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Brush your shoes

2 March 2011

Craftsmen aren’t necessarily always the repositories of knowledge that consumers assume they will be. Sometimes their knowledge is narrow, restricted to the construction of a pair of shoes, for instance, with little objective advice on their maintenance. Often it is because they don’t wear their own shoes day to day, or at least do not obsessively polish and collect them like their customers. It could be seen as the difference between a craftsman and a designer.

I am often surprised, for instance, how few shoemakers will tell men to brush their shoes at the end of every day. A quick brush down with a relatively stiff brush removes the incidental scuffs that inevitably occur during a day of wear, and reduces the polishing required to keep up a blemish-free surface. It is one of three things every man should use on a good pair of shoes: brush, shoe trees and polish.

Brushing was a regular chore, traditionally done by a man’s valet or, later, perhaps by his wife. You can see it in several old films – David Lean’s This Happy Breed is a nice example. At the end of a long day Robert Newton sits down at the kitchen table and pulls off his boots. Celia Johnson takes them and brushes them down as they dissect the day. It is a reflective piece of domesticity.

Of course, brushes can be used to remove dried mud from the sides of the soles, as well as to work the upper. The two brushes shouldn’t be mixed up, but neither should the one used to work the upper be too soft – brushes sold to bring up the polish on a shoe, despite also being horsehair, are sometimes too soft to remove scuffs.

Remember to brush your shoes at the end of the day. And give them a quick wipe with a cloth in the morning.

Pictured: Saphir horsehair brushes, sold on the A Suitable Wardrobe store