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How It's Done

How To Polish Shoes

We get a few lessons in sheen from Ms Olga Berluti

If you want to know how to take a decent picture, you ask photographer Mr David Bailey. Likewise, if you want to know how to polish your shoes properly, you ask Berluti's grande dame Ms Olga Berluti – the doyenne of footwear who pioneered innovative colouring and patina methods at the brand that bears her name.

Good quality leather shoes can last a lifetime, but only if they’re well looked after. A careful maintenance regime is necessary if you want shoes to retain their appeal in perpetuity – and it also has the added benefit of providing a man with an opportunity for several minutes of Zen-like introspection before he can see his reflection. Ms Berluti walks us through the process, step by step.


Leather is skin and in order to keep it looking its best it needs to be cleaned and nourished so it is free of blemishes and dry cracks. First, insert wooden shoetrees to help maintain good shape, and remove the laces so you don’t get polish all over them and on your hands. Then remove surface dirt and dust from the shoes with a horsehair brush (we recommend brushes from Use a soft-bristled old toothbrush along the stitching. Then wrap an old cotton T-shirt around your index and middle fingers and apply tiny dabs of leather conditioner (we recommend Mink Oil Renovator from in steady circular movements, paying special attention to the creases created by walking and any abrasions to the shoe. This helps to repair cracks and softens the leather to help it better absorb the polish. Allow the shoes to dry for a few minutes.


A cream or wax polish (also available from helps to restore the leather’s colour and lustre that may have been bleached by exposure to the elements. Choose a colour that suits the shoe – ideally one that is slightly lighter than the leather so as not to darken the tone too noticeably. Use the inside of the heel as a safe test patch if you’re unsure how the leather will take the colour. Take a different strip of T-shirt cotton and apply the polish in the same steady circular movements. Buff the shoes vigorously with a horsehair brush and allow them to dry for a few minutes.


Many people will stop after stage two, but if you want to achieve a military shine you need a bit of “spit and polish” – or rather water and wax. Put a little water in the lid of the tin of wax polish. Wrap a fresh part of cotton around your forefinger and middle finger again and dab the wax polish. Before you work in the polish, dip your fourth finger into the water and apply a couple of droplets to the leather. Then rub the droplets into the leather with the wax polish. Aim for minimal wax and minimal water droplets with fast and vigorous polishing strokes. The idea is to fill the pores of the leather so to attain a smooth glass-like finish, which leads to a mirrored sheen. This takes considerable time and patience as you build up the layers of wax.

Finally, take a piece of nylon (such as a pair of ladies’ stockings if you have them to hand – we’re not judging) and buff the leather to complete the shine. Replace the laces and admire your handiwork.


  • J.M. Weston Wooden Shoe Trees - 180 & 641

  • John Lobb Wooden Shoe Trees

  • Abbeyhorn Stag Antler Handle Shoehorn

  • Jason Markk Premium Shoe Cleaning Brush

  • Jason Markk Repel Spray, 160ml

  • Jason Markk Premium Shoe Cleaner, 236ml