I first saw them on display in the window of Butler’s shoe store. They shined like an oil slick and the laces were stiff and tied into perfect bows. They were a pair of magnificent Wing Tip Oxfords, died panther black. The term, Wing Tip, comes from it’s famous leather embroidery that dates back to the 1930’s. I entered the establishment, went through the cultural footwear ritual of the fitting, and then received wise counseling on their care and longevity. I then left the store with a shoe box snugly secured under my arm. Shoe buying for men is a more formal event than it is for women. Women buy shoes in assorted styles and colors in an effort to improve their looks, whereas men buy shoes because they need a new pair of shoes….not saying women need shoe help….no way.
I remember my dad’s Wing Tips and how, as a kid, I used to clump around the house in those big shoes feeling all grown up. Good dress up shoes still make you feel that way. I was 37 and my business Claiborne’s were no longer apropos for my current management level as I was now clumping from one high profile meeting to another and from one city to another and needed to dress with a certain level of distinction. Anyway, I bought the Wing Tips. They were not to be my everyday work shoes, but for when I needed to look my best.
The years passed and my Wing Tips served me well. Corporate functions, awards banquets, good restaurants, church, various weddings and semi formal affairs. And, as the years passed, there were also the funerals. Those shoes had walked me for miles in times of turmoil, sadness, loneliness, jubilation, dance and eventually on the feet of my grandkids as they clumped around the house.
Quality shoes will last you for years, if you take care of them. I polished my shoes every week and kept the leather pliable with good Kiwi wax. I had my Wing Tips resoled twice and new heels put on once, and even went through three sets of leather laces. These well worn shoes were like a cherished and faithful old dog. They were reliable, gave me a sense of comfort and warmth and were always ready for a walk. Finally, after years of distinguished and faithful service, I reluctantly retired the boys to the top shelf of my closet, and then went on with my life. For some reason, I never bought another pair of Wing Tips again.
I had hung on to them for years with the anticipation of wearing them in my casket, until I found out they don’t bury you with shoes. So, finally the day came not long ago, when I needed to send them on their way. I had neglected them for years as they sat solitude, collecting dust on the top shelf. I now took them down and reverently polished them one last time before placing them in the cardboard box for Goodwill. It was my hope, that maybe some young man needed a pair of good shoes, though well worn, for a job interview. Or better yet, for his first day on the job. But, most likely, they would be given to some homeless fella that needed a pair of warm shoes he could be proud of. That would please me even more.