People will tell you that sand between your toes is the definitive feeling of summer, but we all know that’s a lie. Not here, at least. There is no feeling more properly evocative of a British summer than the squelch of feet in wet sandals.
It isn’t pleasant, obviously, the slip-slop of a flip-flop that was destined for a carefree picnic but ended up in a murky puddle. But really, there’s something quite beautiful about its optimism. You could see a sandal in the rain as bleak, or you could choose to see it as an inspirational metaphor. Life is short. Summer is shorter, and the lifespan of a trend can be shorter still. So forecast be damned. You’re going to get some wear out of those lovely new mules before fashion decides they’re over again.
And of the sandals, suede sandals are obviously the most optimistic of all. In fact, wearing suede anything in the UK is an exercise in risk and daring, because there’s always the chance you’re going to pop to the shops and come back looking like you’ve crawled through a bog. But suede sandals are right up there as the ultimate emblem of faith and hope, along with al fresco weddings and barbecues planned more than two days in advance. We should stop and applaud when we see them in the street.
This year there are some especially gorgeous suede sandals around, too. Buttery-soft slides, strappy tie-up gladiators and endless variations on the earthy 70s platform. Plus suede is quicker to wear in, less likely to leave you hobbling for a week, which is a bonus now that it’s August, time is against us and it might be snowing by the time your blisters have healed.
But when your lovely suede shoes get rained on (which they will), dusty and scuffed up (which they will) and possibly spattered with Mr Whippy (for god’s sake LEAVE THE FLAKE Barbara, it’s dripping!), what do you do? Cry? Write them off forever? Use them as kindling to get those burgers cooked? Nope – resuscitate them! It’s actually easier than you might think.
Suede sandals are right up there as the ultimate emblem of faith and hope, along with al fresco weddings and barbecues planned more than two days in advance
The first step, obviously, is to go back in time and seal them before you wear them out of the house. For this you will need a flux capacitor, and a suede protector spray. Try Liquiproof Protector, a Dragon’s Den success story, which is eco-friendly and creates an invisible coating that actually repels water and other spills like magic. But it requires patience – two or three layers of spray need to be applied and gently brushed in, then left to dry for 24 hours. If you don’t have that kind of time, Kiwi Rain & Stain Protector is a reliable favourite that only needs 30 minutes before your shoes are back in action.
Or if it’s too late for prevention, don’t worry because there are plenty of cures.
The most important one is to buy a suede brush (although a clean toothbrush or nail brush can do the job too), which will gently remove everyday grub and grime, and keep your suede looking box-fresh. The key to most successful suede revival is ‘agitating the nap’, which sounds like something from an unorthodox baby manual but actually means loosening the fibres to free dirt and gubbins. As a rule of thumb, the longer the nap (ie. the fluffier the finish of the suede) the softer the brush you should use on it. And take care to stroke the brush in one direction at a time – don’t scrub back and forth – to avoid rubbing it bald like an old teddy.
For more determined mud or grass stains that won’t brush away, you’ll need a suede eraser. This is a special rubber block which you use to rub away marks, like a pencil eraser. You’ll be thrilled to know you can actually just use a pencil eraser. But for serious clean-ups we love Jason Markk’s suede brush and eraser kit, which managed to rescue our Frankie Graddon’s suede slingbacks after she trashed them on a wedding dancefloor, and recently revived the lilac suede mules I recently wore to a wedding on a farm (nobody talks about the real cost of weddings in destroyed footwear).
Generally the golden rule of suede care is to avoid water at all costs, but for water and rain stains the remedy is, paradoxically, more water. Dip a cloth or sponge in water and lightly dab it over the outside of your shoes, making sure they’re an even wetness all over. Towel off as much of the excess as you can using a dab-and-twist motion (super absorbent microfibre towels are good for this), then stuff them with paper and leave them to dry overnight somewhere cool – not hot as this can make things worse. Definitely don’t be tempted to blast them with a hairdryer. Give them a gentle brush in the morning when they’re dry, and the water marks should have disappeared.
Meanwhile for oily stains, use talcum powder, dry shampoo or cornstarch to absorb the stain (here’s my guide to oil spills) – then when you’ve left it as long as you can, use your suede brush to stroke off the excess. And for everything else that still won’t budge, white vinegar is your secret weapon. Rub in a little bit, leave to dry and (you’ve guessed it) brush, brush, brush. Look at them in a different light. Brush some more. Squint. Stay positive. After all, you’re an optimist! You wore suede shoes in the rain in the first place!
We once found a bottle of champagne that my late grandmother had been saving for years for a special occasion, and we opened it to toast her. It was corked. “There’s a lesson to learn here,” we all said, solemnly, as we poured it away. “Drink the champagne while you can.” So wear the suede sandals today, guys. Feel the rain between your toes. Summer, even a wet one, doesn’t last forever.
But also, buy a suede brush. And pop a pair of socks in your bag in case things get really biblical.