Suede shoes have many virtues. They’re elegant, relaxed, versatile. They complement everything from suits to casual wear. And while it’s sometimes regarded as calf leather’s finicky sibling, suede is not as delicate and fussy as you might think.
Still, a little bit of work goes a long way. And now, as the days get warmer and dress codes more casual, it’s the perfect time to refresh and protect your collection. Here’s how to fend off the daily accumulation of grime, and save your shoes in advance from their greatest nemesis, liquid stains.
Words by Alex Freeling
Illustrations by Lee Woodgate
1. For daily care, brush shoes after wearing and store with shoe trees
After you take them off, give your shoes a quick brush all over with a shoe brush. This will remove the loose and superficial dirt that has built up over the day. A couple of other accessories will help: a shoehorn, to avoid breaking down the heel as you put them on, and shoe trees, to maintain their shape during storage. Like calf leather, it’s best to avoid wearing a single pair continuously over consecutive days, when practical.
2. For occasional marks: use a suede eraser
Now and then you will accumulate the odd dot or mark, especially on paler suede. As long as it’s a dry stain, the easiest way to deal with it is a suede rubber. It works like a pencil eraser: you rub the block directly onto the suede, breaking down a little bit of the rubber and taking the stain away with it. Then just brush any remaining residues off and you’re done.
Since it works by abrasion, you do have to rub fairly hard, but the process is quick, and your shoes are immediately ready to wear again.
3. Deep clean with a suede shampoo
If you’re taking shoes out of storage for the season and they need refreshing, or if you’re unlucky enough to mark your shoes with oil, red wine, or the like, it’s time for a full wash.
Remove any superficial dirt off (as in step 1) and then use the provided brush to work a small amount of shampoo into the suede, covering the whole surface of both shoes using small circular motions. Pay special attention to any stained areas. Next, wet the brush in water and repeat the process. A small lather will form. Keep going with water until you’ve removed as much shampoo from the suede as you can. Then put shoe trees in and let them dry (at room temperature, not on the radiator). After 6-8 hours, give them a brush all over to restore the nap on your newly-cleaned shoes.
If you’re giving them the works, this is also a good time to apply pigmented edge dressing to the leather welt, which connects the upper to the sole, if it’s become faded or discoloured.
4. Protect clean shoes with suede spray
When your shoes are clean, it’s an ideal time to protect them with a suede spray. The primary aim is to give them a water-resistant surface (as on a freshly-proofed raincoat) so that water (and any liquid stains) just roll off.
A good spray such as Saphir's Super Invulner Protector won’t permanently seal suede, turning it into plastic (that’s what Gore-Tex is for). Instead, it provides a thin hydrophobic layer, which should be refreshed periodically.
Alternatively, Saphir's Renovateur suede spray provides a waterproof effect in combination with moisturising almond oil and is useful for cleaning and refreshing dry or brittle suede. And if, after several years, you notice a darker pair fading, you can also use a pigmented Renovateur spray to lightly re-colour it.
5. Repair and replace the heel and sole when necessary
Finally, as with any good pair of shoes, it pays to keep an eye on the sole and heel. Depending on how hard and frequently you wear them, the heel stack can wear down in as few as six months. A little wear is no problem; just make sure you replace it before you go through the heel and start to bite into the sole.
Over the lifetime of a shoe, you may also start to wear through the sole itself, at the toe or ball of the foot. (If you wear through the toe rapidly, you might want to consider a protective toe plate; the sort that sits flush with the sole is far better than the nail-on variety.) So long as your shoe is goodyear welted, re-soling is fairly straightforward and generally offered by the manufacturer, but you should expect to wait at least a few weeks. Still, it’s a small price to pay for years of faithful service to come.