Leather practically takes care of itself--it develops an amazing patina over time that helps resist water, wears in to fit better and better, stretches and bends and returns back to its shape. No wonder shoemakers since the beginning of time (or right around then) have used this hearty material in shoe making. For pioneers, globetrotters, and wanderers alike, a trusty leather shoe is their best friend. But as close to perfection as leather may seem, it falls sort of goddom in that it stills needs care to make it really last. You can double the lifetime of your shoes and boots with a little tender loving oil every now again--and when you're buying vintage, making things last is the name of the game. Today, we've put together a simple vintage care guide for your leather boots--to ensure they last until the seams quite literally, disintegrate.
There a many kinds of leather used in shoemaking, for all kinds of shoes. Some of these require a twist on what you use and how to clean them (eg. suede)--make sure to familiarize yourself with the type of leather your shoes are made of before jumping into the process. Leather care is a hobby in and of itself, and takes some practice as you learn how often to clean them, with what oil to condition them, and whether or not you want to include a polish. For this post, we are focusing on leather boots--think Frye, Ariat, cowboy, riding boots. Learning the art keeps your shoes well conditioned and prevents salt and water damage. When the leather starts looking dry, now is the time to condition. Keep a balance, though--over conditioning can break down the leather's naturally tough properties. Therefore, conditioning every 15-20 wears in normal conditions (aka West coast weather) is a good rule of thumb.
First and foremost, remove the laces and get a clean slate by brushing or wiping the dirt off your boots. You can use a regular plastic cleaning brush and a damp washcloth, then let them dry before moving on. If they are particularly dirty, try using a leather cleaner like Saphir Reno-Mat (think shampooing before a deep conditioning). Leaving boots dirty will only trap the grime in forever if you apply oil over top (no thank you).
While there are endless leather oils and cleaners out there, we are focusing on something you may already have on hand: coconut oil. If you would rather use a brand-specific conditioner (Frye and Clark make their own), or another oil such as Neatsfoot or linseed, test a small area first to see if it darkens the color and if you like the result.
With coconut oil, it has a melting point of around 75 degrees F--if it's not warm enough you can melt it with the heat of your breath and hands. Less is more here--start with a small amount of oil on your fingers, and begin gently rubbing it into one boot, then the other, giving them a light, even coat. Once finished with the second, go back to the first boot and run your finger back over the places where white reside accumulated. It all should rub back in--if not, try adding more pressure. Repeat on the second shoe. Let dry and rest for a full day, and if you discover you used too much oil, finish by running a dry cloth or paper towel over them to remove any excess. Then get those boots a walkin'!
A word of caution: stay away from external heat sources (anything but your hands and breath) to accelerate the drying process--the product will get over absorbed or you will over dry your leather. Also, cedar shoe trees are great for keeping the form of your boots and help naturally draw out moisture!
When the soles of your shoes are wearing thin (even amidst the diamonds), a great way to reinvigorate them is getting your boots resoled. Locally, Takken's Shoes does it for a reasonable price (less than $40) and about a week turnover--and they come back looking like new!
Want care tips for moccasins, Uggs, dress shoes, or other leather shoes? Ask in the comments below and we'll get back to you with specific tips and resources!