Originally Posted by glenjay
Since there have been a few questions recently about what care to apply to new shoes, I thought I would address the issue again.
For search ability I will also include the words pre-maintenance and new shoe care.
First I will touch on calfskin shoes made of quality leather: due to the fat liquoring process and the finish on the shoe there is no real need to apply anything when new, just wear the shoes. If you want to add some additional shine then feel free to add some polish (paste or cream), but just a little. A good quality calfskin will also have sufficient oils, so as to not need conditioning when new, unless the shoes have been stored in a warehouse for an extended period of time (6 months +) in inclement conditions (hot, dry, etc…). With no external factors (ideal conditions), there is enough oils introduced during the fat liquoring process to keep the leather conditioned for at least a few years.
Adding a thin coat of conditioner will not hurt anything, and since you don’t usually know in what conditions the shoes have been stored, or for how long, it’s not a bad idea. Use conditioner before polish (usually a day apart to allow the conditioner to soak in). Also note that too much conditioner and/or too much polish are probably worse for your shoes than nothing at all.
Do not apply spray-on water proofing to calfskin shoes. All spray-on water proofing that I am aware of contains silicone. Once silicone is in leather is in difficult to get out. And, while silicone creates a good water barrier, it works both ways. The silicone will not allow the perspiration in the leather to pass through and evaporate, thus not allowing your shoes to “breath”. Oil and/or wax are the best water protectors you can add to leather.
Suede, of course, is another matter. Since you can’t really add oil or wax to suede, the only way to add some level of protection to the suede is to apply spray-on water proofing.
When it comes to lower quality shoes (sub $200) there is a good chance the leather quality is not as good, and is often corrected grain (in the fixing flaws sense) which may include a cheaper shiny finish that does not work well with the oils and solvent in shoe polish. You have seen this if you have looked at a $100 shiny leather shoe in shoe section of a department store.
Exotic skins like crocodile, alligator, lizard, and so on are not like calfskin and should be treated as such. There are reptile cleaners and conditioners for this purpose.
Shell cordovan is not calfskin either, but it is closer in composition to calfskin than exotic skins. Shell cordovan needs very little to no additional oils over the life of the shoe. Polish should also be used to a minimum to keep the natural luster of the shell cordovan.
Just my opinion of course.