white men with money and gleaming shoes

Wall Street Tycoons Nostalgic for Days When Working-Class People Literally Labored at Their Feet

A shoeshiner attends a customer in downtown Washington, DC, on September 19, 2012.
The American Dream, now vanquished. Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

A necessary two-part caveat to anything I say regarding this excellent New York Times article about Wall Street’s history with shoeshines is that (a) I have gotten my shoes shined at Eddie’s Shoe Repair, the old-school shoeshine place mentioned therein, and (b) it was pretty great.

That said, there is something touching (and a little jarring) about Wall Street’s nostalgia for the days of the old-fashioned shoeshine — a time in American life when an investment banker could enact a perfect tableau of economic hierarchy by paying a working-class guy from Queens to kneel prostrate before him and make his $500 Ferragamo loafers look new again.

Alas, the days of face-to-face servility are gone:

[The] modern shoeshine business has changed since the old days, reflecting the evolution of Wall Street firms from private partnerships to large, public corporations. Senior traders from Bear Stearns recall the days when they could put their feet up on a shoeshine box brought to their desks and banter with their colleagues as the deed was done. But that changed after JPMorgan took over the firm in 2008

Today, a handful of uniformed contract workers — known internally as “shoeshine technicians” — patrol Goldman’s headquarters at 200 West Street, with a daily routine that reflects a corporate sense of efficiency. They handle a trading floor in sections, whisking away shoes to be shined and leaving traders to work in socks … “It’s like a lot of things on the Street: it’s not as personal as it used to be,” said one senior employee of a big bank who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a company policy against speaking to the news media. “In the past, the trading floors were smaller, the firms were smaller and the service providers were people you saw pretty much every day. You got to know them.”

Still, for those who fear that the decline of the personal shoeshine augurs a collapse of order and a descent into chaos, keep in mind that it could be worse! At least Wall Street guys aren’t shining their own shoes.

Wall Street’s Shoeshine Nostalgia