Brown is in when it comes to shoes. While black isn't going anywhere, you're seeing more and more options for brown.
It used to be that brown was reserved for "country" wear, not city wear. This meant that it was much more casual. It came in boots and chunky brogues. It wasn't available in a sleek cap toe oxford. Or at least, hard to find.
Things are becoming more and more casual as time goes on. Rules are fashion are being blurred, bent, and broken more than ever. People are also more interested in being expressive and individuals when it comes to how they dress. Formal meant dark colours for years. Now everything is available in nearly any colour.
The same holds true for shoes. You don't have to wear black with a suit anymore. Brown is in.
Light brown or dark brown, suede or smooth, burnished or not. This has been been wonderful for options. It has also given many people a headache when it comes choosing a colour of polish.
Here, we'll discuss how to choose a shade of brown for you shoes.
Thankfully, you have some wiggle room in selecting your brown shoe polish, whether you're using cream polish or wax polish.
Let's start with suede.
If you're working on Suede or Nubuck leather shoes or leather goods, your options are limited. The downside is that you only get five colours to choose from. The upside is that suede is easy to care for. All you need to do is spray and brush. No need to shine or polish.
Saphir Medaille d'Or Suede Renovating Spray comes in Neutral (02), Medium brown (37), dark brown (05), Navy (06), and Black (01). This is kind of like the cream polish for textured shoes.
It does not have a waterproofing element. If you're looking for protection, you need to get Saphir's Super Invulner Spray.
This suede spray comes with a fair amount of pigment if you select a coloured option. It does a great job of filling in scuffs and the wear marks that appear on the vamp after wearing your suede.
It's one of our favourite suede shoe care products. It can really work magic. One or two coats, a little bit of a brush, and you're set. It's very easy. It's also a conditioner, so it's a multi-purpose product.
The downside is getting the color right. The nap of suede means there is a lot of surface area for the spray to work into to. All that pigment tends to stick around. After one coat, you've added a fair amount of colour. After two coats, a lot.
Let's break down the colours.
While black suede isn't the most common, its easy to work with. Any type of black suede you've got will work with the Black (01) Renovating spray. Easy. Ditto for Navy.
For brown, its a bit more nuanced. If your shoes are dark brown, then you can use the dark brown spray. Anything labelled dark brown, chocolate, espresso, mocha. Think deep and dark brown.
If your shoes are in the mid brown range, use Medium Brown (37). We find that this works well for...Mid brown. This is where it can be a bit murky.
We find that Medium Brown Renovating spray is a bit too dark for most snuff suede. If your suede is Jannis, Snuff, Peanut, Nutmeg, Mushroom etc. then it might be too light. You won't ruin your shoes by using Medium Brown, however you might darken them a bit.
Medium Brown is in the range of Carmina's Polo Suede colour.
When it doubt, use neutral. We use neutral for snuff and lighter and we've had great success.
If you're working with leather goods or leather shoes made out of smooth leather, then you have much more choice for care products.
Brown Polishes for Smooth Leather
Saphir makes a wax shoe polish, in Saphir Pate de Luxe, and a shoe cream in their Pommadier Cream polish.
We're going to focus on the shoe cream since it has the most impact on the colour of your shoes. It has tons of pigment and its spread around in multiple coats. Shoe polish, or wax polish, is only really used on the heel and toe. The same rules generally apply for wax polish. If you're not sure if you need cream polish of wax polish, learn more about it in our other post.
Saphir's Pommadier Cream Polish comes in 13 colours as well as Neutral. Of those 13, about 8 of them are shades of brown!
Here are the 8 shades of brown from Saphir on a plain white back drop for comparison. Three lighter browns on the left. Two reddish browns in the middle. Three darker browns on the right.
We won't go through every shade. We will, though, talk about how to choose the right shade of brown for your needs.
We're going to reference and talk about leather shoes here, but this advice applies to any fine smooth leather. If you've got wallets, handbags, or leather jackets that need some work, this will all apply. Any brown leather goods.
Regardless of the product, the directions for use are the same. Apply with a soft cotton cloth, wait a few minutes, and brush with a horse hair brush to bring out the shine and distribute the cream polish. You can read more about Pommadier in our detailed blog post.
Selecting A Shade of Brown
Some people think that you need to get the exact match for your shoes to polish them. This isn't really the case.
While cream polish has lots of pigment in it, it doesn't fully penetrate the leather like a dye would. It can only really work into the very top of the leather. It would take multiple coats of a much different colour to really change the look.
This is great news since it means that using a coat of cream won't "ruin" your shoes or dramatically change the colour after polishing. It also allows you to experiment and switch things up from time to time.
When it comes to brown shoes, they all tend to change colour over time. Dark brown shoes tend to lighten up a bit. This is due to wear from the elements and sun exposure. They will fade ever so slightly.
Conversely, light brown shoes tend to darken up a bit over time. This is usually due to dirt, grime, and oil or fat making its way into the leather. The oil and fat can be from polish over time, or it can simply be from the streets or your hands.
Both of these things are great. Since the whole shoe won't lighten or darken perfectly in unison, it creates a bit of variation in the brown. This makes for a beautiful and rich depth of colour. This is one of the reasons brown shoes have become so popular. They age beautifully. They have character. They tell a story.
So what does all this mean for selecting a brown cream polish?
If you're conservative, you can always choose neutral.
Saphir's neutral Pommadier cream polish still has beeswax, Carnauba wax, Shea butter, and all those great things. It conditions and shines. What it doesn't have is pigment.
You'll get all of the benefits for your footwear without adding any colour. Neutral will not affect the colour of your dress shoes at all. It might darken them very slightly while you are using it. That is simply the Shea butter oil nourishing the shoes. As it dries it will go back to normal.
Since this doesn't have colour to it, neutral cream polish won't fill in scuffs that much. If you have little nicks, scratches, marks, etc. on your shoes, they likely won't go away. They'll look better for sure, but not as good as they can.
If you want to fill in scuffs you have to use a coloured cream shoe polish.
If you want to fill scuffs with minimal colour change, try and find the exact match to your shoes. If you can't find that, find the closest shade that is darker.
Crockett & Jones Westbourne Oxford in "Chestnut." We think the Cognac is the closest colour. It might have a bit more orange but its very close. Shown below with Havane, which you can see is substantially darker.
Since Saphir has 8 shades of brown as well as burgundy, you should be able to manage this.
By picking the closest colour, you'll be adding pigment back into your shoes or boots. This will help fill in any of the scuffs you have. Since the colour of the brown you picked is close to your shoes, it won't change their colour much either.
This is what we recommend for people the majority of the time. Try and find a close match, leaning to the side of darker if you can't find a perfect match. It would take many coats over many polishing sessions to meaningfully change the colour of your shoes. Shoe cream is not that powerful of a product for changing colour.
If you want to add the most colour and fill in scuffs and marks the best, choose a brown that is a full shade darker than your shoes.
Aforementioned C&J shoe. With a generous smear of Pommadier in Havane. You can see how much darker the cream polish is. Also notice some of the little scuffs in the shoe.
The extra pigment in the darker cream polish will have the most "power" for filling in marks on your shoes. It will add the most colour back to your shoes. In fact, it's even got some extra.
I accidentally left the polish on that spot too long while taking the photo. If this happens to you, don't worry! After this photo I gave the shoes a brushing and waited for about 10 minutes for the leather to dry. It's not stained, it's a bit saturated from the Pommadier.
Again, keep in mind that one coat of a darker polish isn't going to change everything. Sometimes, to add some depth we've polished our brown shoes with a layer of black on it.
Also keep in mind that it takes many coats to really change a shoes colour. So this means that you can mix and match what you do. You don't always have work with the same shade every time. You can alternate between polishing sessions.
Exact same shoe as above. After waiting 10 minutes and some vigorous brushing. Scuffs filled in, no marks left, and the shoe is not any darker! This was two very thin coats to the entire shoe in Havane.
If you shoes need a bit of a refresh because they are looking dull but the don't have any marks on them, you can use neutral this time.
Next time, you can try and use the exact match shade of brown to rejuvenate the colour a bit more. Help the colour shine.
Next polishing session back to neutral.
Now to add a bit more depth, you can try using one shade darker. Etc.
Also note that some browns are true browns. Some browns have a healthy amount of orange or red hues in them. If your shoes are leaning to one end of that spectrum you can alternative between a red-brown polish and a true brown polish.
You can use Hermes Red (12) one time, and then Tobacco Havane (34) the next time.
In summary, working with brown is not as complicated as it seems. You get a lot of wiggle room in terms of what you use.
It takes a while for shoes to dramatically change colour. Switch up things in your shoe care routine to achieve the best results.
If you're a fan of experimentation you can alternate between multiple different shades for your shoes or boots.
Overall, don't stress! Shoes are meant to be worn. They look better when you've worn them in. When they have a story to tell. Fine leather ages beautifully. Wear yours with pride.