Lolita Shoe Care 101
Most lolita shoes are made out of pleather. Pleather is generally made from a thin layer of plastic bonded over a fabric layer. There are three common finishes: patent, matte and suede. Suede is rarely seen in lolita shoes so I’m not going to focus on it today. There is also a glitter finish, which varies, but can be made of thick paper, and is not really something I’m going to tackle today.
For the bottoms of any shoes, paper towels and warm water is my go to method for removing excess mud, dirt or grime. Q-Tips or a soft toothbrush can be used to get into the grooves of the treads of a shoe if needed. Do avoid getting water inside the shoe or on the upper.
Patent pleather shoes
I prefer patent pleather because it’s easier to clean and harder to gouge. If you get surface scuffs on the material, start off with a paper towel or microfiber cleaning cloth and water. Use the texture of the paper towel or cleaning towel to remove the scuff using gentle abrasion. You can use (ideally clear) dish cleaning liquid soap or baby shampoo as cleaners as well. I’ve also used cheap suave shampoo and clear liquid hand soap without ill effects.
Matte pleather shoes
To clean dark scuffs of matte pleather, start with using a gentle cleaning cloth or paper towel and water just like with patent. I often find that marks are much harder to remove from matte pleather and do sometimes have to use damaging methods.
I don’t buy as much matte pleather as other materials because I’m clumsy and tend to damage them. Softer matte pleather tends to gouge easily. That is, it get cuts in the upper surface through which you can see the white foamy layer under it. This can’t be cleaned off because it’s a hole.
This white heel has multiple spots where the material is gouged / cut. The red shoe has two little white spots on the toe that are holes in the red layer.
If you get a lot of marks like this, it might be time to try to re-paint the shoes using leather paint. If you only have one or two small marks you can try to hide them, but keep in mind that matching the exact texture and color is almost impossible. For very small areas, you can use leather paint or acrylic paint applied with a tiny paint brush or nail polish applied (GENTLY) with a toothpick. Only cover the spots that are white or permanently stained. It won’t match exactly, but it will be less obvious than white. Generally, I would only paint a shoe like this to get 1 or 2 more wears before it’s done.
This is a pair of shoes that is 10+ years old where I painted over some of the damage with acrylic paint as a last ditch effort before giving up on them (and then got scuffs over top). You can see the difference in texture on the area that was painted. Again, this is a last-ditch effort before the shoe is retired, not a good repair option.
Black shoes with scuffs can often be treated with black shoe polish / shoe black and it generally will blend well enough. Navy and Brown versions of this also exist, but the degree of matching can vary.
Melissa Shoes / Jelly Shoes
I also wear a lot of jelly shoes from Melissa. I find that these shoes are the easiest of all to care for. I just clean up any scuffs with water and a paper towel. Dirt and grime can be wiped off with a wet paper towel and clear liquid handsoap. Short of actually cutting into the plastic (which is hard unless you are like physically rubbing the shoe along cement), it’s really hard to damage the surface of these.
Damaging Cleaning Methods
Magic Eraser / Melamine Foam
Magic eraser is a brand name for melamine foam sponges. These work by sanding off the top layer of whatever you are cleaning. Never use this as a first option as it will strip the protective outer layer of the shoes and over time leave a section that looks more matte than the rest of the shoe. If you can not remove a scuff any other way, make sure you only use the sponge exactly on the scuff (cut a slice off with scissors to have a sharper edge / smaller surface), and only use it as much as you need, don’t keep going past the removal of the scuff.
Acetone / Nail Polish Remover
This will take off the protective outer layer of the material, and may melt some plastics. Only use this if you have no other choice, or if you are prepping a shoe to be painted following the directions of a leather / pleather paint.
Storage / Maintaining
To keep your shoes looking good as long as possible, make sure you maintain them as well as you can. First of all, do not leave your pleather shoes in a hot car, hot attic, hot garage or anywhere else where they will be exposed to high temperatures. Also keep your shoes out of direct sunlight as UV rays can degrade pleather.
Do not store your shoes in a sealed plastic bag or container where they can’t breathe and may have trapped humidity. To prevent dust, use cloth dust bags.
Treat your shoes (and pleather bags) periodically with leather conditioner. I use the TriNova leather conditioner, though I noticed that they now have a leatherette / faux leather version that comes with a brush. The brush is probably for cars, so I wouldn’t use it on shoes because it might be too rough, but the liquid may be a better formula, I’m not sure.
If your shoes have a pleather interior, treat the interior as well. I have a very old pair of meta patent shoes where the outside is intact, but the inside is coming apart….
Sole Falling Off
If the upper separates from the bottom of your shoe (Bodyline shoes are notorious for this), don’t panic. Usually, it’s just glued. You can take the shoe to a cobbler to have it put back together, or you can glue it at home. I’ve personally only had this happen when I was out and about and needed an immediate fix. In that situation, super glue will do the trick. Avoid getting the glue on the part of the shoe you see, just focus on the inside and use a good amount. Press together, or if the shoes are flats or wedges, stand still and use your body weight to hold it together for ~10-15 min.
If you have more time, shoe goo is a commercial product designed specifically for this.
For example, this shoe has a slight gap between the upper and sole. I actually glued this shoe years ago and just didn’t do a good job getting this part to stick down (please ignore the dirt / damage, it’s a really old shoe).
Broken Off / Worn Down Heel Caps
Take the shoe to a cobbler, they might not be able to match the exact heel cap that was on the shoe, but they should be able to put a new one on. If the two shoes matching matters to you, bring both and see if they can switch out both even if one isn’t damaged.
Adding Extra Holes to Straps
You can have a cobbler do this as well, but if you don’t want to go to the trouble, or frequently need to do this, you can do it at home. The traditional at home method is to use a pin to make a hole where you want it, and then stick something larger like a bobby pin, toothpick, etc in the hole and wiggle it around until the hole is big enough. Or, if you have to do this a lot and want it to look polished, you can buy a little hole punch tool from a craft store for under $10 that will give you a more professional finish.
If the top layer of plastic is peeling off of your pleather shoes it can not be fixed. This means the material has dry rotted, and this can’t be undone. If it’s a small spot, you can try to remove the loose material and paint the hole. If it’s the whole shoe, you can try to peel it or sand it all off and repaint, but the texture may be really weird. I’ve never managed to save a pair past this point.
Painting / Re-coloring
If you want to change the color of your shoes do not spray paint them with regular spray paint, or paint them with craft acrylic paint. It will crack and get weird. Use leather paint. There are two main companies that make and sell leather paint. Angelus and Meltonian Nu-Life which I think may have been discontinued. Angelus offers a bunch of colors and has a lot of useful info on their site, and we have had really good luck with their products.