Etiquette of The Humble Shoe




































We have been wearing protection on our feet for well over 10,000 years. We all take it for granted that as part of our dressing ritual we place this protective item on our feet. Could you imagine if suddenly we did not have shoes? We would be restricted on what and where we can go but thankfully our ancestors thought about this and came up with the protective essential.


So who came up with the idea for a shoe? The earliest known shoe or rather, sandal, was found in 1938 in The Forest Rock Cave in the United States of America. The oldest leather shoe was found in a cave in Armenia in 2008 which dates back to 3500 BC. This shoe was made from a single piece of cowhide laced with leather cord along seams on the front and back.


It has been discovered by scientists that since we have been wearing shoes, this has resulted in less bone growth resulting in shorter and thinner toes as the thickness has decreased over the 26,000 years.

Even though Thong Sandals became a popular piece of footwear many ancient civilisations still preferred to be barefoot. Ancient Greeks shoes were worn in the theatre as a sign of status. Ancient Gods and heroes were depicted barefoot! Romans however came to see shoes as a sign of power and a necessity of the civilised world, but their slaves were always barefoot.


As civilisations developed, Thong Sandals were worn, which are our equivalent to modern day flip flops.There are images of the ancient Egyptians wearing them in 4000 BC. Another pair found in Europe were made from papyrus leaves and dated from 1500 years ago. Papyrus and palm leave Thong Sandals were the materials of the ancient Egyptians. Sandals were also popular in the first century in Jerusalem. The Masai of Africa made their sandals out of rawhide, while in India they were made from wood and rice straw was used in China and Japan. Leaves of the sisal plant made twine for sandals in South America and the Yucca plant was used in Mexico.


Medieval shoes were made with leather using a method known as the turnshoe method. This is when the leather was turned inside to make the shoe, then turned the right way when finished. Some shoes were even made with drawstrings to tighten the leather around the foot. The turnshoe method was replaced with the welted method in the 1500s. At this point patterns also became popular, also around this point Crakow shoes were popular which had extremely long toes. In the 16th Century, Royalty started wearing high heeled shoes to make them look taller and powerful, this is where we get the term “well heeled”. In the 17th Century most leather shoes had a sewn on sole and this remains the same way to this day. Shoemaking was commercialised in the 18th century to cope with the demand for quality shoes.


From the point of view of shoe etiquette, it is very simple! In the United Kingdom we are quite relaxed about wearing our shoes but in Arab culture you never show the sole of a shoe as it is considered rude. The only thing I do strongly recommend, during the day when visiting someone privately ( i.e. not a lunch / dinner party or event), if the shoes are dirty then it is polite to offer to remove them.


I also have a rule that brown shoes are for the day and black shoes are for the evening, however as fashions change, brown shoes are becoming more acceptable at evening events, such as a drinks party at an art gallery, paired with a dark navy suit. There is an urban myth that brown shoes are for the country and black shoes are for the city;  this is nonsense and I ask you all to ignore this myth.


On a more delicate nature I must also add if you suffer from BFO (Bad Foot Odour) then I recommend you address this before removing shoes in someone else's home. There are many products on the market to assist you with this, as there is nothing worse than for you and the host to have to sample your unpleasant fragrant problem in their home and worse still with their guests, as this can make you feel extremely embarrassed and unsure how to address the situation .


When it comes to the care and maintenance of your shoes, this is a very simple procedure which people seem to worry about. Personally I enjoy cleaning shoes and see it as a relaxing and enjoyable experience allowing me to make pride in seeing my work on my employer’s feet. Part of my butler courses also sees me teaching the students this time old method.


Very simply make sure you have the correct shoe polishes you need, i.e. Brown, Black or Neutral etc. It is important you are sure it is an exact match. I personally use Kiwi Shoe Polish. If you are not sure about the colour, always do a test area first! Next you need a cloth to apply the polish and one to take it off. I use two dusters for this. Remember each colour requires its own cloths for applying and taking off. Next, you need two old toothbrushes for the hard to reach spots, and finally you need to decide if you are going to use the spit and polish method or boiling water. 


I always put down some old newspaper on the area I will be cleaning the shoes to protect the surface of the table. If you are using water, boil the kettle, open the shoe polishing tin and in the lid part you will pour a small amount of the boiling water. Prepare the shoe by wiping off any excess dirt and taking a damp cloth over the sole to make sure the shoe is free from dirt. You then get one of the cloths and apply a small amount of water and then apply a small amount of shoe polish to the cloth. In a circular motion, you apply the polish all over the shoe. You can use the tooth brush (soft bristles) to apply the polish along the point where the leather joins the sole (welt) as this can be a tricky area to get into. Leave the shoe as you repeat the same process to the other shoe. I then leave them for around 15 minutes to settle. With the other cloth, you buff the whole shoe. The welt area is buffed with the other tooth brush. Buff vigorously until you achieve a good shine, then repeat the process to the other shoe. If you want to apply the spit and polish method, it is the same steps as above except instead of water you use your saliva (spit). You do this onto the side of the tin that contains the polish and gentle rub into the polish with the cloth and apply a small amount on the the shoe and rub all over. When buffing the shoe you also spit on the shoe a few times as you continue to buff.


If you are cleaning suede shoes, you do not apply water, spit or polish to the suede. You can use a damp cloth on the outer sole and heel. There are specialist cleaning products which any cobblers can recommend.

© 2011 Grant William Veitch Harrold The Royal Butler. All Rights Reserved. 

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