About Glen

By profession I am a computer programmer, business analyst, and project manager. However, I have a love of shoes that occupies a good deal of my spare time by collecting, maintaining, and researching men's shoes of all styles. I currently have a collection of over 60 pair of dress shoes that I care for, and wear with pride (one pair at a time). I have spent the last 40 years of my life with an interest in good quality men's leather shoes, and want to share what I have learned with others.

Shoeshine Box

I recently received a really cool shoe shine box from GOLD-N-RULE (www.gold-n-rule.com). They were kind enough to send the box (and optional kit) to me to review (with no obligation, or stated expectation).

The box is a decent size (big enough to hold a number of shoe polish tins/jars and shoe care equipment, but small enough to set out of the way), however you may want to show it off.

The box is designed structurally and graphically to replicate the old 5cent a shine shoe box of long ago. The shoe stand is made of a solid brushed gold tone metal, and the box graphics are bold, professional and retro.

The shoe shine kit included the following:
• 1x black 4oz Angelus polish
• 1x brown 4oz Angelus polish
• 1x Flannel Buffer
• 1x 100% Horse Hair Shine Brush
• 1x 100% Horse Hair Circular Dauber Brush.
kit contents

I think this shoe shine box and care kit will be a great addition to my shoe care collection, and be something I can show off to my friends.

When Bad things happen to Good shoes

As you might expect, I take very good care of my shoes, and I enjoy applying a good spit shine when I can.

Unfortunately, a spit shine can be easily damaged when the toe of a shoe comes in contact with another surface. I have had people accidently step on the toe of my shoe, bumped my toe against a curb, and (the act that caused the damage shown below) stopping a car door as it began to close.
Damaged Toe

I stopped the car door from closing on me by blocking it with the side of the toe of my shoe. This caused the hard shell of wax I created during the spit shine to separate on the side and crack in the middle. Of course I was concerned that the shoe itself was damaged.

Although it might look like the leather, or the leather finish, might be cracked it was actually just the wax that has fractured.

Upon closer inspection you can see that the cracks run diagonal to the grain of the leather:
Damaged Toe Closeup

After removing the hard wax shell with some pure orange oil (RenoMat could also be used) I was able to eliminate the cracks and get down to the original leather finish.
Cleaned Toe

From here I can start all over with my shoe care process: Condition, Cream Polish, High Shine Paste. I could also use a different shade or color of polish to apply some antiquing effects.

Shoe Seams

The seams on a shoe are one of the main factors in defining the style of a shoe. So I decided to create a list of the various seams and how they define a given style.

Another aspect of seams is broguing (holes punched into the leather for decoration) which also plays a role in the definition of a style.

First lets start with the Wholecut style which is defined by the lack of seams other than the single seam running vertically up the back of the shoe. This is referred to as the Back seam (the small leather extension that comes across, from one side to the other, at the top of some back seams is called a Dog Tail).

The most common seam on shoes is the Gooseneck seam which is where the quarters overlay the vamp to create the facing of the shoe. On closed laced shoes (oxfords) this seam also goes across the top of the vamp.

A more decorative version of the Gooseneck seam is the Swan Neck seam, which runs up the side of the facing.

A seam not seen as often in shoes as it is in boots is the Balmoral seam, which starts at the vamp and runs horizontally along the length of the quarters then wraps around the back of the shoe.

A seam that is one of my favorites is the Adelaide seam, which makes a “U” shape around the facing, and is exclusive to Oxford type shoes.

A Heel Counter seam exists when a piece of leather is wrapped around the back of the shoe for decoration and visual balance. This piece of leather is called a heel counter. Not to be confused with the internal support built into the inside of the back of the shoe, also referred to as a heel counter.

Any time a piece of leather (or other material) is laid over a part of the upper a seam is created. A good example of this is the Saddle Shoe seam that is created by placing a piece of leather across the facing and down the sides of the quarters.

The open edges of the Facing (that the shoe laces pull together) is also considered a seam, as is the seam around the top of the shoe opening known as the Top Line seam.

Then, of course, there are the toe seams:

Aside from the typical Cap Toe and Wingtip, which I will go into with more detail shortly, there are less typical Split Toe, Apron Toe, Moc Toe, and Bicycle Toe seams.

The Split Toe seam is also known as an Algonquin or Norwegian seam. It runs vertically up the center front of the toe until it meets either an Apron Toe seam, or a Moc Toe seam.

An Apron Toe seam is a seam attaches a piece of material (leather or other) covering the top of the vamp like an apron, around the upper perimeter of the vamp, but typically not extending to the end of the toe. An Apron Toe can be simulated with just a seam, and does not require a separate piece.

A Moc Toe is similar to an Apron Toe, except that a Moc Toe is set into the vamp rather than being on top of it.

A Bicycle Toe seam is created by extending the quarters forward along the sides of the vamp toward the front of the toe.

Now back to Wingtips and Cap Toes:

There are different styles of wingtip and cap toe shoes that are distinguished mostly by broguing (or the lack thereof).

A Stitch Cap is defined by no broguing on the top cap seam, only a single or double stitch line along the seam (more than two stitch lines can be used for additional decoration).

A Quarter Brogue is defined by broguing along the toe cap seam, as well as broguing on any seams across the quarters and the facing. If a heel counter seam exists it should have broguing as well. Broguing on the top line seam are optional. A quarter brogue also has a plain cap toe (no Medallion).

A Semi-Brogue (or Half-Brogue) is the same as a quarter brogue, except that a semi-brogue has a medallion punched into the cap toe.

A Full-Brogue (better known as just a Brogue) is a wingtip with the same broguing requirements as a semi-brogue.

A Longwing is a full brogue with the tips of the wings extending to the back of the shoe.

An Austerity Brogue is similar to a stitch cap as there is no broguing, only a stitch line along the wingtip seam.

A Blind Brogue is defined by the lack of an actual seam, replaced by a line of broguing directly in the upper to imply a wingtip seam.

Understanding shoe seams will make it much easier to distinguish the various shoe styles at a glance.

Polish type for shoe type

There are a great number of shoe/boot care products to choose from. Knowing what products to use on which type of shoe or boot can be useful. But, to do this, we have to have some understanding about the leather to which we are applying the products.

First there are different types of cow leather, but for the sake of care there are really only a few differences to consider, but these differences are based on a number of factors; these factors include methods of how the leather was stuffed in the tanning process (fat liquored, hot stuffed, wet stuffed).

There is also the direction of the leather (grain out versus flesh out), and the finish on the leather such as full aniline, semi-aniline, and corrected grain, as well as the amount and ratio of oils and waxes stuffed into the leather.

When I mention corrected grain I am referring to bookbinder type leather where there is a substantial acrylic finish (this includes patent leather).

There are also the differences in the material type to consider. Calf is typically going to be thinner and have a tighter grain than other leather. Shell cordovan is really not grained leather like cow, but rather a subdermal sheath from the butt of a horse, and is treated like hot stuffed flesh out leather.

Pull up leather is grain out hot stuffed with a higher concentration of oils and waxes than that used in the fat liquoring for calf and other leathers. The extra waxes and oils are what give the leather its pull up effect and casual look.

Exotic skins do not have a grain so to speak, but rather plates or scales and don’t really have much of a corium (where the majority of conditioning oils reside in leather), and as such does not benefit much from conditioning.

And finally, there is the general difference in leather thickness used for various applications, as in thicker leather for work boots and thinner leather for dress/business shoes.

In regard to shoe care products, there is an assortment of types with different purposes:

The most common and most widely known is paste polish, also known as wax polish. Then there is cream polish, which is softer and serves a slightly different purpose. The liquid polish found in the plastic bottles with a sponge applicator should never be used.

After basic shoe polish comes cleaners like saddle soap and pH balanced leather cleaner.

Then there are leather conditioners that are mostly oils. 3LexolConditionerandDubbin

There are also combination cleaner/conditioners.

Suede has its own type of cleaners, conditioners and protectors.

Leather strippers like acetone should not be confused with leather cleaners. Leather strippers are designed to not only remove wax from shoes, but the leather finish as well.

Next is the various types of weather proofing, from heavy wax to heavy oils. This can also include silicone sprays for both grained leather and suede. I believe silicone should be avoided whenever possible.

And, finally, there are the specialty sprays for reptile skins and patent leather.

With these considerations in mind, I believe the following is applicable for leather care:

In general I would suggest a quality cream shoe polish (like GlenKaren Cream Polish) for most leathers, even exotics.

In specific I would not recommend shoe care products high in wax (as in paste/wax polish) on oiled leathers like Chromexcel/Pull up. This type of shoe/boot does well with leather conditioners.

Products like SnoSeal which are mostly beeswax (and very thick) are good for helping weatherproof thicker boot leather (to include pull up boot Leather), but would tend to smother thinner shoe leather.

I would not recommend shoe care products high in oils (dubbin, Obenauf’s, etc…) on calf skin, thinner leather, exotic leathers, cordovan shell, or corrected grain. Pastes and creams work best on these types of shoes. The thicker leather of work boots can accommodate the higher levels of oil, which also helps in moisture protection.

I would not recommend shoe care products high is solvents (cleaner/conditioners) on corrected grain leather, shell cordovan, or exotic leathers.

Cordovan Shell – Revisited

There seems to be some mystery around how to care for cordovan shell shoes, and how they differ from leather shoes.

There is actually quite a bit of difference between cow leather and shell cordovan, and therefore reasons to treat them differently.
leather shoescordovan shoes

My original research led me to believe that cordovan shell was produced from a part of the subcutaneous muscle layer in horses called the panniculus carnosus. This is a thin fibrous twitch muscle lining the abdomen and hind quarter of the horse.

In reality cordovan shell is made from a collagen protein based tissue structure that is a cross between flesh and cartilage called the hyaline layer that exists (specifically on the rump of a horse) between the epidermis and the corium. This layer does not exist in cow skin.

Because this layer is a dense smooth layer of tissue it is also referred to as the “glassy” layer. In a book titled “The Chemistry of Leather Manufacture,” published in 1923 by the Chemical Catalogue Company the following paragraph appears:

The dense mass of fibers, often called the glassy layer, can be seen running horizontally across the middle of the picture and appearing much darker than the remaining fibers. The portion of the hide containing the glassy layer is known as the shell and is used to make leather sold under the name of cordovan.

Once the horse leather is cut down to the ovals that contain the hyaline tissue layer the epidermis is shaved off of the hyaline layer leaving no grain side. This is one of the reasons that it is hot stuffed rather than fat liquored. Hot stuffing also allows the tannery to add a lot more fats and waxes than fat liquoring.

Beside the additional fats and waxes, another aspect plays an even bigger role: The difference between the structure of skin tissue and the hyaline layer tissue.

Both skin and the hyaline layer are made up of protein filament bundles (fibrils), but the shape and size of the filaments differ quite a bit. A collagen protein filament in skin/leather is about 80nm in diameter, while the filaments in the hyaline layer have a bulbous head that is about 12nm in diameter and a filament that tapers to much smaller. These tapered filaments fold over onto themselves causing the denser tissue.

The filament size in the hyaline layer is similar in relative size to an actin protein filament found in muscle, which is about 8nm in diameter. This perpetuates some of the confusion around cordovan shell being a muscle rather than a skin tissue.

Because the fibrils in the hyaline layer are so much more compressed (ten filaments for every one of cow hide, and folded over as well) it tends to retain oil and wax much better.

This compressed fibrous tissue has no real grain side, and so it acts like flesh out leather, similar to waxed leather, but with a much more compressed surface. This is also why a smooth deer bone can rub out a scuff.

Since cordovan shell retains waxes and oils so well it does not need to be conditioned very often (some would say the cordovan shell never needs conditioning). However, all oils oxidize over time and should be replenished as needed.

I have found the best way to do this is to apply a little cream polish every now and then (about every 15 to 20 times the shoes are worn). The rest of the time I just brush them very well, and smooth out any scuffs with the round side of a tablespoon.

Brushing cordovan shell with a horsehair brush (ironic I know) vigorously is about the best thing you can do for it. The heat from the friction helps soften the waxes and oils in the cordovan shell and basically allows you to polish your shoes with the ingredients already in your shoes.

The video below will go through a number of steps that horse hide goes through to produce cordovan shell at the Horween tannery:

Horween Genuine Shell Cordovan from Horween Leather on Vimeo.


Beeswax and carnauba wax are the most commonly used waxes in shoe polish, with paraffin wax being used less often. However, I believe Venetian shoe cream is composed of a liquid paraffin mixed with turpentine. All hydrocarbons from paraffin wax to mineral oil fall into the paraffin class.
Venetian Shoe Cream-1

Kiwi lists carnauba wax as the wax ingredient in their standard paste polish.

Other wax options, not as frequently used in shoe polish, are Japan wax and Candelilla wax.

Each wax has a different degree of hardness, which is somewhat reflected in its melting point.

Waxes in order of hardness:

Carnauba Wax: Melting Point (183F), source (leaves of the palm plant Copernicia prunifera grown in Brazil).

Candelilla Wax: Melting Point (155F), source (candelilla shrub found in Southwest U.S. and Northern Mexico).

Beeswax: Melting Point (145F), source (honey bees).

Paraffin Wax: Melting Point (140F), source (petroleum distillate – paraffin class hydrocarbon).

Japan Wax: Melting Point (124F), source (fruit of the Rhus Succedanea tree grown in Japan).

Some polishes use a combination of waxes.

Mineral Oil

There is some question as to whether or not mineral oil should be used on shoe/boot leather. I can tell you that you should avoid using mineral oil on your shoe and boot leather if you can.

The reason I say “if you can” is because a number of leather conditioners and leather protectors include mineral oil. Fortunately they will typically state something along the lines of “Contains petroleum by-products” or “Contains petroleum distillates” somewhere on the label. Some tanneries also use mineral oil in their fatliquoring process.
neatsfoot oil

Mineral oil is a basic straight chain hydrocarbon and comes is various grades defined by the carbon atom count, which ranges from 18 to 30 carbon atoms. Mineral oil used in shoe products has a molecular composition of about C25H52 (25 Carbon, 52 Hydrogen). Mineral oil is also a non-polar hydrocarbon and as such cannot have a pH value.
mineral oil 1

Mineral oil is also extremely hydrophobic because it is a non-polar substance, and the molecular structure has fewer reactive tertiary hydrogen and carbon atoms which minimizes direct reaction with oxygen. What this means is that mineral oil is much more of a water barrier than triglyceride based oils like animal and vegetable fats. In fact mineral oil is considered to be occlusive (a stop to moisture), whereas triglyceride based oils are considered semi-occlusive (allowing your shoes to pass perspiration for evaporation to some degree). Moisture, trapped in the leather by mineral oil, can lead to dry rot of the leather over time.

Another aspect of mineral oil is how it oxidizes: All oils oxidize over time, even mineral oil. Oxidation at the molecular level can happen in one of two ways: the gain of oxygen atoms, or the loss of hydrogen atoms. Because triglycerides already involve oxygen bonding in their molecular makeup they oxidize through increased oxygen. Since mineral oil can’t really bond with oxygen (for the same reasons it is hydrophobic) it must oxidize through the loss of hydrogen (as a side note: hydrocarbon molecules can be oxidized with oxygen atoms, but only at very high temperatures).

This loss of hydrogen atoms begins breaking down the molecular composition of the mineral oil (originally C25H52) and as it breaks down it becomes more volatile (the molecular composition of naphtha [the petroleum by-product used as a solvent in shoe polish –and other things] can be as big as C12H26). The smaller the size of a hydrocarbon molecule the more volatile (and toxic) it becomes. This is the reason mineral oil is never used to maintain old leather in museums and such.

So why is mineral oil used in shoe/boot care products and in fatliquoring? Mineral oil is used because it is very cheap compared to triglyceride based oils, and it provides a stronger moisture barrier.

Unfortunately, if you plan to keep your shoes/boots longer than a few years, the mineral oil will do more harm than good.

Visual Weight

Vision is very spatial, it is how we judge distance, depth, size and shape, but we also use it to get a sense of weight and balance.

Everything you wear has visual weight and balance (or lack of balance). For example a double breasted suit jacket has a lot of visual weight because of the extra fabric, the additional buttons, and the style itself. Because of this the suit trousers should be cuffed to give balance to the suit from top to bottom.
Double Breasted

An example of visual weight imbalance would be wearing a modern close cut jacket with narrow lapels with double pleated trousers.

This same visual balance applies to your shoes as well. Some shoe designs have a heavy visual weight to them, while others have a very light visual weight.

The visual weight of your shoes should be consistent with the visual weight of your outfit whenever possible.

There are four things that give shoes visual weight, in the following order:
1. The welt and sole
2. The shape of the Last
3. The leather type
4. The shoe style

The welt and sole are listed together because the sole thickness is defined to some degree by the welt method used. And, the welt itself can add visual weight to the sole. You can also get shoes with double thick soles which not only add visual weight, but physical weight as well.

A Norwegian welt has the most visual weight of all, followed by a Goodyear welt. Soles that are attached by Blake stitch, Rapid/Blake, or Bond welted can have a very light visual weight.

Rubber soles also typically add more visual weight than leather soles.

Each shoe manufacturer has a variety of last shapes (some more than others) that vary from round bulbous toe to narrow chiseled toe. The more slender and tapered the last, the less visual weight the shoe has.

Next to impact visual weight is the leather type as follows (heavy to light):
1. Suede
2. Leather with natural wrinkles (like elephant, buffalo, etc…) or induced wrinkles.
3. Embossed grain (like pebble grain, hash grain, etc…).
4. Exotic leathers (like crocodile, lizard, etc…).
5. Shell Cordovan, waxed leather.
6. Calfskin, cow hide.
7. Patent Leather

Finally, the shoe style impacts the visual weight as well. The visual weight of a given style is directly proportional to the style complexity. Basically the more decoration on the shoe the more visual weight it has.

To illustrate the visual weight difference here is a buffalo hide, saddle shoe style, with a bulbous toe and a rubber sole compared to a calfskin, wholecut style, with a tapered toe and blake stitched leather sole.

Reviving Dead Polish

If you have had a tin of shoe polish for a while you may have noticed that is has dried out and cracked, this is because shoe polish is composed mostly of solvent, and solvent evaporates.

When the solvent evaporates it leaves the wax in the tin, and because there is less volume the wax begins to separate and crack. The wax also becomes harder because the solvent was keeping it in a softer paste consistency.
Old Polish

This process can be reversed by replenishing the solvent and melting the wax, all within the tin.

This can also be a somewhat dangerous process as the solvent can be flammable. The most common solvents used in shoe polish are Naphtha (a petro-chemical) and Turpentine. Both have a flash point below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so they should be handled with caution around open flame.

I would also suggest turning on your stove hood fan, and avoid inhaling the fumes as much as possible. It is also a good idea to have a flat surface object (like a cutting board) available to smother any possible flame. That being said, I have never had shoe polish catch on fire without being exposed directly to flame (although it is possible).

For the most part this process may be more work than it is worth, but that is something you will have to decide for yourself.

To do this right you will need a two quart double broiler and an IR thermometer. The IR thermometer is not necessary, but it is really handy.
Double Broiler
IR Thermometer

First select a solvent to use in replenishing the polish. Turpentine is readily available where you would buy paint, but I prefer to use orange oil because it smells better and has a higher flash point. You can order orange oil from a number of places on line. Either solvent will work.

To revive your polish do the following steps in order:

  1. Observe the amount of dried up polish in the tin.
  2. Pour in solvent at about 25% to 30% of the volume of the existing polish.
  3. Fill the bottom pan of a double broiler about three quarters full of water.
  4. Put the top pan of the double broiler on top of the bottom pan.
  5. Place the polish tin in the bottom center of the top pan.
  6. Turn the heat up to about 50%, and let heat until the wax melts (this is where the IR thermometer comes in handy).
    Beeswax melts at about 145F (about 10 minutes)
    Carnauba wax melts at about 180F (about 15 minutes)
  7. Once melted to liquid, turn off the heat and let the wax cool (this may take up to an hour). You can lift off the top pan with the polish tin in it to speed up cooling, but be careful not to spill the polish out of the tin in liquid form (it makes a mess).
  8. Once the tin is not hot to the touch (below 90F), you have a good usable tin of shoe polish again.

Revived Polish

If you want to give the polish a bit of a cream texture add just a few drops of coconut oil (less than a quarter teaspoon) while the wax is melted.

Shoe Leather 101

When it comes to leather shoes it is helpful to have an understanding of leather in general, and shoe leather in specific.

Most people think of leather as cow hide, but it really relates to any animal skin that has been through the tanning process to convert the dead animal skin into a lasting useful material (Leather).

Although the tanned skin of a young calf is called calfskin it is still leather. Because calfskin comes from a calf it has a tighter grain and fiber, and is thinner and lighter than cow hide; this makes for better shoe leather.

Other types of animal leather are Kidskin (from goat), Pigskin/Peccary (from pig), Cordovan Shell (from horse), and of course other exotic animal skins like buffalo, elephant, kangaroo and so on. There are also bird skins, like ostrich, and reptile skins like alligator, crocodile, lizard and snake.

Reptile skins tend to last longer and need less care than animal leathers, but they are also more expensive. Bovine leather (cow hide / calfskin) is by far the most commonly used leather in shoes.

A high quality all leather shoe uses leather in the following places:
The outsole of the shoe (the part that touches the ground)
The insole of the shoe (the part your foot rests on)
The lining of the shoe (between your foot and the upper)
The heel of the shoe (as in stacked layers of leather to create the heel)
The shoe upper (the rest of the shoe, excluding the items above)

Shoe that are not all leather may have rubber soles, insoles made of various materials, and heels made of wood, rubber or plastic. I would suggest going with all leather if you can, with the exception of perhaps rubber soles if you need to stand in cold wet environments.

Leather can be available from tanneries in the following thicknesses:

A leather outsole on a man’s shoe is around 12oz thickness on average. A leather insole is typically around 14oz in thickness to accommodate the welt. A shoe upper is around 5oz on a typical dress/business shoe, and the lining is about 1oz.

All of these thicknesses can vary due to leather type, welt method, and shoe style. For example Italian shoes tend to be sleeker and therefore use thinner leather in the soles and uppers to achieve the look. Soles that are Blake stitched or bonded don’t require as thick an insole as Goodyear welted shoes.

As a side note: try to avoid bonded or bondwelted shoes as this means the outsole is simply glued to the shoe without an actual welt.

The quality of the leather used in a given line of shoes is determined by the grade of leather the shoe manufacturer purchased to make the shoes. Leather is graded in two basic ways: 1) The quality of the hide in general (amount of scars, blemishes, etc…), and 2) The area of the hide a specific piece of leather is cut from (back, belly, front shoulders, etc…).

Leather quality is typically graded in four grades, with grade 1 being the best, and grade 4 being the worst. This means that even grade 1 hides (little to no blemishes) have grade 4 leather (belly skin).
Cow Hide Portions

The grade of leather used is the most critical in the shoe upper, as this is where the quality of the leather is most visible. Shoe uppers made from the back area leather of a grade 1 hide would be the best shoe leather you could get (and also makes for a very expensive pair of shoes).

The leather on a shoe upper is typically grain side out leather, but leathers like shell cordovan and waxed leather are used inside out (flesh side out), and suede leather has had the grain removed entirely.

Inside out leathers are typically pressed under very high pressure to compress the fibers to a smooth surface.

Leather that has blemishes in the grain are often buffed (sanded) of the grain side to remove the blemishes, which then requires the grain to be corrected. Corrected grain leather is sometimes referred to as top grain leather or bookbinder leather. If the grain has not been corrected (no existing blemishes in the grain to begin with) it is referred to as full grain. The term top grain has also been used to define the grain side of the leather, making full grain and top grain synonymous, so it can be confusing.
Leather Grain levels

One of the final stages of tanning leather is applying the color and finish (although chromium tanned leather can be bought in a “wet blue” state).

The high quality leather is typically aniline dyed, which saturates the color completely through the leather. The leather is also pressed under high pressure to give it some shine, and a very thin coat of clear or colored acrylic is applied as a final finish, in most cases.

In the case of corrected grain, the pressing and acrylic finish is also where the corrected grain is applied. Because of this corrected grain leather will have a thicker finish than non-corrected grain, and also tend to be a little shinier. Patent leather is corrected grain leather with a thick acrylic finish, pressed to a high shine.
Leather Finish

The shoe manufacturer may also add their own finish to the leather, to add more shine, or to add color highlights.