A deep dive into "patina". Just a fancy word for old shoes, or something more?
Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Patina : a surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use
An interest in patina is a natural evolution of the interest in shoe collecting. Part of the appeal is that it's not really something you can buy your way into* - you sort of have to "earn" it yourself. But more prominently it's a reflection of the quality of the product itself. Low quality and badly made products can never really develop a patina because they just sort of fall apart first.
It's one of those aspects of the hobby that can veer dangerously close to fetishization sometimes - attempts to accelerate patina development by intentionally abusing your shoes smacks a bit of desperation. It's a tricky one for me because I'm fairly anal about keeping my shoes as pristine as possible.
I'd also suggest that good patina development goes hand in hand with good shoe care - following a sensible regime of shoe resting, shoe tree usage, cream nourishment and polishing. These are central to your shoes staying physically wearable enough to develop a patina over time.
How does patina form?
Speaking rather broadly, the formation of a patina has a couple of main components:
Chemical - the accumulation of years of adding and removing cleaning products, creams, polishes, sprays... maybe even the occasional beer spill
Physical - scratches, scuffs, bumps, gouges, cuts - any of the many physical ordeals that a pair of shoes can go through in day-to-day wear. Less dramatically, the flexing and bending of leather that happens through normal wear
Environmental - light, heat, moisture - these tend to be the slower parts of the process
Over the course of many wears, these factors will build up and give the leather a distinct and unique patina. This is easier to explain with pictures than any more words, so here's some good examples of pairs I've owned with a very distinct patina.
Foster & Son Bespoke Captoe Half-Brogues - a very vintage pair, showing obvious cracks and creases, stains along the sole welt, and clear changes in colour at the toecaps.
John Lobb Chukka boots - note the scratching and scuffing at the toes, and the darker patches in the leather creases. You can also see the difference in colour between the toes and the quarters of the shoe vs. the leather's original colour on the tongue. Parts of the shoes are a fairly dull light brown, whereas others are a rich plum shade.
Gaziano & Girling Wigmore Boots - the gradual accumulation of polish can do a good job of accentuating toe-medallions. You can really see with this pair how the colour varies from the lighter red to a darker red at the toe, and the darker still finish of the polish.
Budapester Shell Cordovan Brogues - shell cordovan forms a rather exaggerated patina compared to calf leather, and does so quite quickly in comparison. The pair above were old when I bought them and saw some pretty heavy wear from myself, but were ultimately sold as they were just a smidgen too small.
See also the pair below:
Crockett & Jones Harlech boots - this shell pair have developed some obvious colour variance at the toes and heels.
Edward Green Chelsea - a well worn pair but still in very good structural condition - note the gouge in the side and darkening of the toecap section.
*Note that you can of course buy your way into a patina by a) buying an already worn pair of shoes or b) employing the services of a patina artist - I'll write about that in the future, but for the moment let's assume we are talking about naturally formed patina.