Starting now, white shoes take time out

September 04, 2004|By ROB KASPER

THIS BEING Labor Day weekend, it will mark the last time my white bucks will appear in public this summer. By Tuesday they, and all white shoes, must go in the closet and remain there until Memorial Day.

So goes the "no white shoes after Labor Day" rule, a dictum of fashion I have never fully understood but I nevertheless obey. Violating it would bring down the wrath of the forces of propriety, some living, and some still capable of controlling my behavior from the hereafter.

Among the latter is Sally deButts Goodhue, the former society editor of The Sun, who died in June at the age of 83. In that role from 1967 to 1992, Sally decided whose wedding announcements made the pages of the Sunday paper and decreed which behavior was "proper" and which was not.

I liked Sally and for a few years when I sat near her in the features department of the newspaper, I amused myself by eavesdropping as she grilled prospective brides and their mothers over the telephone on matters of lineage and etiquette.

"What does the faaaaaaaaaa- ther do?" she would ask the nervous household, her broad Virginia accent transforming the first syllable of "father." "Is Cha-Cha the Christian name?" she asked one evening, suspicious that a person with such a moniker was not Sun wedding page material. She turned out to be right, Cha-Cha's wedding announcement was a hoax, sent in as a prank.

Sally was always prim and proper, a contrast in a newsroom where the only rule about shoes was that you were supposed to wear them, most of the time. During those overheard conversations Sally often had me squirming, rooting for the ladies on the other end of the line who were straining to meet her standards. Even though you might not agree with Sally, you couldn't help but be influenced by her.

One of Sally's rules that stuck with me is that white shoes should be worn only between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It turns out that this is a widely held view, at least among the doyennes of decorum. Syndicated columnists Miss Manners and Lois Fenton subscribe to this precept and have scoffed, in a prim and proper way, at any man or woman so gauche as to put on white leather shoes outside the approved season.

This summer I did not pull my white bucks out of the closet until mid-July. Like many items in my closet, they are something of a relic. I bought them, on a whim, over a decade ago at Church's, a men's shoe store, now gone from the spot it then occupied in The Gallery at Harborplace. I wore them to an everybody-wear-white party held at the Baltimore Rowing Club on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River and to a neighborhood croquet match, then pretty much forgot about them until this summer .

The oxfords were in pretty good shape. Their soft nubuck, leather buffed to produce a velvety nap surface, had a few scuff marks, but luckily I had held onto the white buck bag, a resin-filled container, used to clean, or actually cover up, the spots on white bucks.

After dusting my white bucks I had to face the question of whether I was brave enough to wear them. One of the drawbacks of going down the white shoe route is that it is perilously close to "going geezer," becoming an old guy who wears gleaming white shoes, a wide white belt, polyester white pants, and likes to sit around talking about Harry Truman. I happen to like the Truman administration, but I don't have a white belt, and my white bucks were, I thought, sufficiently dull to pass for close to cool.

So I wore the white bucks this summer and nobody laughed, at least not in my face. Some guys told me they liked them, saying the sight of white bucks reminded them of the joys of their youth. When I was a youth, white bucks were the trademark of Pat Boone, a crooner I once thought was cool, but who now seems really sappy.

White bucks also have spawned the term "white shoe law firm." This is, I surmise, the kind of place where in languid days of summer, barristers sport white bucks and seersucker suits.

I would like to say wearing white bucks this summer made me feel more carefree. But they were a hassle to keep clean. Moreover, when I broke a shoelace, finding the required thin, white dress lace to replace it was a task. I searched shoe stores from Baltimore to Annapolis, where I was disappointed to learn the white-clad summer midshipmen do not wear bucks as part of their summer uniform.

I finally located some dress white laces in South Baltimore at Dan Brothers on South Charles Street. When I went down there the other day to get them, I was hoping to also buy some of the bags that clean white bucks. A salesman told me that there wasn't much demand for white bucks, and that while the store had once carried the cleaning bags, he had not seen them for years.

The news wasn't much better from Milwaukee, where the office manager for Fiebing, the horse and leather care company that manufactures the white buck bags, told me over the phone there were only 3,000 or so of the $3.50 white buck bags left in his warehouse. When those are sold, he said, they will not be replaced. He said he would ship me some, if I could meet the minimum order of 50 bags.

That information, coupled with the overall paucity of white bucks on the local shoe scene, has motivated me to start a movement to bring back white bucks. This movement will encourage the masses to embrace the white buck, a shoe of considerable style and comfort. It will also promote the return of the white buck bag, the closest thing to a rosin bag that any guy who is not a major league pitcher can get his hands on.

But this movement, of course, will not kick off until after Memorial Day. A voice from the beyond tells me that starting it outside of white shoe season just would not be proper.

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