shoeshineMy article this week for Imaginative Conservative is somewhat whimsical meditation on the importance of shoes.

I was serving as a Housemaster in an English boarding school when I finally learned the full importance of shoes. Every night after supper the boys would have an hour to complete their homework and get ready for bed. The bedtime ritual consisted of tidying their dorm space, having a bath or shower, brushing their teeth, cleaning their nails and shining their shoes. Then, pajama clad, with slippered feet and shoes in hand they lined up at matron’s room for inspection. While sipping a glass of sherry Matron examined their fingernails, checked behind their ears and took a magnifying glass to their smart black shoes. If the shoes were not shined they went to jail. They did not pass go. They did not collect two hundred dollars.

This little morsel of military discipline drilled into the boys the importance of shoes, for in English society—still so studiously class ridden, a man was judged by his shoes. Conservative lace ups neatly shined indicated that you were from a good home, were sent to a good school and continued to take a natural and healthy pride in your appearance. You could therefore be relied upon. You were “a good sort.”You would get the edge in the job interviews, the best seat at the table and the introductions to the better sort of girl. The shining of shoes was the shining of one’s character. Polishing your shoes was a way to polish your manners. Ship shape shoes meant a ship shape life: neat and clean with everything done and dusted, decently and in order.

Go here to read the whole article.

Image via Flickr Robert Sheie