I don’t know why, but women don’t regularly see to their shoes. They might have a cherished pair cleaned when they are sent off for new tips or heel caps, but the women of my acquaintance don’t maintain a battered shoebox beneath their beds brimming with polish and old undershirts. They don’t have regular engagements with their collections. And they certainly don’t relish patina—something that would surely bloom just as readily on their pumps as it does on any loafer of mine.
The obvious reason might be that women acquire and dispose of shoes according to the swift current of fashion, and the idea of putting effort into maintaining any one pair’s appearance suggests a sort of unwelcome commitment. Surely many women have calfskin heels in black and beige though, and I’ve seen suede often enough on the feet of fashionable women to know they too have a place in smart rotations. Then there are exotic skins, pony hair, patent leathers, fabrics and fancy trimmings like sequins and crystals.
None of these clean themselves. In fact it seems to me, the more elaborate the material constituting the shoe, the more prone to premature wear. And what could be more melancholy than a sequined evening number made unusable by three years of accumulated dust? Well, enough already. It saddens me to contemplate all the shelves out there sagging with neglected pumps and platforms, stilettos and wedges. I regularly tend to my wife’s shoes, and I can attest to the brilliance that can be achieved with very little effort. Less surface area, you see.
Below are some thoughts on dealing with women’s shoes. Male readers might consider these suggestions closely with Valentine’s Day fast approaching. These sorts of gestures seem to go over well. The one caution I would offer (and this goes for shoes of both sexes) is to test all polishes and other products on an inconspicuous section of the shoe before proceeding further. Once you are certain the color and finish will go unharmed have at it.
Same as for men. Start with conditioner, brush vigorously, apply polish sparingly. Repeating this procedure with some diligence over time will bring out the marbleized patina so many shoe enthusiasts crave.
Same as for men. Treat salt stains and water marks with a vinegar/water solution. Permit slow, unassisted drying. Brush against and then with the nap until desirable appearance.
A very light coat of mineral oil seems to work best here. Apply in circles, let sit and then brush vigorously to a blinding shine.
Shoes crafted from alligator, crocodile, snakeskin and any other unusual beast are too expensive to monkey around with ordinary products. Find the most premium emollients specifically designed for your exotic and proceed with extra caution.
First, do not joke with your wife or girlfriend that her beloved “leopard” hide shoes are made from ponies. Pony hair is usually the hair side of calf skin—like cow-hide rugs—and is actually more stable and durable than it seems. The hair can get ruffled and dusty though; I find gentle brushing in the direction of the hair is all that’s necessary. Do make sure the brush is polish-free though.
Shoes covered in textile—whether silk, tweed, or denim (yikes) can be cleaned gently with the same vinegar/water solution used for suede. Another solution: shoes made from leather, as they should be.
Sequins, crystals and gems
You are limited here to gentle brushing with a polish-free shoe brush. Anything more is weird. If the shoes have actual gems (semi- or precious) take to a jeweler and reevaluate the decision tree that led to their acquisition.