The current lockdown is allowing many of us to do those tasks at home that we so easily put off. Regular wardrobe maintenance is a useful exercise but easy to forego. I’d normally suggest doing this twice-yearly, when the seasons change and you put away your overcoats and flannel suits, or conversely your seersucker and linen.
I’ve no shortage of advice when it comes to a healthy wardrobe audit, but the first thing I advise private clients is to try all your clothes on in the mirror. Anything that doesn’t fit should either be altered or re-homed. Anything you don’t like should also be given away, but I shy away from saying that clothing needs to worn regularly to be worthy of a space in your wardrobe! Formalwear that only gets an outing once in a blue moon, or a bold blazer that needs the right occasion to come out to play hang patiently alongside my everyday favourites.
When it comes to footwear, it’s equally useful to inspect all your shoes and look for early signs of wear. I have a terrible habit of discovering my sole has worn out through being caught in the rain. Moreover, cleaning and polishing your shoes is a therapeutic exercise, and there are many good products available to purchase that make this task a little easier. That said, I’m afraid there is no real shortcut to ‘bulling’ your shoes – the art of polishing leather to a mirror-like finish.
I was taught to bull shoes by my father when I was still a teenager, polishing a pair of Oxfords in anticipation of starting a new job. I was furiously scrubbing one shoe with a brush when he picked up the other, along with the cloth I was using to apply polish. He pulled the rag tightly over his forefinger and dabbed the smallest amount of polish on the tip. He proceeded, strangely as it seemed at the time, to polish the shoe with small anti-clockwise circles (always anti-clockwise), while lightly spitting on said shoe at intervals. Within minutes, mystically, a deeper shine had started to appear across the doughy black calf’s leather.
It was a technique he had learnt while in the Sea Cadets, which had also served him well as a Mod – that most fastidious and appearance-obsessed subculture of the 1960s. It took me a few months to get the hang of it and was convinced, for a short time anyway, that my saliva was the problem. I started to use tap water instead (I still do), before breathing gently across each shoe and buffing to achieve the brightest shine possible.
While the toe-caps will attract the most attention, my father always prefers to “blend in” the front of each shoe with a lighter shine on the vamp, building to another mirror-like sheen on the heel. Only bulling the toe and neglecting the rest of the shoe was considered “top show” and not worthy of his praise.
My favourite shoes to bull are Crockett & Jones’s black Alex whole-cuts, particularly for eveningwear, and dark brown Chelsea boots for the day-to-day. When you polish brown shoes, you can also enjoy the added dimension of shading and the character it brings to a shoe that is now known as “patina” on the internet. Although my father never uses that word, he is an advocate of Saphir polishes over the bootblack he used in his youth