December 17, 2004

Does shoe polish really matter that much anymore?

There was a nice ad for kiwi shoe polish in Esquire this month. Clever, catchy ad. It had me wondering, however, how much shoe polish really matters.

When I was growing up it was a regular part of my life to see my father shining his shoes. He worked them over until they were as clear as glass and as reflective as a mirror (to mix a metaphor or two). He even shined his softball cleats. I learned how to shine watching that.

As time went on, the relevance of a shined shoe seemed to diminish. I have had a career where wearing business clothes as been mostly optional instead of mandatory. Yet, my shoes are shines. Sometimes by me, sometimes by the nice folks at Nordstrom. Leather shoes look better with the spit and polish.

Among a younger generation, however, I wonder how much time and effort is put into shining shoes. Frankly, how many shoes in the closet of the typical 20 – 40 yr old male today need shining? Not sneakers. Not hiking shoes. Not canvas shoes. And, in the Pacific Northwest, where I live, the winter calls for rain and mud friendly shoes, not spiffed up leather.

I haven’t looked at the sales figures for shoe polish over the last decade, but I speculate they are on a steady decline. Something about that saddens me.

Today, I will find some time to shine.


  1. Interesting perspective, Norman. Its funny, but I hardly ever polish my own shoes anymore. Part of it is that I’m lazy – part of it is that its been a little ritual for many years that when I travel I get them polished. Usually in the airport. Often at someplace like Nordstrom. Ocassionally at a random shoe shine stand in some metropolitan area. I remember as a younger man having my shoes shined seemed like an indulgence – something special, something not everyone did or could have done. I completely take it for granted now.

    I stopped traveling so much almost two years ago, and my poor shoes are certainly worse for wear. They beg for me to travel so they can get some attention. I think I’ll polish them this weekend now that its on my mind. The power of suggestion – you accidentally marketed me into getting some polish (I’ve always preferred Kiwi – its what I was taught to use, and the brand always just stuck), getting off my butt and doing it.

  2. I know this will be a HUGE shock to you Norman, but I own NO pairs of shoes that need shining.

    Harry “DevHawk” Pierson

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