Polishing shoes was a considerably more arduous task before the Second World War and the development of modern tanning processes. The standard leather used for bespoke men's shoes pre-war was waxed calf, which is the rough reversed side of the hide that is now used for suede.
Waxed calf can be brought to a high gloss similar to that of patent leather but the cost is literally weeks of polishing with a deer bone. Indeed, the late Diana Vreeland joked that her husband's pre-war shoes would be polished by his valet for five years before they were suitable for wear. Without a valet, few men would voluntarily subject themselves to the task.
Much tougher than the leathers currently used for good quality shoes, waxed calf is today used for work shoes and for riding boots like the pair of bespoke boots by London bootmaker Henry Maxwell in the photo. Scratches in the surface are boned out until the boot looks as good as new.
Photo: Henry Maxwell