Reflections By A Shoe Shine Guy
As I’ve previously alluded to, I worked in the locker room of a country club for a few years.
In addition to having to watch overweight middle-aged and elderly men strut about in various stages of undress, I was responsible for shining both the dress shoes and golf shoes of the membership.
Most men at the club didn’t particularly care if their shoes were recently shined. This surprised me. If a mirror-like foot covering is at one end of the spectrum and something purchased for $19.99 with a sole falling off that’s never been near a Kiwi product, or even a wet rag, in its life is at the other end of the spectrum, most men seemed pretty comfortable with their dress shoes (and I use the term very generously) and golf shoes leaning much more towards the latter end of the spectrum.
I don’t mean to encourage vanity. St. Peter probably won’t be checking the shine on your shoes when you arrive at the pearly gates. I’m not saying a man’s shoes need to pass military inspection every day of the week, but shouldn’t they pass inspection sometimes?
The prevalence of the rubber soled abomination from the Sketcher’s “dress shoe” collection also astounded me. I am not an advocate for bespoke footwear for most men. I am not asking you to fly to London to be fitted for your shoes. Bass, Johnston & Murphy, Alden and Allen Edmonds will all do just fine. Shoes ought to be an investment, not an afterthought.
Also, for heaven’s sake, if you’re wearing a suit and oxfords, I ought to be able to hear you walking behind me on the street. I am thoroughly confounded by the number of power suits which are paired with gumshoes…the sole of a men’s dress shoe is made of wood.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are paying someone to shine your shoes in 2012, a $5 is de rigeur. Likewise, if you can’t afford to peel a fin out of the iron jaws of your wallet, you shouldn’t be having your shoes shined. Wear Crocs instead.
Caring about your shoes seems to be correlated with caring about…well, you fill in the blank. Caring about your appearance in general. Caring about your life. Caring about going to the gym. Caring about playing golf well. Caring about your family. Caring about what scotch you drink. Were there men with worn Sketchers that seemed to have things together otherwise and played golf well? Yes. They were, however, the overwhelming exception.
The specific mechanics of a shoe shine are not alchemy, although a disturbing percentage of the members seemed wary of engaging in what they regarded as an esoteric science. You clean the shoe, either with a damp rag or a leather cleaner. You a first coat of polish, preferably with a brush in small circles and you let it dry. Following this it’s time for the brush, with which you polish the shoe in broad strokes, toe, sides and heel. If necessary, you apply a second coat of polish and repeat the aforementioned. Finish buffing the toe with a rag for an additional bit of shine, or an express shine sponge, if you are so vulgar.
Certainly, there are an endless number of variations on the above, but those are the basic maneuvers.
There were a few men who obsessed over their shoes. There is really no pleasing this type of shoe fetishist: he who scours StyleForum for the tips for antiquing his brogues, or has spent 1/20th of his annual net income on a pair of John Lobbs. While I appreciate the concern for quality footwear, I don’t support making the things an idol or mourning the first scratch on a pair like the loss of one’s firstborn.
Shining shoes in general may be a dying art, but shining golf shoes is soon going to be a dead art. Within the next few years, all golf shoes will be either look like cross trainers or Vans, neither of which require much maintenance or care, beyond a wet rag. As golf in has become more of a sport, “requiring” sport specific gear, it has become much more casual. There was always going to be a tension between the gentleman’s country clothes and the relatively physical activity of playing a round of golf, so in a sense, it’s not surprising. As long as there are men in suits, it seems, there will be dress shoes. As long as they are made of leather or synthetic leather, I hope they will be recently shined and well-made.