What is Shoefiti?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Many drivers and pedestrians have noticed pairs of shoes thrown over telephone wires or sneakers hanging from power lines, but few people have ever witnessed the actual shoe tossing phenomenon known as shoefiti as it happens. Shoefiti, a slang word formed from "shoe" and "graffiti," was coined in the mid-1990s to describe the mysterious and possibly dangerous act of shoe flinging.

Sneakers are typically used in shoefiti.
Sneakers are typically used in shoefiti.

Ideally, a shoefiti artist will wait until the middle of the night to fling a pair of tied shoes over a low-hanging utility wire. With any luck, the shoes will wrap themselves over the wire and remain there indefinitely. Realistically, however, a standard pair of tennis shoes may remain suspended for only a few days before being removed by a utility worker or the laces rot out from weather exposure.

Some believe the ritual of shoe flinging started with college fraternity members who wanted to memorialize a sexual conquest.
Some believe the ritual of shoe flinging started with college fraternity members who wanted to memorialize a sexual conquest.

Because the practice of shoefiti is shrouded in so much mystery, several theories about its meaning and origins have arisen over the years. Some sources suggest that members of the military would often fling their combat boots over a power line or telephone wire to celebrate their final days of active duty. While incidents of shoefiti are sometimes connected with such "rites of passage," it may not have been a very widespread practice in the military.

Another theory behind the meaning of shoefiti has to do with other "rites of passage." Some believe the ritual of shoe flinging started with college fraternity members who wanted to memorialize a sexual conquest. Others say the original shoefiti ritual signified graduation from school or a wedding celebration.

When the shoefiti phenomenon started appearing in larger cities, several more sinister rumors became popular urban legends. One persistent rumor is that the shoefiti designates locations where illegal drugs are sold. Seeing a number of shoes dangling from wires tended to suggest a crime problem in the neighborhood. The connection between shoefiti and known drug houses is tenuous at best, however, since drug dealers frequently change their advertising campaigns to thwart law enforcement.

Another urban legend concerning shoefiti is that the shoes represent gang activities, specifically a memorial to fallen members or a territorial claim. The type of shoes used by a shoefiti artist is said to have some significance as well, although the meaning changes from location to location. Some sources suggest that the origins of shoefiti are not as sinister as gang association. The shoes may have been swiped from a classmate and flung over wires as a form of "keep away," in the same sense that other objects may be hung on a flag pole or thrown onto a roof.

A number of cities are discussing ordinances which would make the practice of shoefiti illegal, or at least strongly discouraged. The cost of hiring professional utility workers to remove the shoes and the possibility of damage to passing vehicles have prompted some serious discussions among legislators, but it can be very difficult to catch a shoefiti artist in the act or prove criminal intent.

Urban legends claim that shoe flinging marks locations where illegal drugs are sold.
Urban legends claim that shoe flinging marks locations where illegal drugs are sold.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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