Thursday, January 14, 2010

Puttin’ on Those White Shoes

Whenever I hear someone refer to a “white-shoe law firm,” I get this mental picture of a group of lawyers in their dark-blue pin-stripe Armani suits, Countess Mara power ties, starched Turnbull & Asser dress shirts--and white tennis shoes. In fact, the white shoes in question are not tennis shoes at all. The phrase refers to important old law firms, mostly in New York or Boston, whose members do not, as a rule, wear white shoes of any sort while actually practicing law, although they are fully shod in darker hues. 

As the late word maven William Safire explained it, the phrase derives from "white bucks," a type of laced suede or buckskin shoes with dark red soles that have been popular for more than half a century among moneyed New Englanders, especially fraternity men at Ivy League colleges. “White-shoe” is defined by Wordnet as "denoting a company or law firm owned and run by members of the WASP elite."

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, whose modest legal affairs are tended by an equally modest lawyer in scuffed brown loafers, filed this brief as amicus curiae.


I’m puttin’ on my white shoes,
           Snappin’ shut my briefcase,
           Thinkin’ of my fee.
           I’m polishin’ those white shoes,
           Sittin’ here admirin’
           My Ivy League degree.           
           I'm off to court today
           And there is no delay 
           To plead my client’s case 
           And I must
           Be sure the verdict’s just-- 
           ‘Cause there’s no second place!
           I’m dressed for power, 
           In my Armani outfit
           And my fancy white shoes, 
           Billin’ every hour!


  1. Helen's father was a New Englander, although neither one of the elite sort, nor a lawyer. But he did own a treasured pair of white bucks. After his death I discovered that he and I wore the same size shoes--so I fell heir to the white bucks. They were somewhat of an oddity here in Houston. Problem was; they hurt my feet so I didn't wear them much.

    Sandy Havens

  2. I guess that makes you a "white-shoe" theatre director (along with Mr. Abbott).

  3. I don't remember my father wearing white bucks nor do they have upper class associations for me. I had a pair in high school and I liked them because you didn't have to polish them. In fact you couldn't because they were suede. You couldn't even saddle soap them! That said, I couldn't imagine my father wearing scuffed or dirty shoes. I bet his were pristine. Markley M.

  4. Not only were your father's shoes pristine, they were carefully wrapped and had a pair of those shoe stretcher things inserted to keep them in perfect form.