by Editorial Staff September 06, 2022

If you are looking for tips on how to clean, shine and polish dress shoes, you are in the right place. This article was assembled with the advice of a leather expert, a gentleman with an enviable collection of fine leather dress shoes who knows exactly how to care for them.

Table of Contents
 (click to skip ahead)
Supplies Needed to Shine Dress Shoes
How to Prepare Your Dress Shoes for Shining
How to Shine Dress Shoes in 10 Easy Steps
Dress Shoe Shine FAQs

What You Need to Shine Your Dress Shoes

materials needed to shine dress shoes

Before getting started, gather all of the necessary supplies. At the very least, you’ll need the following items:

  • Shoes (with shoe trees)
  • Horsehair Brush
  • Conditioner
  • Cotton Cloth

The above materials will enable you to follow along through step four in this guide, where you’ll be able to achieve a soft shine with relatively minimal care and effort. For a brighter shine and a more thorough care regimen to take you through step ten, you’ll also need the following:

  • Pigmented Cream Polish
  • Pigmented Wax Polish

Prep Your Shoes Before Getting Started

While you should always keep shoe trees in your dress shoes, this is particularly helpful during the cleaning process. Shoe trees help straighten out any creases or wrinkles in the leather so that you can thoroughly clean and shine the entire shoe.

In the photos below, you’ll notice that the laces are still on as the shoes are being shined. These oxfords were already in great shape but if you require a more comprehensive shining or cleaning, be sure to remove the laces beforehand.

10 Steps to Shining Your Dress Shoes

With all the necessary supplies gathered and your shoes prepped, let's dive into the shining and polishing process!

Step 1 - Brush

first step to shining dress shoes is to thoroughly brush them

Using a horsehair brush, thoroughly brush the shoe to remove any surface dirt and dust.

Step 2 - Apply Conditioner

applying conditioner to a pair of dark brown oxford dress shoes

After a thorough brushing, apply the conditioner in small circles using a cotton cloth. A circular motion allows the conditioner to be applied evenly both with the grain of the leather and against the grain of the leather, ensuring a thorough application. The conditioner will moisturize the leather while also providing a gentle cleaning.

Step 3 - Let Dry

man letting dress shoes dry while leather conditioner permeates shoes

After applying the conditioner, let your shoes dry for at least 3-5 minutes until the leather is dry to the touch. Allowing the conditioner to dry ensures that it fully permeates the leather and provides sufficient moisture.

Step 4 - Brush

man using a horsehair brush to brush brown oxford dress shoes

Next, brush the shoes to a soft shine using a horsehair brush. If you begin brushing before the leather is fully dry, it will become more dull - ensure it is completely dry in order to achieve a more lustrous shine.

If you are pressed for time or are only interested in a minimalistic leather care routine, you can stop at this step. For a more comprehensive shine and polish, continue below.

Step 5 - Apply Cream Polish

man applying polish to brown leather dress shoes

Next, apply cream polish to rejuvenate the color in the leather. Using a lighter shade of polish will allow you to maintain the current color of the shoes while a darker shade will add more color to the leather.

The cream polish should be applied in circular motions using a clean cotton cloth. Before applying any new polishing product to your leather dress shoes, always be sure to test it in a small, unnoticeable area.

Step 6 - Let Dry

man holding brown oxford dress shoes letting polishing cream dry

Let the cream polish dry for 3-5 minutes. To speed up the shining process, alternate these steps between the left and right shoes so that one is drying while cream is being applied to the other.

Step 7 - Brush

man shining brown dress shoes with a horsehair brush

Once the cream has dried, thoroughly brush the shoes to a soft shine. At this point you should begin to notice a more vibrant leather than in the previous steps.

Step 8 - Apply Wax

man applying wax polish to heel and toe of brown dress shoes

To add additional shine to your dress shoes, apply a wax polish to the toe and heel areas. This should only be applied in areas of the shoe that do not flex to prevent any cracking of the wax. In addition to enhancing the shine, the wax will add a layer of protection against scuffs.

Step 9 - Let Dry

man letting wax polish dry on brown oxford dress shoes

After applying the wax, let the shoes dry for 2-3 minutes.

Step 10 - Brush

man brushing shoes to a shine with horsehair brush

Using your horsehair brush, brush the shoes to your desired level of shine and you are done!

Wear with Pride (and a Great Pair of Socks)

What good is a beautifully shined pair of leather dress shoes if they remain locked away in your closet? After giving them a good shine, pair them with your favorite Boardroom Socks and wear them with pride!

man wearing brown wingtip oxfords with a mirror shine and dark trousers with grey dress socks

To pick out an accompanying pair of dress socks, be sure to check out our in-depth guide on how to buy dress socks or click below to shop our collection.

Shop Boardroom Socks

Dress Shoe Shining FAQs

Before concluding, we’d like to answer a few common questions around shining dress shoes. If you have any further questions or comments that we haven’t addressed, please feel free to contact us.

Why is it important to shine your dress shoes?

There are two main reasons why it is important to shine your dress shoes:

  1. Care - Leather is animal skin and, just like your skin, it can become dry and damaged. Shining your shoes involves brushing them and applying creams, which not only cleans them but also moisturizes the leather.
  2. Aesthetics - Nothing throws off a dapper outfit more than dirty, scuffed shoes. Wearing a freshly shined pair of dress shoes will ensure you put your best foot forward.

How often should I polish my dress shoes?

The frequency of shining and polishing your dress shoes is dependent upon how frequently you wear them. The more often you wear them, the more often you will need to clean them. In general, shining your shoes once every week or two should be sufficient.

Finally, we recommend having several pairs of dress shoes that you can rotate throughout the week. This will enable you to space out wears with each shoe, helping them last longer and minimizing required care.

What products should I use to shine my dress shoes?

There are plenty of quality products on the market that will sufficiently clean and shine your shoes. Our favorite products, and the ones used in the guide above, are made by Pure Polish Products. Our team prefers Pure Polish shining supplies because they are high quality, non-toxic and made in the USA.


man wearing freshly shined dress shoes with American flag dress socks


What's Next?

Now that your shoes are cleaned and have a fresh shine, dive into a few of our other helpful articles:

  • Master your casual style with our article on how to wear dress shoes with jeans. We'll share tips on which shoes to wear and how to coordinate the rest of your outfit.
  • Add a pop of color to your wardrobe with our guide to colorful dress socks. If your sock drawer is full of black, blue and shades of grey, the guide will offer some colorful inspiration.
  • For help coordinating colors, read our in-depth piece on matching your socks, shoes and pants. This article is a customer favorite and shares everything you need to know to look well-coordinated and put together.

As we mentioned from the start, this article was compiled following the guidance of a gentleman who has a wealth of knowledge on all things related to leather dress shoes. David, better known as @shellvedge on Instagram, has an incredible collection of leather shoes. Be sure to visit his social media for more shoe inspiration.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff

Our editorial staff is comprised of menswear experts dedicated to providing you with helpful information. Sharing everything from style tips to sock care instructions, these gentlemen are a wealth of knowledge for both our customers and the Boardroom Socks team.

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