Photo Essay

How did you get into shoe shining? “The first thing was a family friend who used to be a world class baritone opera singer gave me a pair of his shoes. He felt they were slightly different sizes, so they hurt his feet. They were an expensive pair of shoes. I was probably 17 at the time. The shoes were tremendous quality. They were slip on, like a loafer with super high quality, thick, rugged leather and a thick sole. They were a neutral colored cream. It got me thinking about shoe care.”

“One of the boxes belonged to my dad. It’s a shoe shining tradition to get your dad’s stuff, and you go from there. I started doing mine, and I would do his and do a couple friends. Over a couple years, you learn the tricks of the trade. Then I went into the military, and of course, you’re shining boots and shoes. I did a couple of buddies’ shoes in the military as well. You’re always looking out for just that little bit better method.”

“There are many different ways to shine your shoes but they are not equal—putting on waxes, how much water, how much rubbing it requires to really make it shine. There’s a difference between a mirror shine and just shiny leather that’s not a mirror.”

“I shine about five to eight pairs a Saturday, sometimes more or less. It costs $2 a pair. Business is brisk.”

“It’s relaxing. It’s satisfying. Of course when I’m buried with shoes and under the gun, I find it a little less relaxing. There’s not much work for what seems to me a satisfying improvement.”

“It really matters what kind of product you use on what kind of shoe leather. Even though I’m using cream, I still will use cream to moisturize and paste to make it shine.”

With a wry smile: “I want to talk about abuse of shoes. You’d think good Christian men would be less abusive. When it comes to shoes, they’re very violent, very abusive. I think everyone should be seeing Dr. Galindo about their shoe treatment.”

The sounds of shoe shining are soothing. I play them while I’m doing chores around my room. It creates an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) effect, which is a pleasurable sensation around the brain based on a sensory experience. “I have a good friend who says he gets that response when there’s very good service. He gets it at a barbershop with the click-click of the scissors.”

What are the most odd or interesting shoes you’ve seen at Mount Angel? Fiacre Nduwayo has a pair of reptile shoes. Most are soft calfskin made of cowhide. One of the theologians had cordovan leather (horse hide), made from the same material as horse saddles. It’s extremely tough and lasts a really long time. It has an almost purply red look (natural color). “You could go to five wars in a row, and those things would be amazingly tough.”

What is your shoe collection like? About 24ish pairs of shoes, only half of which are at Mount Angel. “I like new interpretations of old styles, ones that are fashionable but that look contemporary. I like them pointy but not nearly as fashion pointy as they could get…. I’ve bought a new pair every year. Shining is a hobby. I’m like a chick when it comes to shoes.”

What do you look for when buying a new shoe? “I like shoes that are fairly form fitting, almost like a shoe hand maid for your own foot. I like hard leather toes. It costs about $1000 for a custom-made pair. The harder the toe, the more of a mirror shine and a lot less leather contortion….Living in the Northwest, you want to go with rubber soles because of the water. Water and leather don’t mix.”

“In our American culture we will buy ten pairs of shoes over ten years instead of spending three times as much for a pair of shoes that will last not only 10 years but 20. Investing in and maintaining quality things is lost. In Italy, men will spend a lot of money on shoes, shoes that are worth fixing. Charles, the Prince of Wales, has been wearing the same pair of John Lobb shoes for 40 years. He’s had them re-soled ten times. He has them shined regularly. It’s part of a cultural attitude. In America, starting at about 1930 or 1940, that attitude went away. It’s no longer part of our culture. We buy cheap shoes that are fashionable that become less fashionable faster. My tip is to buy at least one or two pairs of great quality shoes and to keep them and maintain them. Other shoes should be of less quality because you beat them up faster.”

What shoe care advice do you give? “Get shoe trees. They will double the life of dress shoes. Also, leather conditioning and leather moisturizer. They are the best things besides polish. Airports are a great place for shoe shines. High quality shoes should never be worn on consecutive days. Otherwise the leather will never have an opportunity to breathe or to dry, and the leather will break down….Good shoe care can double the life of your shoes at least, even for low quality shoes.”

Why is it important to have shined shoes? “People often make quick assumptions for right or wrong about you and what you care about, how you carry yourself, if you value yourself. We wear suits because it’s respecting the occasion. Wearing neon green high tops to a funeral is a problem. There’s a social reality.”

“You know the expression ‘to put your best foot forward?’ That comes from shoes. You look down first when scoping someone out.”

1 comment:

  1. This was awesome! Thanks for all your hard work, Daniel. I especially liked the HoNY-esque touch. The quotes were great -- I could hear them in Greg's characteristic voice.