Have a pair of gently used dress shoes that you want to sanitize, shine, and fix up? Here’s how to make that happen!
Let’s face it, a quality pair of men’s dress shoes is expensive. You can expect to pay at least $250 for a pair of Goodyear welted Oxfords made from quality leather.
I have three pairs of nice dress shoes but I didn’t pay anywhere near that amount for any of them.
I bought them used.
“Used shoes? Gross!”
I’d agree if we were talking about running shoes, but if you know what you’re doing, you can get fantastic gently used dress shoes for pennies on the dollar while avoiding developing a fungal infection.
What to Look For
Here’s how to quickly scan the shoe section in a second-hand shop:
Know What You’re Looking For
First, know what you’re looking for. If you know you want a pair of brown leather-soled loafers don’t bother with the black rubber-soled square-toed “dress shoe” monstrosities.
Check To See if They Fit
Second, when you find a pair that meets your eye, check to see if it’s your size.
Try them on. Yeah, it might be gross, but we’ll fix that in a minute.
How’s the Quality? Are they in Good Shape?
Next, look over the shoe.
Does the sole have any holes? If it has a leather sole does the area under the ball of the foot feel thin or spongy when you press it with your thumb?
How do the heels look?
Are the laces frayed and worn?
Is the leather upper in good nick? Are there any cuts, marks, or discoloration in the leather?
How are the shoes constructed? Are they cemented, Goodyear welted, or Blake-stiched?
One important note — look for shoes with a leather interior. When getting used shoes you want a leather insole and, preferably, no cloth lining between your foot and the leather upper. I’ll explain why a little later.
Decide if You’re Willing To Make Necessary Repairs
If the uppers are scuffed and unshined, that’s an easy fix, but if they are severely damaged, don’t buy the shoes.
It’s very costly to repair leather uppers if repairs are even possible. It’s not worth it, you should move on.
If the heels show signs of wear, check to see if the wear is just on the rubber heels or if it has expanded into the leather heel stack.
Rubber heels can be easily replaced by a competent cobbler and will cost you around $30, depending on where you live. Leather heel stacks can normally be repaired or replaced, but it’s going to be a much more costly job. If the heel stacks are worn, I’d keep looking.
If you determine that the shoes in question are blake-stitched but have worn soles, it’s your call.
Blake-stiched shoe soles can be replaced, but it’s a more difficult task that not all cobblers can handle. If you live in a medium to big city, you’ll probably be able to get the soles replaced.
However, in a smaller city or a rural area, it’ll probably be more of a hassle than it’s worth. Then again, you could call around before going thrifting to see if your local cobbler is up to the task should you find blake-soled shoes on your Goodwill haunts.
Any cobbler worth his salt, however, will be able to easily change out Goodyear welted soles. If the soles feel rigid, you’re good to go without stopping by the shoe repair shop. But, if the soles feel especially thin or spongy to the touch, they’ll soon need replacing.
I’ve usually had a leather half-sole replacement cost me around $70.
If the shoes have a cemented construction and have worn soles, buyer beware. These shoes can’t be repaired and are quite literally “junk.”
If you are able to find a pair of shoes that fit and are in good shape, great! Now it’s time to clean them up!
If you find a pair that fits but needs a little love from a cobbler, decide if you’re willing to commit the time and money to take them in for repairs.
How to Sterilize Used Shoes
Once you have your thrifted shoes fixed up, now it’s time to sterilize them.
This is actually a pretty simple task if you followed my advice and got shoes with a full leather insole and interior.
That’s because leather is easy to clean, whereas fabric is not. (Ever notice that
To sterilize shoes I like to first use a disinfectant wipe to clear out the toe boxes from any lint or debris.
Then, after allowing the shoes to dry, I use Lysol Disinfectant Spray.
Lysol kills any lurking germs and neutralizes odors.
Important note — only spray the inside of the shoes. Spraying the leather upper can damage and/or discolor the leather.
Let the shoes dry once again. You can spray them a second time if you’d like.
Now, it’s time to shine the shoes.
How to Shine Thrifted Dress Shoes
Since we here at The Modest Man have already covered how to shine shoes in detail in this article, I’ll only give a quick overview here using my thrifted double monks as an example.
Since these shoes are in pretty good shape, I didn’t have to clean the shoes with saddle soap or even brush off any excess dirt. So, I just need to apply a coat or two of clear polish to protect the leather uppers and make them shine.
Step #1: Prep the Polish
I’m using clear polish because I like the color of the uppers as-is and I don’t want to change the color even slightly by using brown polish not supplied by the manufacturer.
I like to use Lincoln Stain Wax Neutral Stain Polish.
This stuff works great but is a little difficult to apply when dry.
My solution is to light the polish in the tin on fire for a few seconds. I do this on a fire-safe surface with a fire extinguisher near by, just in case.
After I see the wax has melted, I blow out the flame.
Step #2: Apply the Polish to the Shoes
Next, I take a clean rag and dip it into the polish before apply to the leather uppers of both shoes.
I have to work quickly while the wax polish is still nice and soft. It hardens quickly so I have to hurry.
I try to coat the wax evenly over the entire surface.
Step #3: Brush Vigorously
With the clear wax polish applied, now it’s time to work up a shine.
Use a clean horsehair brush to shine your shoes. By brushing with gusto, you’ll see a major difference within seconds. Personally, I use a little bit of pressure at first and then back off a bit as I shine.
Move the brush back and forth quickly to create a bit of heat from the friction and you’ll get an even better result.
Step #4: Repeat Steps 1-3 if Needed
For extra protection, or if your shoes aren’t as shiny as you’d like, you can go ahead and apply a second layer of polish.
Step #5: Shine with Pantyhose
Once you’re more or less happy with the shine, there’s still one more step to achieve brilliance.
Take a clean pantyhose, wad it up in your hand, and dip it in cold water.
Now, use the nylon hosiery to shine your shoes as if it was a brush.
Something about the pantyhose makes the shine more spectacular.
It’s difficult to tell in photographs, but in person the improvement is readily apparent.
Step #6: Apply Edge Dressing if Needed
Again, these shoes were in good shape to begin with, but often you’ll want to use edge dressing to “paint” the edges of your shoe soles to restore their original color. For more info, check out the full shoe-shining guide.
Your shoes are your foundation.
Not only do they provide your feet with necessary support and protection, they also serve as a fundamental component of your outfit.
Do you have questions about thrifting dress shoes? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to help!