Thursday, September 22, 2011

obsessing about leather

Of course, if I'm going to invest in shoes and boots that I hope will last for years to come, I also need to make sure I take proper care of them. There's no point resoling worn-out uppers. Coincidentally, we also recently bought a used leather couch. (That one was Julie's idea, but I like it.) In the process of moving it, I managed to scuff some corners, so we'd been trying to figure out what we could do about that. It all worked out nicely, because it turned out the solutions were quite similar.

I spent quite a bit of time looking online for information about leather care. One thing I began to discover was that experts tend not to advise what's popular. Products like mink oil and Sno Seal are downplayed in favor of regular conditioning. The general idea seems to be that leather is skin, and its main problem is that it's no longer wrapped around a living animal. Since it lacks a natural source of moisturizing agents, it needs regular treatment to keep it flexible, breathable, and waterproof. Greasy or waxy products that clog the pores will diminish breathability and will generally not soak into the leather well enough to keep it flexible. Instead they advise conditioners made mostly of beeswax or lanolin.

Of course, one of the problems with looking online for this kind of information is knowing how far to trust the sources. Mostly you find Web sites for leather care products, where they tell you why other stuff doesn't work right. Obviously. But I did find one or two sites run by leather repair shops that said the same thing. I also got an important recommendation in passing from a biker apparel shop. When I was looking for local boot dealers, I came across In Step Leather, which specializes in motorcycle apparel but sells a wide range of boots. Unfortunately, they didn't have the specific brands and styles that I settled on, but they were very helpful throughout the process. Since they do a lot with leather, I asked about our couch, and they recommended Outback Leather on Main Street in Laurel.

Outback does all kinds of leather repair and sells some leather care products. They specialize in equestrian, which I guess is a good idea, so close to the Laurel Race Track. The shop has loads of character, and the proprietor was very helpful. He confirmed what I'd read online about leather conditioning and recommended a brand called Bickmore. Regarding the couch, he suggested conditioning the whole thing, while emphasizing the scuffed areas. After a few applications, there was significant improvement. You can still see the marks if you look for them, but some are almost completely invisible, while the worst are just slightly discolored.

Because regular conditioning is supposed to waterproof leather, I've also become a bit obsessive about applying the stuff to my shoes. I figure I'll do this for a while, since I don't know how long they sat around before shipping, or how well the leather was oiled in the first place. Later, I'll settle into a more regular routine. So far, my obsession has paid off. I don't know if I ever would have found the solution for the couch if I hadn't been thinking so much about boots. It will take longer to determine how much it helps to extend the life of my shoes.


  1. As I started reading this, I thought "I should tell Trevor about the conditioner I got on Main Street" for our leather chair. Good to hear you had a great experience there.

  2. It's pretty shocking how well the scuff marks came out of the couch!