There was a time when polishing boots was a huge deal for the US military. But things change and the need to do this has changed. Utility takes place over pomp.

There is still a use for black leather boots and many of the services, whether law enforcement or military, still require them. For example, state troopers and units like the 82nd Airborne utilize the tall, black, patrol/dress boots.

Watching troops march forward in a ceremonious manner, with their boots highly shined, is still a sight to see. Many who observed the police or military march in parades knew how much effort and preparation went into making those uniforms look visually impressive. You ever see State Troopers boots? Wow.

Memories come flooding back for veterans who did the same. The patience that went into making the polish gleam on the boots, checking the gig lines, the limited amount of time to press your trousers the night before, the desire to set yourself apart from the rest; your uniform essentially stated that you went the extra mile and made the extra effort to appear as others didn’t. Perfection was earned by devoting time to your craft, and you knew it as you stood at attention.

In days past leather was softened and waterproofed for practical purposes and not to make them shine. As the quality of waxes and leather goods improved, so too did the desire to shine leather materials such as boots, belts and shoes. Shining boots was a fact of life for many and it kept you squared away.

The use of boot polish to shine military boots has waned in this country for a lot of service people and for very practical reasons. Yet this art of patience is still practiced. A lot of effort in the beginning to make your boots look good pays off in the end. Thereafter, just a bit of maintenance is needed.


Why bother?

It takes patience and discipline to get them looking good and the quality of someone’s boots and shoes might tell a story about the quality of the service person.

Ever see the movie, An Officer and a Gentleman, with Richard Gere as Aviation Officer Candidate Zack Mayo? You remember the scene where he’s hustling the other AOC candidates by selling them shined boots and belt buckles?

There’s a good lesson to be learned here for anyone who wants to be a leader. Navy Aviation Officer Candidate School requires personal honor, courage and commitment. Did you catch that? Throughout school he’s been circumventing the system, lacking in humility and exploiting his mates for profit. By paying for shined boots and belt buckles he doesn’t have to put in the labor and can’t learn the important lessons of sacrifice and self-improvement.

Good ol’ Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, played by the awesome Louis Gossett Junior, puts an end to Mayo’s nonsense. “I want your D.O.R.” the Gunny snarls into Mayo’s face. Zack Mayo won’t Drop On Request and in the end learns those important lessons and gets redemption too.

What’s the Best Method to Shine Boots?

Most everyone I know has used the spit shine method. Some swear by spit, others by water. This is going to take a lot of time so you better have a lot of patience. I used to be very obsessive about having my boots shiny and competed with my Marine brother. I think many of us can recall the hours we spent getting our boots looking incredible. I experimented with many different methods; some worked and some didn’t.


Lint Free Cloth or Cotton Balls



  1. The best thing you can do is to break your boots in. Don’t bother polishing them when they’re brand new. The polish will just crack off because it hasn’t adhered properly. The only part of the boot the polish is likely to stay on is the toe-cap and that looks ridiculous. I recommend wearing your boots until the leather becomes supple. This is when the shape of the boot leather and leather creases to begin mirroring the shape of your foot.
  2. When the leather is ready, wipe your boots down with a soft, damp cloth. This is to get all of the dust and debris off.
  3. Get your can of Kiwi wax and fill the lid with water.
  4. Place a good layer of polish all over the boot with your round boot brush. Then begin to buff it out with a rectangular boot brush until the layer is even. You want to work in two by two-inch sections when polishing. If you do this, a good simple place to start your effort is the fore-foot/toe-box of the boot.
  5. Get a really good soft cotton cloth or diaper. Wrap it around your index and middle finger until you have a smooth, flat surface without wrinkles. Some people prefer cotton balls. Whether you choose cotton balls or cloth doesn’t matter, just use a balanced mix of water and wax. (The cloth should be moist but not dripping water). Once you get an even layer of polish on the boot, begin to thin the polish out by using the cotton balls or cloth. Use a circle motion until the wax becomes shiny.
  6. Keep applying the wax and water mixture while using circular motions. Over a period of about 60 minutes you’ll have an even, smooth surface that’s shiny.
  7. Take a 100% nylon pantyhose. Wrap it around your two fingers and lightly use circle motions on the polish. The pantyhose has a super fine texture that it removes some of the imperfections in the layer you originally built up. This gives your boot or shoe a high gloss finish.
  8. You can maintain your boots after that with a bit of applied wax and water.
  9. Don’t forget to add your edge dressing to give the boot or shoe a nice smart look.Shined-boots


If you get a moment,  read my article on the sewing kit. I do believe every person in uniform should be able to do minor repairs on their service uniform. You may be in a place where there isn’t a dry cleaners yet you are still obligated to wear a uniform. Knowing how to iron a patch into the inner seat or inner knee of the pants is going to be useful. In today’s world, we have given everything over to the dry cleaners and this is fine. That should not prevent you from learning how to iron your dress shirts, pants and if needed, uniforms. If you are going to press your tactical trousers, such as what 5.11, Blackhawk or other companies make, just make sure you have a good solid, sole crease on the pants. No one likes to see multiple, intersecting creases on pants. You’ll look goofy. Your personal appearance brings a bit of command presence to you. Too snug or too loose brings only bad comments. It’s up to you to wear the uniform with respect and dignity. Many have honored the uniform and some haven’t. In the end a little effort really does go a long way and will earn you some respect.

Good luck, and don’t be a Zack Mayo. Well, not a pre-Mayo but a post-Mayo.

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.


By Michael Kurcina

Mike credits his early military training as the one thing that kept him disciplined through the many years. He currently provides his expertise as an adviser for an agency within the DoD. Michael Kurcina subscribes to the Spotter Up way of life. “I will either find a way or I will make one”.

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