How to Make Suede Shoes Last

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There’s nothing quite as timeless as a pair of suede loafers, but it takes a certain resolve to actually buy them. The material, made from the inside of tanned leather, is a maintenance nightmare. Suede can’t be polished, scrubbed, waxed, or shined. Fortunately, there are a few tricks for combatting stains and, if that fails, creating a nice patina.

“If you ask me, a pair of suede loafers looks better after a little wear and tear,” says Tyler Thoreson, VP of Editorial and Creative at Gilt Men’s and Home. “It builds character.”

The key to wearing suede is to be strategic. Thoreson recommends buying one pair that you save for dressier occasions and one pair that you wear around the neighborhood. His go-to pair for everyday – “lovingly beat-to-hell” brown brogues – have been rained on, snowed on, scratched, and scuffed. He doesn’t sweat it. There is something to be said for shoes that look worn in and perfectly imperfect. Just store them on a cedar shoe tree when you’re not wearing them so they retain their structure.

For the more precious pair, have a plan for damage control. Spray them with protectant (think: Allen Edmonds’ Waterproofing Spray) immediately after you buy them. If you end up with stains, mix a splash of white vinegar in a cup of warm water and wipe the shoes down with a wet towel. It’s also wise to arm yourself with a few maintenance essentials. Suede erasers are small bricks of rubber that can softly scrub out small stains, and suede brushes help revive the nap after cleaning.

“Sure, it’s a bit of a hassle, but far easier than shining your shoes,” he says.

Beyond that, there are a few tricks. If you step in a puddle and wind up muddy, treat the dirt like wax and let the shoes dry – it’ll be much easier to lift off after 24 hours. If your shoes begin to look dull, place them on a tray above a pot of boiling water to steam them. The method may sound a little medieval, but it helps replenish the material’s luster. And if you wind up with a mystery stain – usually grease, oil, or food – go over it gently with a suede brush before tackling more aggressively with a nail brush or toothbrush and warm water.  

“Any guy can, and should, have a couple pairs of suede shoes in his arsenal,” says Thoreson. And every guy should be unafraid to show them off. [Oliver Sweeney London Suede Chukka Boots pictured above, $169;]

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