A shine you can see your reflection in?

One of the things most frequently mentioned about gentlemen in the early 19th century is that their boots had a shine in which one could see one’s reflection.  And there may well be those among you who read that and believe it to be gross hyperbole.  For how could anyone’s boots shine like that unless they were made of plastic or pvc? 

It goes along with the myth that their boots were polished with a mixture of boot blacking and champagne.  Cue another raised eyebrow of doubt.

It all seems so improbable.  Especially in this day and age of trainers and flip flops.  And who even knows what boot blacking is anymore anyway, let alone how to use it, right? 

However, it’s true.  And that looking glass shine is the result of something like seventeen or more hours spent, per boot, waxing and shining the thing with a combination of boot blacking and water. 

You wrap the soft cloth around your fingers almost like a tourniquet, you dip it in the blacking and then dip it in the water, (the champagne is optional) and then you rub it into the leather.  The first several or even many coats will sink into the soft leather…but eventually it will come up to a shine fit for an officer in Her Majesty’s Household Cavalry. 

If it sounds like a great deal of hard graft, that’s because it is.  Your hands ache and your fingers grow numb in the doing of it.  But it’s a thing which belongs to a day and age when a valet’s whole lifework was to make his master look elegant. 

So, now you know how Beau Brummell’s valet spent his afternoons.

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7 comments on “A shine you can see your reflection in?

  1. Greta Thain says:

    The armed forces still use that method. It’s called spit polishing for a reason. Been there (briefly) done that.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Absolutely they do.

      But how often does one make the connection between things we do today and things they did 200 years ago? How often do we watch the cavalry on parade and think, “all gentlemen’s boots shone like that 200 years ago…”

  2. junebugger says:

    Why do I have this inkling that you tried this for yourself? Experience to top the research?

  3. junebugger says:

    You’re one of a kind!

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