On Tuesday, February 7, Northwest Community Bootblack 2012 Ruin — my “SashBlack”, I’m her “SashSIR” — did a workshop called “Bootblacking 101: Simple, Speedy, and Sexy” at the Center for Sex-Positive Culture.
Over the course of about 45 minutes, she walked us through basic bootblacking — remove gunk, lightly wash, apply polish, remove excess polish, work the polish in, and buff to a shine. She also addressed ways to make the blacking service sexy, whether in a public environment or private play. Then she had us all do a basic blacking job on a boot we had brought (we were also to bring some basic supplies that she specified).
She intentionally avoided addressing more advanced subject such as blacking leather gear, dealing with oil tan and non-leather boots (although we discussed some of that in the Q&A), edge dressing, lacing styles, stripping polish, repairs, and so forth, since this was aimed as an introductory (“Simple”) workshop. Daddy Wendell (past Northwest LeatherSIR and author of Making Leather Gear [go buy it]) was also there to aid, abet, and advise.
Just by having your boots done a few time, watching the bootblacks and seeing the similarities between when they all do, you can’t help but pick up most of this up. (Of course, I’m the sort who does pay attention like that; lots of guys don’t or don’t care to.) I did have a few specific questions, stuff like “About how much polish to you use as a starter amount?” and “Will putting a petroleum-based polish on oil-tan boots actually damage them, and in what way/how badly?”
I have never actually blacked my own boots before. For years, I wasn’t even cognizant of the option and didn’t do more than clean them; so far as I can remember, there simply was no active bootblacking visible in the San Francisco Bay Area leather community in the 1990s. A few years ago, I had a boyfriend who did mine a few times, and more recently, I have utilized the skilled services of our local and regional bootblacks. So to that end, this was a great workshop for me specifically because of the expectation that the attendees actually get down and do the job. (And I get a nicely spiffed up pair of my lace-up cowboy boots out of the deal.)
(I should revise that: I had never blacked my leather boots before. Having been big into rubber in the past, and having competed for Mr. International Rubber twice, I have dealt with the equivalent of bootblacking for rubber boots before, and have advised some bootblacks on dealing with rubber boots in the past.)
I’ll never do blacking in any sort of a formal role — my neck, back, and knees couldn’t take it — but it’s great to be able to do an serviceable job on my own. And to get a better understanding of what Ruin and her fellow bootblacks do… that’s invaluable.
(The contestant in me knows that at least one of my judges at International is a boot enthusiast, so I should be prepared for comments and questions about my boots. Knowing boot blacking fundamentals is a plus there.)