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Shining Shoes!

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

They say you can tell a man by the shine on his shoes. According to Rickey Thornton who's been shining almost nonstop for more than 15 years at his double-chair Morning Glory Shoe Service, what your shoes should tell is "a bold statement of integrity and dignity." And from his floor-level perspective in Dallas's J.P. Morgan Chase Tower, he has observed many a tale of woe-job opportunities lost, sales left unclosed-when men failed to put their best foot forward.

But for Thornton, proper shoe care is more than an image issue: "To me it's an investment. Good men's shoes are not cheap and the skins have to be maintained and protected." What bewilders him is the number of men who take meticulous care of every other aspect of their appearance except this very basic one.

While his typical customers quickly become devoted and regularly return for his top-notch service, he occasionally sees the woefully neglected shoe and wants to comment: "It's like you haven't taken a bath in two weeks."

A Morning Glory Shine begins with an evaluation of what is needed. Particularly soiled shoes he'll clean first with saddle or foam cleaner, wiping with a microfiber cloth used for car waxing.

Then he "dresses" the soles, using ink to detail their edges. Before any wax ever goes on he works the shoe with a cream polish to restore the pigment.

Then he uses a product called Saphir Renovateur Cleaner and Conditioner, which contains mink oil that will hydrate parched leather. (Both the cream and conditioner are available through hangerproject.com. Footwear from martindingman.com.)

In waxing, Thornton borrows a Zen mantra from The Karate Kid: "Wax on. Wax off." He does so in a succession of thin coats (using Saphir or Lincoln wax, depending on the shoes) that he then brushes off. Thornton follows the wax up with two spit shines. (That's just an expression in his case. It's done with water, not saliva.)

For the first shine, he uses the inside of an old T-shirt. On the second, he switches to a soft flannel cloth.

Thornton says he sees shoes in all manner of dilapidation and willingly sets to work on most. He does reserve the right to back off when shoes are particularly funky. The shine artist recalls setting up shop once at a rodeo in Las Vegas: "This one guy comes up to me and wants his boots shined after walking around the stables. I said, 'Man, you got to take a hose to those things first.'"

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