Walking along the Burlington Arcade last week, I took the opportunity to have a shoe shine. It’s rarely offered in London these days, which is a shame. So it was nice to support someone that’s making the time to set out there and ply his wares.
(Though I wouldn’t be surprised if he is subsidised by the Arcade itself – a shoe shine boy fits with the image of timeless London and luxury the owners doubtlessly like to create.)
It also occurred to me that I have never had one in London before. In New York, in Tokyo, in Singapore. But never in London. Probably just because one is more in the mood for extravagances when one is abroad – I often have a proper cut-throat shave when I’m in New York, and that’s not something I’d even consider in London.
But then the shoe shine wasn’t that much of an extravagance: £3.50 isn’t bad considering how much satisfaction a perfect polish on my Oxfords will give me.
The point to this piece, though, is that the shoe shine boy’s method was interesting (he wasn’t a boy, obviously, but no other word seems quite right after ‘shoe shine’).
I requested cream rather than wax polish, as the shoes in question could do with some nourishment. He insisted on doing both cream and polish, though, as the application of cream does take off a little of the patina created by layers of polish.
First, the laces were tucked away behind the tongue and each shoe was given a good cleaning – rubbed with a damp cloth all over and particularly scrubbed at the edge of the vamp, where it meets the sole.
Once cleaned, cream was quickly brushed on (brushed, please note, not rubbed with a cloth). It was brushed in circular motions, to work the cream into the leather and to make sure it didn’t miss any brogue holes.
Polish was then brushed on (which surprised me, I thought the cream would be buffed first – but apparently there is no need). A spritz of water was sprayed over the mixture – more efficient than the old spit-and-polish tradition – and finally the whole thing was brushed by two large, horsehair brushes, working in opposite directions on either side of the shoe.
To finish off the effect, a buffing with a cotton rag. Though apparently women’s nylon stockings are better.
Ninety per cent of that process I would have done myself, but the method and application of both cream and polish was interesting. Efficient, too. I walked away five minutes later with a smile on my face and my eyes staring admiringly downward.