Clothing Care

Is the rain ruining your dress shoes? Here’s how to protect them.

By on May 8th, 2019

We all get caught in a rainstorm from time to time during the work week, especially during the Spring. The sartorially inclined gentleman will likely have an umbrella, but umbrella or no umbrella, your nice dress shoes are still going to get wet. So, how to protect your dress shoes from the rain? What can you do?

If you’re wondering if all this water on your fine leather shoes is a bad thing, you’re probably right. Simply put, when leather shoes aren’t properly maintained and protected, water damage is a very real consequence. It can shorten the lifespan of your shoes and ultimately cost you money.

Among the wet weather we’re experiencing in Denver right now, I thought I would reach out to the experts and learn what we can all do to protect our best shoes from the spring and summer showers. So, I sat down with Amando and Tracy, of The Shoe Care Co., to get some insight. While visiting them for my own shoe shining needs over the past year or two, I have noticed a great range of client shoes lined up in their queue, from calfskin to alligator to suede, so I knew that they would have some good advice on shoe care and water damage.

According to Amando, shoe shining is by far the best way to protect your shoes from damage in the rain. Years ago, I had always just assumed that having my shoes shined was purely for aesthetics. That is, if I wanted my shoes to look good, I would splurge on a shine. But in recent years, I’ve started to understand that shining my shoes can be as important as using shoe trees to prolong the life of my finest dress shoes for work.

According to Amando, in order to properly care for your shoes, they should “…be shined regularly, which should include a hydrating process and a sealing process which usually gives the shine effect. When shoes are not shined, they are in danger of being damaged. However if shoes are dry too, they are in danger of being even more damaged!”

When shoes are regularly shined, the water will usually bead right off. Amando told me that there is really no need to do anything until your shoes dry and then just rub them with a dry cloth. This will bring the shine back.

Well-shined shoes will help water to bead off.

However, if shoes are not shined regularly and they get wet, you want to take them to get shined as soon as they dry. Tracy went on to tell me that they might need a deep clean at this point. “If shoes are dry and not shined, they will most likely require a deep clean of at least a day…the deep clean can usually save the shoes as long as they haven’t dried and cracked after damage caused by water and minerals.”

The key thing here is to get the shine or the deep clean completed as quickly as possible to avoid permanent cracking, or even structural damage to the shoe. Which brings me to my next topic…

The sole

If you’ve owned a pair of leather dress shoes for any good length of time, you might have noticed that the sole eventually wears away. Indeed, it can take a long time, but one day, the soles of your shoes might look like this:

How to protect your dress shoes from the rain includes checking the sole of your shoes.

As you can probably imagine, if I ever find myself in a wet situation with these Chelsea boots, water not only soaks up into the thin soles, but even through the hole that’s forming!

This is clearly not good for the shoe and every day I put off scheduling a repair job, I’m doing these shoes a disservice. So, an important part of understanding how to protect your dress shoes from the rain, is acknowledging that the sole plays an important role.

Are your soles thinning out? If you’re caught in the rain, not only is water going to soak in and damage the leather, but you might even be left with wet socks. Cold and wet feet at work is not fun.

Fortunately, leather soles can have rubber protectors put on the front half of the shoewhich helps with traction and keeps the leather sole from wearing. Many shoe cobblers, including Amando and Tracy, offer this service.

Suede shoes

Years ago, I owned a suede leather jacket that was just amazing. Problem was, however, that I prized it a little too highly and rarely even wore it because I knew that if it got wet, it would more or less be ruined (Seinfeld fans will remember this episode).

If you own suede shoes and if they rarely see the light of day for similar reasons, then you should know this: weather protection spray is a thing.

While a protective spray probably won’t prevent damage from a torrential downpour or stepping in ankle-high puddles, it will facilitate the cleaning of your shoes.

Tracy reminded me that “…there are two ways in which suede is more delicate and should be worn carefully- one is that some [water] spots won’t come out of lighter color suede and the other is that suede balds over time which cannot be fixed.” 

So, if suede dress shoes are in your week’s rotation, keep them properly maintained with protective spray and don’t worry too much about a few drops of water should you get caught in a storm when leaving work. But when rain clouds are in the forecast, you’re better off wearing a well-shined shoe.

Wrap up: how to protect your dress shoes from the rain

The takeaway here is that shining your shoes regularly and keeping an eye on the integrity of your sole — resoling with rubber when necessary — are the two best things you can do to mitigate water damage and keep your favorite dress shoes looking great for years to come.