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How to Shine Shoes - A Lost Art

Updated on May 8, 2011

A generation ago, no man's wardrobe was complete without a shoe shine kit. Now the art of shining shoes is practiced by few outside the military; it is truly becoming a lost art. And the reasons why are varied. Business casual has become the rule rather than the exception in most offices, and there is just a certain "lack of pride" in personal appearance - this can't be denied either.

A good dress shoe can, nonetheless, be had for less than a $100.00, and with proper care, a good pair of dress shoes can last for decades. Take for example the classic "wingtip." This style of men's dress shoe has changed little in the last fifty years and with good reason - it's a classic look that never goes out-of-style. And part of this care includes cleaning and polishing of the leather uppers. This is essential in order to maintain the leather in prime condition. And arguably, nothing looks better than a high-shine on a pair of shoes.

The first step in shining shoes is to clean them thoroughly - polishing over dirt and grime is a bad idea. To clean your shoes, dampen a paper towel and lightly scrub the tops and sides. Set your shoes aside and let them dry thoroughly. Now you are ready to shine your shoes to bring out the full lustre of the finished leather. Of course you will need to purchase shoe polish. The most common brand available in the US is "Kiwi" brand. It is available on end caps in retail stores and is often located near the shoe section. There are several varieties of polish; being a purist, I recommend the hard wax which is sold in the familiar, round can.

Open the can. You will notice a rather pungent, petroleum odor. That is the smell of naphtha. It acts as a solvent and a vehicle for the colored wax. Now, take a cotton ball or simply an old rag and dip it into the polish. Now apply the wax to the tops and sides of the your shoes. Within a minute or so the wax will dull, but don't worry - this is just the beginning. Within a few minutes and a little effort on your part, your shoes will shine like a new penny.

Now pick your shoe up and hold it with your hand in the interior. Take a rough rag - an old dishcloth works fine - and rub the shoe vigorously. I usually start on the sides and work my way to the tops. You will find that the harder you rub, the brighter and shinier your shoes will become. To finish it off, put your shoe back on your foot and take the rag in your hand. Now do the familiar back and forth motion with both hands while holding both ends of the rag. This works especially well at shining the tops and the toe. And while you're at it, don't forget the heel. To obtain an even deeper shine, add a little water to your buffing rag - a little goes a long way. This will turn your shine to a glow.

With proper care, a good pair of dress shoes will last literally decades.


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    • mio cid profile image

      mio cid 5 years ago from Uruguay

      this article brings me some very warm memories because my grandfather was a man that didn't go out a lot but every month he would take the bus to go collect his retirement check and i would shine his shoes every time.

    • DTR0005 profile image

      Doug Robinson 6 years ago from Midwest

      Interesting comment. I wrote this because my son saw me shining my dress shoes and had no clue, at first, what I was doing. Very few people under 35 have ever seen a shoe brush and fewer still have ever polished their shoes. It's a throw-away society. And my special expertise is derived from having shined my own shoes for nearly 40 years now. It isn't a "skill" you are born with - it isn't intuitive like breathing and swallowing. But I suppose if you are hell-bent on being a critic, you can find anything to bitch about. Hey - I am certain there is some little old lady's pie dough recipe you can rip apart - just go looking hard enough.

    • profile image

      Donald D Charmin 6 years ago

      Really, not be cruel, but I have to ask. I see these sorts of articles on Hub page all the time. Why exactly did you write this? There is nothing in here nobody hasn't learned on their Daddy's knee. You're only restating the obvious. Did you think you had some special expertise to share, or what?

    • DTR0005 profile image

      Doug Robinson 6 years ago from Midwest

      Squealy, seek medical help immediately.

    • profile image

      Squeaky Fromme 6 years ago

      This article is disgusting. It is clearly about sex and sexism. You may take your "pungent odors" and "rub vigorously" and "you will find the harder you rub" until you "glow" off to the "Penthouse Forum", you Dirty Bird. Reported.

    • Mimi721wis profile image

      Mimi721wis 6 years ago

      Cool hub. those little flat round canisters with shoe wax inside. The colors were usually black or brown. The last thing any man had done before going out was a shoe shine. I love the old movies with clips of the actors reading the paper and getting their shoes shined at the same time.

    • DTR0005 profile image

      Doug Robinson 6 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks for reading guys!

    • profile image

      Fay Paxton 6 years ago

      Nice hub. My Dad taught me that the way a man cared for his shoes told you a lot about him. I thought he was crazy, but it's true. :)


    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      The Kiwi flat tin with the side opener - the design has been around forever, it seems, certainly at least since my earliest attempts on school shoes in the 50s.