“Hey Leo, look at what I bought!” Jordan exclaimed as he walked into my office. He had a box from Amazon in his hands.

I was intrigued — it’s not too often I see him this excited.

“So, what do you have there?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve been listening to what you’ve been saying about clothes and shoes and everything else, so I decided to step up my game.” He ripped open the box and pulled out a brand new shoe valet complete with an array of polish and brushes. “It’s my early Christmas present to myself!”

“Great, so you’re going to start polishing your shoes, like a grown up.”

He paused for a moment and looked down at his scuffed up shoes. “Yeah, about that. I usually just pay the guy down by the courthouse a few bucks to do it for me. So, you’ll have to show me how to do this.”

“Alright, Jordan, here’s how to shine your shoes, simply, in five steps.”

Let’s talk about leather first

There are two main types of cow leather you will find in shoes: full grain and corrected grain. [Note — I am not going to discuss nubuck, suede, or shell cordovan.]

What is corrected grain leather?

Corrected-grain leather is a cheaper grade of hide that may have imperfections, scarring, or branding on the hides. These imperfections are sanded out, a new artificial grain is embossed on the face of the hide, and then a finishing coat is applied to the leather. This finish coat gives corrected grain leather shoes a shiny, plasticky sheen that does not age well. This finishing coat also reduces the leather’s breathability.

This process allows shoe manufacturers to cover up imperfections in lower-grade leathers, but it results in a shoe that will not age well, will not develop a natural patina, and doe not take leather conditioners or polishes well. If you’ve ever had a pair of shoes where the leather has cracked due to age, it is likely that they were made from corrected grain.

Corrected grain leathers really don’t take polish too well due to their already super-shiny-plasticky finish, but you can still try. Better yet, donate your cheaply-made corrected grain shoes and get a quality pair.

What is full-grain leather?

Full-grain leather is exactly what it sounds like — the hides have not been sanded, buffed, or otherwise messed with. Instead, the full hides are tanned. Because the leather remains intact, full-grain hides tend to be stronger, and the leather does not trap moisture as corrected-grain leathers would. Additionally, the full-grain hides age well, developing a natural patina that many find desirable.

Shoes made of full grain leather, so long as they’re well-taken care of, will last you many years. So lets discuss how to take care of them.

Why polish shoes?

First, it looks professional.

There’s that hackneyed adage “you can always tell a man by his shoes.” While that overstates the case a bit, it’s true that clients, potential employers, juries, and other attorneys pay attention to your appearance. So do judges. Just yesterday , I attended a CLE panel where a federal judge offered the following observation:”I’ve noticed that performance often follows form.”

This includes a good shoe-shine to get rid of scuffs and marks.

It’s also part of a good shoe care regimen. If you’ve decided to buy high-quality shoes, make sure they last a while — take care of them. Regular polishing and leather conditioning will protect and moisturize the leather, extending your shoes’ life.

What will I need?

This is what you’ll need:

A quick word on polish. There are two main types of polish — wax and cream. Wax polish is generally sold in small tins and is somewhat thick It’s better for a higher-shine. Cream polish is usually sold in small glass jars and has a consistency similar to mayonaise. It doesn’t shine up as much as wax polish, but it’s more moisturizing for the leather. Best practice is to own both, and use cream polish every 4-5 shines.

Step One

Take your horsehair brush and brush off the dirt, dust, and other assorted dreck from your shoes. (*Every 2-3 shines, apply a layer of leather conditioner to the shoe after this step. Let it dry a minute or two, then buff it out. This will keep your shoes moisturized).

Step Two

Use your dauber and apply some polish to it by lightly rubbing it in the polish.

Step Three

Take the dauber with polish on it and start applying a thin layer of polish to your shoe. Give it a minute to dry.

Step Four

Take your horsehair brush and buff the shoe. This gives the shoe an initial sheen and removes excess polish.

Step Five

Take the spray bottle and spray your shoes with a light coat of water. Use your polishing cloth and buff the shoe, paying special attention to the toe box.

Step 6 (optional)

Repeat 2-5 as desired, to build up sheen.


But I do it differently!

Congratulations, You’re a special little snowflake.

Truthfully, there are countless variations on shoe shining — some involve intermittent applications of clear wax polish, others involve melting the wax with a lighter, and some involve spit (“spit-shine” isn’t just a nickname). The technique I describe above is a quick and easy way to keep your shoes looking good, and keep you looking well put-together. You may find a variation you prefer, or a video on Youtube that gives you a better result. Experiment and report back.

Until next time, please send me hate mail and ask questions in the comments below. If you’re looking to have a particular topic addressed, let me know.

(photo: photo of various brushes on wooden table used for polishing shoes from Shutterstock)


  1. Mark says:

    I use one of those quick shine applicators. Should I be ashamed of myself?

  2. The ‘shining my own shoes’ experiment lasted about a day.

  3. Sydney Cagle says:

    Hi! I recently purchased a pair of Dansko Tooled Leather Clogs, and I’ve already scuffed them. ? The toe boxes on each shoe seem to have been rubber against a textured wall, but I only tripped over carpet. What would be the best way to cover this up?
    Thank you!

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