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in: Boots, Featured, Shoes, Style & Grooming

July 29, 2008 Last updated: January 7, 2020

Shine Your Shoes Like A Soldier

1960s vintage gi soldier portrait side profile

There I was, staring down at my lackluster boots with a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was day two of basic training and we had just been informed that we had one hour to get our boots as shiny as our cadre’s (each looked as if they were covered in glass)…or we weren’t going to like the repercussions. Never in my life had I shined a pair of shoes and now I was under the gun, trying to inconspicuously imitate my roommate who grew up a military brat and had apparently been doing it since he was 5. I learned very quickly how to shine shoes that day…not quickly enough, but that’s another story for another time.

Chances are, unless you join the military, you will never have to face punishment for not having shiny shoes. Nonetheless, it is a great skill to have in your man arsenal. Whether it’s an upcoming wedding, graduation or simply another day at the office, a pair of shiny shoes can set you apart as a man that knows how to take care of himself.

Not only does shining your shoes look good, it is a necessary part of properly caring for and maintaining a nice pair of leather shoes or boots. The polish itself helps moisturize and waterproof the leather, lengthening a shoes lifespan.

Watch the Video

How To Shine Your Shoes Like a Soldier

There are a lot of opinions when it comes to the best way to shine a shoe. Everyone has their own unique twist from using spit to using a lighter to burn the top coat of polish (cool, although potentially dangerous). The process below is a simple one that I have used for many years and it has worked fine for me and many of my military peers.

Step 1: Find an old towel or newspaper to spread over the area you will be working on. Shoe polish has an uncanny ability to get smeared everywhere even when you’re being extremely careful…and it’s really hard to get out of carpet.

shoe shine equipment supplies shoe polish brush rag

Step 2: Clean the dust and dirt off your boots with a horsehair shine brush or damp rag. If you must get your boots a little wet to clean them off, allow them time to dry before applying the polish.

shoe shining boots wiping dust with brush

Step 3: Cover the entire shoe with a generous amount of polish, using your shoe polish brush. The polish I’m using is black Kiwi Shoe Polish, but be sure to match the color of the polish to your shoe as closely as possible. Make sure you get down in the seams of the shoe and attempt to cover evenly with polish. Allow 15 minutes for the polish to dry.

shoe shine boots appying polish with brush

Step 4: Brush the entire shoe vigorously using the horsehair shine brush. The point of this is to basically brush off all the excess polish, leaving only a small film on the outside of the shoe.

shining shoes wiping polish with brush

Step 5: Once you feel comfortable that the entire shoe has been covered and brushed it is time to focus on the toe and heel for extra shine. Dip a cotton ball or pad into some water and squeeze out any excess moisture so it is damp, not dripping. Then get a little polish on the damp cotton. Next apply the polish on the toe and heel of the shoe using small circular motions. Sit back, this is going to take a while.

shining boots cotton dipped in water

Step 6: Repeat Step 5 until you are satisfied with the level of shine. Remember to use a new piece of cotton each time and to remove all excess polish before applying a new coating. Also, the initial shine is the hardest, it should get a bit easier each time you do it. These boots were fairly new and this was my first time giving them a good shine. From start to finish, it took me approximately 45 minutes to get them to the state shown below. Most of this was spent with the cotton pads shining the toe and heel. If I were to come back in a couple weeks it would take me half the time to do the same job.

shoe shine freshly shined black boots

Building a Shoe Shine Kit:

Before you try to build one, if you have black shoes you can always just buy the one sold on military bases worldwide…and the one I use. It is basic, cheap and has worked for me for 6 years. Here is the link. If, however, you want a nicer kit, different colors of polish, or just like being independent, here are the items you need:

  • tin of wax polish
  • horsehair shine brush
  • shoe polish brush (applicator)
  • cotton balls
  • shine cloth

Extra Thoughts:

For those of you who are really hardcore, you can clean up the edges of the sole by purchasing edge dressing. It’s basically black goop that goes around the edge of the sole and makes it look shiny. I’m not a fan of it, but you may feel the urge at some point.

See more of Cameron’s work at Schaefer’s Blog.

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