If you want to tap into the fashion zeitgeist, you need a strong shoe game. But more so than any other men’s accessory, shoes need to be equally practical and stylish, which is especially difficult to pull off in the winter months. When it comes to everyday wear, the best sneakers for men reign supreme, but boots, dress shoes, and loafers are all necessary parts of a well-rounded shoe selection. The issue is, winter weather — and the salt used to minimize its effects — takes a heavy toll on your shoes. However, you can winterize your shoes and protect your fashion investments with the right products and preparation.
When the rain, sleet, and snow hit the streets, you’ll need to use the tips below to keep those new boots looking fresh all winter long.
Winterize Your Shoes: The Prep Work
WATERPROOF YOUR EXISTING SHOES
Even with good-quality leather shoes, water can ruin their appearance. Getting caught in even light rain can wreak havoc on your dress shoes. To keep your leather shoes safe from the wet streets, it is imperative to clean and condition your dress and leather shoes regularly to keep the leather healthy and supple. Many of the products used to condition leather also have moderate waterproofing abilities, but you can also apply waterproofing products after conditioning.
However, simply keeping the leather well moisturized and in good condition will protect your footwear when you can’t find a cab in that winter rainstorm. For the highest level of protection, use water repellent sprays designed for leather and suede, which will work to winterize your boots as well as your dress shoes and sneakers alike. Keep in mind; these options are for light rain, emergencies, and wet streets … so don’t go throwing out your rainboots just yet.
When you need to winterize your shoes, turn to some of the products below.
1. Saphir Men’s Cream Set
The Saphir Men’s Cream Set includes two of Saphir’s signature creams, the Renovateur and the black Creme 1925. The Renovateur is the heavy-duty conditioner to bring cracked or dried-out leather back to life and help restore the shoe’s original color. The Creme conditions and restores color further and adds an excellent polish to the shoes.
2. KIWI Boot Waterproofer
BEST BOOTS SPRAY
Considered the ultimate silicone protection spray, the original KIWI Boot Waterproofer bonds to leather and fabrics to create a layer of silicone to resist water while still letting your feet breathe. Though it’s perfect for leather boots and shoes, be wary about using it on white fabric shoes, as there’s a slight chance it leaves them with a bit of yellowing.
3. Apple Brand Garde Rain & Stain Repellent
BEST SNEAKERS SPRAY
Great for sneakers, or any footwear really, the Apple Brand Garde Rain & Stain Repellent is a go-to shoe protector for professionals and casual consumers alike. It forms a protective layer to stop water and stains before they can soak and promises not to affect the appearance of anything you use it on — whether sneakers, bags, boots, furniture, or otherwise — or leave anything feeling sticky.
4. Saphir Super Invulner Universal Water and Stain Protector
Trust the French, who we know love their luxury goods, for the best dang waterproofing spray to winterize your shoes. The Saphir Super Invulner Universal Water and Stain Protector will not let you down. Suitable for all types of leather and even delicate textiles such as silk, it won’t leave any stains or discoloration (but always test in an inconspicuous area first). Give your shoes a thorough coat, spraying from 12 to 18 inches away, and let the spray sit for about 30 minutes for results you’ll have to see in action to believe.
GET SOME SOLE FOOD
RUBBER SOLES AND COVERS
Sometimes, all you need is to make sure the weather doesn’t soak through your soles from below. Leather soled boots and shoes are the more appropriate options for the office, but leather soles don’t protect against dampness seeping through from below. Fortunately, your local cobbler can come to the rescue with a little extra protection. Most cobblers can add a thin rubber layer to existing leather soles at the cost of between $20 and $0 per pair, which will not change the aesthetic of your shoes but will keep your feet dry. Goodyear-welted shoes allow the shoe to be resoled entirely with more resilient rubber.
Alternatively, you can buy rubber shoe wrap galoshes which will keep your shoes safe while outside but can be removed once inside and safe from the elements. While rubber galoshes may not give you any style points, they effectively keep men’s shoes safe while outside. They’re also easy to slip off once you get inside. We recommend the style with a felted interior instead of straight-up rubber, as the rubber-only variations can be harder to slip on and off.
1. Vibram Rubber Half Sole and Vibram Rubber Lug Heel Lift Sole
BEST SOLE REPLACEMENT
It’s pretty rare for a single company to be considered the universal best, but Vibram is pretty darn close to that when it comes to shoe soles. Adding a Vibram Rubber Half Sole to the bottom front of your shoes will give you much-needed traction in rain or snow. You can apply it yourself with some contact cement and trim the new sole yourself, but you’re better off heading to a cobbler who will be able to use it for a small fee easily.
While you’re at the cobbler, have him slap this Vibram Rubber Lug Heel Lift Sole to your boots, too, for extra traction and weight.
2. SWIMS Men’s Waterproof Classic Overshoe Rubber Galosh
Putting a rubber layer around your footwear is going to be infinitely better at protecting than some spray. The SWIMS Men’s Waterproof Classic Overshoe Rubber Galosh goes over loafers and slip-on shoes nicely, keeping the typically leather soles away from damaging water, salt and snow. They can also help protect fresh sneakers too from untimely damage.
BASIC MAINTENANCE AND REPAIR
KEEP THEM CLEAN AND STRUCTURED
Regular maintenance of your shoes will make a big difference in keeping them in good shape. With the proper care, leather shoes can last for many years. And that’s why any decent pair of leather shoes should have cedar shoe trees kept in them at all times when not on your feet. They should also have regular shines at home or your local shoe shine place.
However, when you do get stuck in the rain, do not immediately put in shoe trees. Instead, stuff the wet shoes with paper towels or newspaper and let them dry out. Doing this instead will keep them from being stretched out and misshapen. Proceed to clean off the salt and any other winter grime, then condition them with some of the products mentioned earlier in this article.
1. Stratton Cedar Shoe Trees
BEST SHOE TREES
Thousands of Stratton Cedar Shoe Trees are beloved because they’re just great shoe trees. They’re 100% cedar and feature a whole toe-style tree (with two ventilation slots) to help your shoes keep the shape and absorb maximum moisture.
Stylish Winter Shoes to Keep You Dry
1. Taft Dragon Boot 3.0
BEST WATERPROOF DRESS BOOTS
In nearly any office, a boot that toes the line between form and function is still very much acceptable. In this case, look no further than the Dragon Boot by Taft. This sharp, well-made boot will slip under a pair of suit pants or dress slacks and maintain a professional look. While not terribly warm, you’ll be nice and dry and still look professional. They’re not cheap, but their classic design and Goodyear construction means they’ll last for many years to come — assuming you follow the advice above.
2. L.L.Bean Men’s Bean Boots, 8-Inch
BEST FOR JUST. STAYING. DRY.
The classic duck boot made by L.L.Bean has barely changed in decades. These men’s boots are extraordinarily well made and reasonably priced, so these men’s boots have developed a cult following as a consistent winner in the worst of conditions. Your feet will stay dry, period. Sometimes, it’s so gnarly out there that it doesn’t matter how stylish your footwear is, and the pure “function” aspect of these boots avails their own sense of style. There are several variations to choose from, Thinsulate lined, shearling-lined, plaid special editions, and the originals below. Always good to have these in your arsenal!