Leather is tough as all hell, but that doesn't mean it's invincible. Cold and dry weather, snowy commutes, getting caught in the rain, and scuff-inducing stumbling will make your favorite pair of lace-ups look and feel a lot worse for wear. Eventually, they'll succumb to surface cracks, moisture deprivation, and a general beat-up vibe.
Unless you treat them right, that is.
All you need is a basic shoe care setup and a few minutes of your time once a month or so. Here's a breakdown of how it's done, separated into three tiers depending on how much time you've got. If you're running out the door and just need a quick condition, opt for a five minute round of cleaning & conditioning. If you've got some time to kill, add a few steps and buff your kicks to a mirror finish.
Either way, your shoes will look better and last longer.
The Quickie — 5 minutes
Perfect if you only have a few minutes to spare, or if you're on the road. Your go-to pairs should get this treatment at least twice a month to keep 'em clean and moisturized.
Take out your laces, then wipe down the shoes off with a damp rag. Don't forget to hit the soles.
Apply a light coat of cleaner/moisturizer to the entire shoes, including a decent amount on the soles (that's an easily overlooked, but important, part.)
Let the shoes dry for a few seconds, then buff with your polishing brush.
The Standard — 10 minutes
Got a few more minutes to kill? Refresh the color, reinforce your shine, and add a layer of protection. It works well as a once monthly ritual, or for when you need to look especially sharp for a party or big meeting.
Go through all the steps in "The Quickie," above.
Apply cream in a circular rubbing motion with an applicator brush. Put a heavier coat on any scuffed spots.
Buff with the polishing brush.
Apply a light layer of wax over the entire shoe with a circular rubbing motion using a rag, going extra heavy on the back and the toe (where the leather gets beat up the most). Then buff once more with the polishing brush.
The Mirror — 15 Minutes
This is for the purists who want to be able to see their reflection in their kicks. The leather is already well treated and protected with The Standard; this just gives you some extra style points.
Go through all the steps in "The Standard," above.
Splash a few drops of water on the toe, then buff with the chamois.
Apply another light coat of wax to the toe, then buff again. Repeat until you're satisfied with the shine.