Military Question: Shining Your Belt Buckle

There’s a scene in An Officer And A Gentleman where the men are trying, and failing, to properly shine their belt buckles. Gere’s character then offers to sell them some bootleg belt buckles that he’s hidden away.

First, is shining your belt buckle properly so difficult that some would risk extreme punishment to purchase a bootleg one?

Second, is there a black market for bootleg, pre-shone belt buckles that supplies military bases?

It was a test of character. The buckles were properly shined. Would they resort to a dishonest solution?

I could maybe see the boots because it can take a long time to get a good base coat, but polishing a brass buckle well is a less than 5 minute process. Of course, carrying the boots around in a bag is going to scuff the heck out of them.

Never mind. I just realized I got Gere’s and Gossett’s characters switched.

It’s not hard to shine a belt buckle. What may be difficult is to remove *marks from abrasions and scratches, which may come about in training from going through various obstacles courses. Beyond that, the risk would be situational. I’m not even sure I “buy” that there’s anything wrong with purchasing a shined belt buckle from someone else (I get that in the context of the movie, as presented, it’s depicted as against some honor code, which, okay, whatever, maybe it falls under some general “one’s own work” stipulation like academic exercises). Anyway, whether the risk is worth it would be situational. Context is key.

Second, is there a black market for bootleg, pre-shone belt buckles that supplies military bases?

No. I mean, I really doubt it. Certainly not outside of an entry level training program like OCS or boot camp, because no where else would there be an honor code that would prohibit having someone else shine your belt buckle.

For that matter, most belt buckles one buys these days tend to be of the perma-shine variety, specially coated. I haven’t had a belt buckle that needed shining in nigh on fifteen years.

*ETA: Oh, also if it was exposed to water for more than a few minutes. Corrosion and whatnot.

Now, I’ve never been in the military, but aren’t there fancier clothes worn for inspection and more casual stuff (fatigues?) worn while one is going through an obstacle course? Does the brass expect the casual clothing to be suitable for inspection? And I thought I heard (or read here in a previous thread) that rather than shiny boots, recruits now wear something like sneakers, which really don’t have a surface that can be polished.

Note that the setting was not just any military base but OCS for pilots. Kind of super-duper boot camp. I have never been in the military but once these guys get their commissions they will never have their belt buckles inspected again. (I don’t know if enlisted people are subject to this once they are out of boot camp.)

The Navy belt buckle was notoriously difficult to shine to a really high gloss when it was new. It arrived with a varnish coating that took a lot of work to remove with Brasso. Once gone, the buckle was easy to shine, but without the varnish it would tarnish quickly. So you were basically creating a daily maintenance issue for yourself.

I remember getting those “permanent shine” buckles and collar devices, which, IIRC, were gold-plated. The problem was they were not as shiny as a well-shined brass item. I just checked online and a lot of places still sell those, though.

That says “24k gold buckle”. How does pure gold tarnish quickly?

That’s not what was issued in boot camp, just an idea of what they look like. A moment’s thought would tell you that they don’t issue gold.

Believe it or not, that did cross my mind :slight_smile:

@Monty’s post, and your link, prove that some people buy gold-plated ones with their own money. (Maybe for important or special occasions?)

It’s 24K gold plated. It isn’t solid gold. The price is a dead giveaway. But if you search for that same model of belt buckle on other sites, it is properly described as 24K Gold Plated. Gold plated buckles will tarnish because the underlying metal slowly works it’s way to the surface, a few molecules at a time. Enough is exposed to tarnish atop the gold. We have these same buckles in the Army.

Moreover, a 24k gold belt buckle wouldn’t be tough enough to survive in that application. Here’s an interesting article—at least I thought so—of typical gold alloy compositions and their mechanical properties.

If boots, brasswork, and items, more generally, are new off the shelf they will require more effort to prepare them to the required standard, rather than used items which someone else has already put the hard work into. It’s supposed to be hard work, as a test of character.
At one time you got two pairs of boots and you were required in training to wear them alternately - to that end the heels of one pair were dabbed with white paint so that it could quickly be seen if you were rotating them or not. No saving one pair for ‘best’.

In some countries’ military, e.g. 1940s Britain, part-worn articles were to be issued wherever possible for economy, although one set of boots and battledress was always new.

It’s been awhile since I watched the movie, but my recollection was that the problem with what Mayo did was not selling things, it was that he was forcing other recruits to pay for them instead of helping them as a team player. That’s why it’s a significant part of his arc later when he helps Seager over the wall on the obstacle course, rather than just completing it himself.

I believe that it was two-fold:

  1. That he was selling them (as his roommate notes in an earlier scene, it could lead to getting in trouble for an honor violation).

  2. That he’s being a manipulative jerk about selling them. Not being a team player on even the most basic level, as demonstrated by not even helping his roommate out (the same one who initially chided him for risking an honor violation).

So not only is he doing something against the rules, he is doing it for purely selfish reasons, indicating that he looks out for no one but himself. One of many examples where he appears selfish but, critically, one that involves a rule violation and so can be used as a reason to kick him out.

[quote=“RickJay, post:16, topic:915417, full:true”]That’s why it’s a significant part of his arc later when he helps Seager over the wall on the obstacle course, rather than just completing it himself.

Mayo was going to break the record for that O-course. He wasn’t just completing it. But he gave up the record to help Segar over the wall.

I don’t think they sell those at the stores you can shop at while in boot / basic / TBS / OCS, etc. I think you can only get the standard brass kind, that you have to shine.

My experience, anyway. I went through basic 40 years ago.

The PX (as it was officially know at the time; now it’s simply “The Exchange” officially) at BCT is exactly where my platoon-mates and I got ours. I went through BCT way back in 1979. Funny thing was that even if we purchased those, we were still required to have the military issue ones.