In terms of polishing, can you go into a little more details? Polishes vs. creams, what’re some good brands, etc.

    Thanks!

    • Sergio Arteaga

      Shoefan,
      I’ll try to answer some of your questions. Also check my comment prior to this for some more detail on how to. Creams are used to moisturize the leather; you can use a neutral cream or a cream in the color (or lighter) than your shoes. Difference? The cream has dye in the color. You can polish if you want after using that colored cream. I personally do that to the entire shoe but then use polish (wax based) on the toe to give it more shine.

      Brands: Saphir, probably the best out there. Otherwise try Allen Edmonds, they have a great selection and for a price lower than Saphir’s.

      • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

        Great feedback. Thank you Sergio!

        • Sergio Arteaga

          Anytime! I forgot to add wax polish does not moisturize the leather so always moisturize the leather before you polish. Let it dry, give it a few minutes (at least 5) and then do the other shoe. By the time you’re done with moisturizing the second shoe, the first is ready for polish.

          • LouCaves

            Thanks Sergio for the guidance on the brands.

            I have to do some searching outside of the Kiwi brand now.