This document is not intended to be, nor presented as, a definitive guide to Bootblacking, boot care or leather care. It is just a document that shares my passion for leather and its preservation, and outlines my experiences and suggestions for its care. There is a lot I don't know about yet, but am keen to find out more and learn.
The document is currently an early draft, please check back every few weeks for any updates (updates listed below). I do intend on adding photo's as soon as I get some arranged to give a better idea of the instructions, and also of kit. And hopefully some video's one day too!
Please have a look and tweet me your thoughts and suggestions!
Boots! No trainers, no ugg's and no crocs. Boots come in so many different styles, finishes, sizes, heights, hides and colours. In this guide I hope to share my approach to caring for them, if a particular style / colour / finish of boot isn't covered here please get in touch and I can see if I can help and then add some more to this guide for the next person.
In addition to the products you will be using to prepare, clean, condition and protect your boots and leather you need some equipment - your basic tools of the trade. Here I have outlined the essentials I always have in my kitbag.
It is important to remember you don't need to spend a fortune to start your kit bag. Invest in some essentials, the horse hair brushes, but you don't need to spend a fortune on fancy buffing cloths etc.
Bootblacking is about work, effort and commitment - products that say they make work easier, quicker or one stop aren't what you want or need. We don't cheat ... elbow grease is what we do.
Approximately 15cm / 6in brushes, these are best following the tradition of being 100% horsehair for smooth application and shine. You will need one for each colour of boots you work, most boots are black so that makes it easier to start.
Cloths for buffing a shine, dusting and wiping. Cut up t-shirt's make great cloths for boot care! Cheap and plentiful.
These are awesome for buffing and really building a shine, they are just as effective as an eCloth but a whole lot cheaper and easier to replace. And you will be surprised just how effective they are at giving your boots and emergency shine.
Rinsing boots, your hands, and really working that extra shine with the polish.
More for your hands then anything else, particularly if you apply product with your fingers.
Have a bunch of these in your bag for working around the soles, for getting into crevises and down the side of tongues etc. Again be aware of polish colours, so you may need several if you are looking after different colour boots and there is a risk of getting polish on them.
If your working in a dark bar, dungeon or corner you need to see what you are doing!
for wiping and drying, have some in different colours to match the task. For example after cleaning a boot use a red towel to wipe off the soap / cleaner, then a black towel after you rinse it. A "dirty" and "clean" towel for wiping down.
These are great for getting rid of loose stitching. You just want cheap basic lighters not cigar / jet lighters. I say three because the smokers will always want to borrow them and forget to return it.
For bringing the colour back to contrasting stitching, usually a stock of yellow and white surfice, and have a pencil sharpener too!
And finally, something to keep it all in! This kit bag is going to be very important to you so make sure you have something safe, secure and specific to keep it all in. I personally have a Stanley Fatmax toolkit bag that works really well - the shoulder strap is good for carrying to and from bars.
Note on product use: Test any products you are using for the first time on old leathers or parts that wont be seen to ensure suitability first.
Preparation is key to so many things, and you need to start with clean boots. So the first product you need in your kit bag is a leather cleaner.
Polish is used to protect, waterproof, and extend the life of boots. It has one very big difference to dubbin which is often referred to in boot care ... It is used to add shine and improve the appearance of the leather.
As well as cleaning your leather you need to keep it nourished and moisturised. Like when your washing your hair, a good quality conditioner makes a huge difference!My absolute fave product for leather care has to be Huberds Shoe Grease, hand made in small batches in the USA. This stuff is amazing, most importantly it does a great job of looking after your leather, but it also smells fantastic! A deep rich smokey goodness.
You can just grab your can, get the lid off and dunk your hands in and work it all over your boots and leathers. Just ensure you do a patch test on any coloured leathers!
It isn't as easily available in the UK but there are some stockists. A easier alternative to this is something like Lexol Leather Conditioner you can get from Amazon.
This is only a basic guide to cleaning, polishing and maintaining your boots. Please read all the way through it before you think about cleaning or polishing a boot. Input and questions are both appreciated and encouraged!
A Bootblack is not a sub / slave or servant - they are a Bootblack. Many are also Master's, Sir's or Daddy's so be respectful!
They are an important part of the community doing an amazing job - several times I have heard them referred to as the "alcmemists, carers and magicians of the leather community" keeping guys boots and leathers in superb condition.
Bootblacks are seen at many event nights in bars around America, unfortunately there aren't many here in the UK. They are people who have a passion for looking after peoples boots, gear and by that the communities heritage and something that is such an important part of it - the gear we wear.
Many bootblacks will have a specific chair they use for working in, a raised platform for you to sit in and rest your boots on whilst giving them lots of access to get all around them.
Bootblacks are very rarely paid for the services by the bars or event hosts. The equipment, tools and products they use they often buy and provide themselves out of their own pockets. Something really important, particularly those outside the USA, to be aware of is that you really should tip your Bootblack. Yes they do it because they love to do it and get something from it, but they also invest a lot of time, effort and importantly money in their kit and products.
Offering them a tip at the end of a service that keeps your boots looking great, but more importantly keeps them in great condition so they last longer, is a small price! Depending on the amount of time, products used, and service provided I would generally expect a tip to be around £5 to £10 on average, upto £20+ if leathers are being cleaned and conditioned too or they are particularly big boots or boots in need of a lot of work.
This protocol was not written by me, nor do I take any credit. As far as I know it was originally written by a member of the Bootblack Brigade website that has now shutdown unfortunately. It is still highly relevant, and incredibly important:
Started in 1993 and runs throughout the International Mr Leather weekend in Chicago
A Brit (Nick Elliott) won in 2012 as an ex pat but never someone from / representing a bar or club from the UK
Leather is natural - it dries out, it gets dirty, and it can crack and break down and eventually fall apart. We need to maintain it!
How often have I seen coming up to a big rubber event the rubbermen & rubberpups talking about cleaning their rubbers, vivishining them and getting them ready and looking the best for the event - countless. How often have I seem guys talking about their leather the same way? About 5 or 6. And a big reason is that people don't really know how to clean or maintain their leather or know what products to use.
Dry cleaning leather is possible, but you have to trust your dry cleaner and it is very expensive as must only be done by a specialist leather dry cleaner. And it can be a very costly mistake if done badly!
To maintain your leathers you need to shampoo and condition them, it's a fairly simple two stage process.
Use either saddle soap or leather cleaner (Lexol for example). I would then use a small dauber brush to work a lather with some cleaner and water and work it all over the leather, remembering to get under any flaps or epilets etc.
Only do oneside at a time, if you need to turn the leather over (for example doing some jeans) clean, rinse and dry one side before turning it over to do the other.
Once lathered and cleaned, wipe the cleaner off, then spray over some water from a mister bottle and wipe it clean again with a fresh towel. Again ensure you get under any collars or flaps etc. You want to fully rinse the leather of any cleaner.
Take your chosen leather conditioner and work it into the leather, I would use either Hubbards Show Grease or Lexol Leather Conditioner. Again complete one side at a time before continuing.
If the leathers are quite dry or it has been a while since you last treated them leave the conditioner for a few minutes to soak in and fully hydrate the leather and then with a fresh towel / cloth wipe away any excess conditioner.
Leave to fully dry before packing away.
Beyond Bootblacking - A Guide To Selecting And Caring for Leather Gear (Daddy Wendell, 2012)
Bootblacking 101: A Handbook (Andrew McDiarmid, 2006)
Episode 5 Bootblacking 101 - Kinkyboys Podcast