The NYTimes today reports on a new Army uniform. The focus mostly is on the use of Velcro to attach name tags and insignia and the end of dry cleaning. (Seamstresses and dry cleaners did good business around Army bases.) But buried in the piece is the move from spit-shined leather boots to "tan 'desert boots' made of suede and synthetic materials."
So no more spit shines in the Army. Even 40 years ago, the leather boots were challenged. Once you got to Vietnam, you very quickly learned that the "in" thing were the jungle combat boots, which had leather toes and heels, but canvas uppers--the idea being if you were in the boonies and wading through water you wanted the water to drain from the boots, not stay inside and help you get jungle rot. They were also significantly lighter. The boots were scarce, first being issued to the advisers and Special Forces, then to combat troops. But naturally they popped up on the black market and REMF's like me got their hands on them.
But no more spit shines? If I remember, the initial hurdles for this recruit were making the bed and shining the shoes. The bed I mastered after a few tries. (I hadn't formulated Harshaw's law then--I'm a slow learner.) The shoes were more of a challenge. Never did get a great shine.
Virginia Postrel has an article on beauty in the Atlantic I skimmed--quotes researchers saying that female beauty ties to fertility and vigor (i.e., hormonal levels, etc.). So too spit shined shoes were a signal to the training sergeants of one's capacity and/or willingness to adapt to the Army's ways. It's a loss.