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A man’s shoes can indicate his personal vanity, wealth and social status

Posted in Historical articles on Friday, 29 November 2013

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This edited article about shoes first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 468 published on 2 January 1971.

Shoe-shine boy, picture, image, illustration

"Shine, Sir?"

During the years I’ve been jetting around the world, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can tell a lot about a man by just looking at his shoes. For instance, the state of a man’s shoes can give a large clue as to the state of his personality. Like the peacock, men have always gone out of their way to attract the opposite sex, and their attitudes to grooming relate to their attitudes in drawing attention to themselves. Experts who have studied the field say that although you can tell a lot about a man by the state of his shoes, it does depend on who is wearing them and where. Different countries, different attitudes. . . .

In Italy for instance, the “Latin Lover” is far from extinct! His appearance is a projection of his personality, and from the top of his well cut suit to the tip of his well polished shoes, which are usually black, shiny and expensive, you can see he makes the most of himself.

The Americans are very shoe-conscious (the United States alone buy nearly one-third of the world’s shoes). There have been many reasons given for the shoe-consciousness of the American male. Who is he trying to impress? American women like their men to look snappy it is true. On the other hand he may be thinking of his boss. In the States many firms insist on “vetting” a man’s wife before he is employed, so he is hardly going to risk turning up for an interview with dirty shoes. Or perhaps it may just be because the American man has unusually large feet and is self-conscious about them! Shoe polishing is still considered a lowly job, and Americans make use of Shoe Shine Parlours and bootblacks who visit the offices. Few American wives clean their husband’s shoes.

Argentinian men wear well polished shoes and like them to be seen as well polished. Labour saving suedes are not for them. They wear light clothes and lightweight shoes, always leather and mostly black and shiny. Some Argentinian men are among the most wealthy in the world, and an expensive, well cared for pair of shoes is a status symbol.

In India shoes are also a status symbol, but for a different reason: a large portion of the population doesn’t have any. Those who do have shoes keep them in a well polished condition.

German men are perfectionists on shoe care. The German male’s shoe cleaning cupboard is stocked out with a bewildering array of shoe care products, almost to the point of having a different polish, spray or shampoo for every pair of shoes. The German woman recognises this exactitude, but may feel a bit alarmed at what it entails. In Germany most of the shoe cleaning is done by the housefrau.

Swiss men are gadgety about shoe cleaning. They like electric polishers, lots of different preparations. Their appearance is generally well groomed if a bit unimaginative. Swiss girls are said not to admire the flashy looking type of men and good, solid, practical qualities are looked for by both sexes.

There is a social value to shiny shoes in Brazil. The burnished appearance indicates that a Brazilian man can afford to have his shoes cleaned by a shoeblack. He would never be seen polishing them himself, nor would his female counterpart care to be seen out with a man wearing unkempt shoes.

Frenchmen wear heavier shoes than men in most other countries. They like them to last. The leather is well preserved, but not particularly shiny. The true Frenchwoman appreciates this thrifty, practical image. In her eyes this presents good husband material.

The Canadian male has a practical approach to life, he looks after his shoes and keeps them in good condition, but a shiny appearance comes last on his list of priorities. He likes to feel comfortable, look easy going and be on equal terms with the female sex.

Spanish men go for a military look in appearance, and take shoe care seriously. Possibly a reflection of the fact that most Spanish men have large families and the responsible type is the one most favoured. They are the only race who like their shoe polish to smell strongly of turpentine which they think essential for the preservation of shoe leather.

The well-kept shoes of the Japanese men are a reflection of their personal cleanliness. Shoes are always taken off when entering a house, and underneath are beautifully cared for and manicured feet.

In Britain our shoes are often scruffy. Just under fifty per cent of Britons claim to polish their shoes every day, but this is mainly for job purposes. Off duty, the courting British male presents a contradictory picture. His flamboyant ties and shirts are a signal for attention from the female sex. On the other hand, his rather underpolished shoes seem to hint that he is not prepared to bother much.

The young African frequently goes courting with a beautifully polished pair of shoes slung round his neck. Shoes, being highly expensive to the African, are still regarded as a status symbol, and he will take them off and walk barefooted for miles rather than risk dirtying them.

In New Zealand the men are shine mad. They even polish their Rugby boots! Women there do not attach so much importance to fashion as to a well-groomed appearance.

Of course, the real importance of the shoe is not what effect it has on other people, but whether it fits comfortably and properly. Good shoes mean healthier feet. Many centuries of craftsmen have tried to produce this result, plus style, of course, and now modern technology has speeded up the process. Shoes are a multi-million pound and dollar industry. And they are fun!

Next time you grumble about cleaning your shoes, with all the modern labour-saving polishes, it’s a sobering thought to remember that several hundreds of millions of people who live in the warm climates go through life barefooted, and so don’t have a shoe-cleaning problem at all.

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